What it means to be a Packer fan

I was all geared up to write a column about how strange this week has been for the Packers. I was going to discuss the fight between Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas. I was going to touch on the fact that Carroll and Mike McKenzie were not expected to play in this week's game versus the New York Football Giants and how I was wondering how hard McKenzie was trying to get healthy and if he was just milking an injury.<p>

I was going to touch on Mike Flanagan's injury and how that might affect the team. I was going to analyze the loss to the Giants and wonder about numerous topics such as Ahman Green's continued fumbling, Favre's head injury and the lack of offensive momentum or defensive cohesion.

I could have talked about how the Packers lost the turnover battle and were out-rushed, which like last year is a recipe for defeat. I was going to try and weave a narrative about foreshadowing and omens and how all these incidents on the heels of the loss to the Colts might herald a downturn for the Pack. I even considered calling for Mike Sherman to step down or be fired. I think it is that troubling. This team is definitely underachieving and the worst part about it is that they have not played a game so far this year that gives anyone any idea as to what kind of team this is or could be.

Injuries have taken there toll, but good teams and good coaches overcome injuries and find a way to make plays and win. The Packers are 6-6 at home over the last 12 games. The offense has not been able to find any consistency or rhythm so far this year. Is this a running team or a passing team or a balanced offense? I do not have a feeling that the team knows what it wants to do. Can anyone on defense step up and make a play when it counts? Do we need to rely on kickers missing three field goals and the hope that the opposing quarterback will throw the ball into Darren Sharper's gut for it to be close?

I have said on these pages that I do not cheer for the Packers to win, but I hope they do. They have a special place in my heart because of my family attachment. But I will say that I hate to see bad football and it does not require loyalty to a team for me to be disappointed in the play of this team or any team.

I know first hand what a coaching staff goes through and it is my first reaction to circle the wagons and defend them in the face of criticism. Coaches do not go about a game plan with the intention of calling plays that do not work and they do not throw interceptions or lose fumbles. They do not commit penalties and they do not play for the opponent and have no control over the plays their adversary makes. I have vowed to never listen to local sports talk radio, because of the idiot callers and the idiocy of the hosts. They sit in their comfy chairs and play Monday Morning Quarterback. I often want to call in and challenge them on their analysis, but it would accomplish nothing. They are deluded to the fact that they have a right, which they do, to criticize. That does not make what they say right. And I am not saying I would or could do a better job, but I will always come down on the side of the doer, not the reporter. There is an old cliché that goes like this, "Those who cannot do...teach." You could add comment and report to that cliché and be right on.

But I have to agree with the criticizers today. I do not see how the Packers will finish this season with any type of charge toward the playoffs. They have one of the best running backs in the NFL, but he only carries the ball 15 times. Penalties and turnovers and dumb plays condemned the Packers to a 1-3 record. The defense took the wrong angles, missed tackles and allowed Tiki Barber to run all over them. Did the special teams even show up? And the worst thing about the loss to the Giants is that it points out how life without Brett Favre will be. Nothing against Doug Pederson, he is my neighbor, but the Packers need to find a young quarterback who shows some promise. Without Favre, the Packers are what you saw on Sunday.

The Packers may still pull themselves out of this tailspin and have a respectable year, but I do not see the material or attitude that would lead me to believe they will. They may be able to stumble into the playoffs as champions of the NFC North, with the Bears and the Lions still not at the playoff level and with the Vikings being injury laden and having their season in doubt. But I will be surprised and I will be the first one to admit that I was wrong. I look for trends and I look for tendencies. Both the trends and the tendencies tell me that we can expect more of the same from the Packers. I was spitting mad, not at the fact that the Packers lost, but that they have failed to live up to their potential. If this team and its coach do not turn things around and get back to the fundamentals and start to make plays, then this will be a long year.

