Expecting Success: Do we take it for granted?

Surviving a scare in Washington helped the Packers scratch their way back to .500 heading into this badly-needed bye week.<P> A three-game winning streak including two wins on the road and a return to glory at Lambeau seems like it should add up to more than that.<P>

While Packer fans may feel like they should be celebrating, a quick check of the standings has Green Bay still looking up at the Vikings and Lions, so no one is ready to talk about the playoffs just yet.

Funny, a team fighting to keep its head above water isn't quite as much fun as a dozen consecutive years without a losing season. All of this seems to come as a terrible shock to new-era Packer fans. During the early-season skid, some of these fans exhibited symptoms of shock -- leaving games early or booing boisterously from their highly-coveted Lambeau seats.

But while thousands around us are losing their cheeseheads, I feel strangely comfortable.

This erratic team that struggled to get back to .500 brings back memories of the Packers of my youth. This is what it was like to be a Packer fan from the time Lombardi turned over the reins until the time Holmgren picked them up.

My earliest exposure to the Packers was golden. By the time I was five years old the Pack had won three consecutive championships and I was happily learning the team fight song in my kindergarten class less than a mile down the road from Lambeau.

As the years went on, my interest in the Packers grew while the team's fortunes fell. Anyone who has called themselves a true fan through the 70s and 80s can't possibly take the current sub-.500 record as a sign they apocolypse is upon us. We've traveled the road of mediocre records with our stadium sold out and our hearts on our sleeve. It's part of what makes us Packer fans.

Here are some of the battle scars:

*The first game I attended at Lambeau was a 22-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the season finale of the 1975 season. The win wrapped up a 4-10 season. No only did the fans refrain from booing during the third and final home win of the season - they actually stormed the field.

*I stayed in my seat for the entire 1987 opener - a 20-0 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The game was a train-wreck from start to finish, inlcuding James Lofton's return to Green Bay (as an opponent) after leaving under less-than-desirable circumstances. Meanwhile, the Packers leading receiver that day was Frankie Neal. Enough said. NFL players went on strike two weeks later, with the Packers still looking for their first win.

*I appeared on the Lindy Infante Show late in the forgettable 1988 season after Green Bay beat the Vikings to snap an 8-game losing streak. I used my 15 minutes of fame to ask coach this piercing question from the audience: "Do you think Tim Harris will make the Pro Bowl?" (He didn't. For the third consecutive season, no Packer made the list.)

Feel like freaking out? Not if you're old enough to remember that there was a team here before Brett Favre arrived in town more than a dozen years ago. Since then we've been spoiled rotten. A Monday Night Football graphic touting the players with the best personal winning percentage (regardless of movement between teams) showed the top five all had something in common: they all played for the Packers in the '90s. That says a lot about what kind of ride the Packers have given their fans for more than a decade.

The dynasties all eventually fall from NFL grace. And when most of them fall, they fall hard. Remember Dallas in Troy Aikman's first season?

This team has too much heart for that kind of implosion. Brett Favre is still at the helm, even with an injured hand and shoulder and with much more on his mind than football. The Favre factor alone is good for enough wins to keep them out of laughing-stock territory. Still, the schedule the rest of the way and the logjam of teams in front of the Packers means that they'll need some help to keep up the post-season pace we've come to expect.

Did you the glory years were going to last forever? If so, find someone who remembers Tiger Greene, Eddie Lee Ivery and the Dickey Shuffle. Those days, the post-season meant either rooting for the lesser of several evils or turning one's attention to basketball. Fans who remember those days will remind you that even as the current Packers hover around .500, we've still got it pretty good.

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