There seems to be something about Wisconsin and soul-crushing defeats that have become the part of sports this decade. That sentiment was punctuated by Wisconsin’s last-second loss to Florida Friday night in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but the Green Bay Packers have been the template for pain and heartache among Wisconsin sports fans.
When Minnesota Vikings fans think of their own anguish, it comes in heart-wrenching spurts years apart – primarily the focus lying in 1998 and 2009 with teams that had a chance to win it all, but fell short in overtime playoff losses.
But, in Green Bay, going down for the count in dramatic, spirit-killing ways has become the norm rather than the exception. The question to other fan bases is what would they rather have – the occasional run for the money or consistently getting close only to have your heart ripped out in the end?
When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, they were the sixth seed and a wild card expected to go away quietly. In the six years since, they’ve all ended in failure, but some of them have been the epic kind of defeat that would get lesser fans calling the Suicide Hotline.
Consider the recent Packers resume of playoff despair:
2011: Green Bay rolls to a 15-1 regular-season record, only to run into the New York Giants at home. New York opens a 20-10 halftime lead and never looks back, smacking the Packers 37-20 and ending their season as few could have imagined – a home loss in a year with the most wins there in franchise history.
2013: The Packers host San Francisco in the first round of the playoffs and, with 12 minutes to play, hold a 17-13 lead. In a back-and-forth quarter, the Packers are tied 20-20 and, as time expires, kicker Phil Dawson sticks the dagger in them with a 33-yard field goal for a 23-20 49ers win.
2014: The Packers roll to 12-4, remind Dallas that it isn’t the Dallas of Super Bowl vintage and advance the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay leads 19-7 with three minutes to play, only to see one of the wildest finishes in NFL history, allowing Seattle to score 15 points in 44 seconds to take a lead, only to have the Packers send the game to overtime. It set the stage for the Seahawks to score on a 35-yard pass from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse to win 28-22 in overtime, sending Seattle to the Super Bowl and the Packers home in heartbreaking (for Wisconsin fans, anyway) fashion.
2015: After a 6-0 start, Green Bay wobbles to a 10-6 finish, losing to the Vikings at Lambeau, but beats Washington on the road as a wild card to outlast Minnesota. Green Bay goes to Arizona, where the Packers are prohibitive underdogs. With no time left on the clock, Aaron Rodgers does what he does – throwing a 41-yard touchdown to Jeff Janis. Seismic activity was reported in ‘Sconny. But, 65 seconds later in overtime, the game is over with Minnesota native Larry Fitzgerald giving Arizona the win.
2016: Ten games into the season, the Packers are 4-6 and on the brink of falling out of playoff contention. But they rattle of eight straight wins, including knocking off the Giants at home and top-seeded Dallas on the road to get to the NFC Championship Game. With fans smelling Super Bowl, the smell went Roto-Rooter in a hurry, as the Falcons opened a 24-0 halftime lead and never looked back.
A case could be made that, with a break here or there, the Packers might have gone to two, three or more Super Bowls in this decade, not just the one they won in 2010.
Nobody is feeling sorry for the Packers. Their run of success in the division and in the NFC is hard to argue. Even though they haven’t been back to the Super Bowl, an argument can be made that they’re the team of the decade in the NFC. But, when it comes to pain for coaches, players and fans, the Packers have found new ways to define how a team can lose the opportunity to grab the brass ring.
Unlike teams who rise up and make a short-window run in the playoffs, like the Vikings have done a couple of times over the last 20 years, in Green Bay winning has been the norm, but losing in gut-wrenching fashion has become the exclamation point at the end of the sentence each season.
Which would you rather remember? The fun along the way to the heartache or how close you got to the promised land only to be denied? As the Badgers taught us last night, Wisconsinites are resilient people. They need to be.