But then my daughters asked me to fly a kite with them and that calming activity made me think. This past Friday, I stopped for lunch at Fuzzy's, the bar in Green Bay owned by Packer Legend Fuzzy Thurston. Fuzzy's has great clam chowder on Fridays. So I was digesting the paper, catching up on the local and national news and finding some humor in the Giants fans from the New York who were in the place. And these were true New Yorkers, not Giants fans from somewhere outside the Metro New York Area. I did not speak to them and they did not tell me they were from New York. I just knew.

I have lived eight of my 37 years in the New York Metro area and I know a New Yorker when I see one. In reality, I am a New Yorker. I spent five years there when I was in elementary and high school. I then moved there in my early thirties and lived out on Long Island. My Grandfather was born in Brooklyn as was my Dad. My wife is from New Jersey, just outside the city and my first two children were born in New York. I worked for the Giants as a ball boy in high school, during Coach Parcells first year as Head Coach. In fact, I have season tickets to the Giants as well as the Packers. I may be the only person with that distinction. And as most Packer fans know, my grandfather was an assistant coach for the Giants in the mid-50's. I hate to admit it, but the Big Apple is in my blood.

So I watched these folks with some amusement. They radiated everything about New York that I hate. They were loud and opinionated and biased and everything they said was said with that accent. I hate the New York accent. They were telling some Packer fan that even though the Packers had more championships; they reminded him that Vince Lombardi was a New Yorker. But they also exuded everything I like about New Yorkers, essentially everything that I hate about them. The confidence they have and the belief in the uniqueness of New York is very interesting and engaging. Here they are in the greatest shrine to Packer greatness outside of Lambeau Field, in their Shockey jerseys telling Packer fans to be glad New York spawned Coach Lombardi and they should all thank the New York area for those five championships. They talked politics (anti-Kerry) and talked about 9-11 and they would not shut up. I felt a little embarrassed for them, but I should not have – they are what they are.

At one point during my meal, Mark Thurston, Fuzzy's son silenced the crowd as one of the Giants fans had an announcement. I was on the edge of my seat. I had no idea what this guy was going to say, and how the patrons of Fuzzy's would respond. I will try and recreate, in New York speak, what he said:

"Thank Yooo, I waant to say somethin. As a fan of the Jints, I want to thank yooo all for allowing us to be heerr. We waant to express arr appreciation for lettin us come to Fuzza's. And because of that, I waant to buy the baarr a round."

I was speechless and accepted the refill of my Mountain Dew with a nod of the head towards my Gotham buddy.

Now as I sit at my computer and contemplate the poor play of the Packers and the hole they have to climb out of to retain some semblance of pride and success it occurred to me that in spite of that, it is great to be associated with the Green Bay Packers. They are the best team in the NFL, maybe not on the field, but in the hearts and minds of all football fans. I have said before that you may root for someone else, but the Packers are your second favorite team. Take a look at the NFL advertising. As a way of overcoming the black eye that Janet Jackson and that Boy Band refugee created during the Super Bowl, they have turned to Vince Lombardi and the legacy he created with the help of his players and the fans of Green Bay. Using a voice-over from a speech he made right before he died, the Marketing Machine that is the NFL feels that the values and spirit of Titletown are what it needs to promote and rescue its image.

I have friends coming in for over half of the games, from diverse places like Savannah, Ga., Seattle, Wash. and Minot, N.D. They are coming to see me and my family, of course, but they are really coming to see Lambeau Field. This is as close to holy land as the NFL has. It represents everything that is great about the NFL. Too bad the team they are coming to watch has not lived up to that reputation and legacy. Now I am as guilty as anyone of saying some cross things about this team of ours and I have spent the last few weeks hearing the negative talk. It is in our nature to cast off the team when they play poorly and it is understandable, but let us also remember that we are lucky to have them and we are lucky to be part of the greatness that is the Green Bay Packers. That includes the good times and the bad. It includes the 60's and the 70's. It includes the wins and the losses. So in spite of what our initial reaction may be to this losing streak, I am not going to give up on the Packers and neither should you.

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