Saturday, May 30, 2009

"The Offensive Line Shuffle"; 2009 Re-Shuffle

Back in August of 2006, I wrote some new lyrics to a well-known (and annoying) song that bemoaned the uncertainty of the offensive line under new coach Mike McCarthy. At the time, we still had players by the name of Whitaker and Klemm, and were trying to work in a bunch of rookies to see who would stick.

Fast-forward three years later, and I will be the first to admit that our line has improved over the Whitaker days. But, after looking at the reports from the OTA's, it is still clear that few spots are firmly decided along the offensive line, something that many observers like myself would love to see (finally) set in stone.

So, without any further ado, I present to you "The Offensive Line Shuffle", 2009 version.

The Offensive Line Shuffle

(sung to the tune of "The Super Bowl Shuffle")

We are the Packers’ Shufflin’ Crew
Shufflin' around, doin' it for you.
Pressure on A-Rodge while we stood
Blowin' our blocks like you knew we would.
You know we're not just shufflin’ for fun
Just finding a turn for everyone
Our offensive punch will remain subtle
‘Cause we keep doing the Offensive Line Shuffle.

Mark Tauscher
Well, they call me Tauch,
And I like to leap
That right tackle spot’s been mine to keep
Until last year I tore an A-C-L
Now there’s one more spot that needs to gel
It doesn’t look much
Like I’ll be able to play
Bad news for me as I’m an U-F-A
I’m out my payday, but it’s no trouble,
I’m gonna sit back and watch
The Offensive Line Shuffle

Chad Clifton
This is Big Chad, over on the left
In pass protection I’m still quite deft
I’ve tried my best to fight the fight
But still can’t get the Z-B-S right
Now I'm penciled in
To start this season
But it’s my contract year and there’s the reason
After this year Ted’ll set me free
An Offensive Line Shuffle starts at L-T

Scott Wells
I'm Scotty Wells, and you’ve been told
I’m the man in the middle, big and bold,
But after five years of stuffing the blitz
I have to compete with ol’ J. Spitz
Trade talks brewin’ during the draft
Looks like I’m the one getting the shaft
Because of an injury to my back muscle
I’m a part of the Offensive Line Shuffle

(Repeat Chorus)

Jason Spitz
I'm the plucky grunt known as J-Spit
Guard’s okay but center seems to fit
Got a Sherman holdover in my way
But he’s on the sideline of the O-T-A
Me and Scott will “fight it out”
But we all know who will win that bout
I may have Wellsie’s feathers ruffled
It’s all a part of the Offensive Line Shuffle.

Daryn Colledge
This is Daryn from the North Pole
Finding a regular spot
Is my ongoing goal
Started nearly every spot across the line
Guard, some tackle, even rode the pine
They say this is the year I need to show my stuff
Lot of guys drafted going to make it tough
I could be the guy sitting on the bubble
I’d sure like out of the Offensive Line Shuffle.

Josh Sitton
They say Colledge is the man
If Daryn can't do it, I sure can.
This is Josh, a rookie wonder
Preseason starter til my knee went asunder.
So bring on Meredith, bring on Lang
They’ll all be with the second-team gang
Hope my knee gives me no trouble
Or I’ll be back in the Offensive Line Shuffle.

Tony Moll
I’m Tony Moll, who earned some doubt
With the new kids here I’m the odd man out
I started at tackle during the O-T-A
Only because Chad Clifton can’t play
I play tackle, I play guard
In the Z-B-S
But as we phase it out, I play less
Barring injury, my starts are scuttled
I’m odd man out in the Offensive Line Shuffle.

(Repeat Chorus)

Breno Giacomini
The tackles comin’, I’m your man Breno
They drafted me because I’m tough and mean-o
Try to block the run, block the rush,
But my first season’s one that I’d like to flush
Coach told me tackle was my position to lose
(And yeah, I was even more surprised that you’se)
You may pronounce my name without no trouble
Good luck figuring out the Offensive Line Shuffle.

T.J Lang
It's T.J. here, and I play special teams.
But starting on the line is my biggest dreams
I used to play D-Line in college, you know
But now I’m on O-Line, ready to go
Played a little bit of tackle, a little bit of guard
But breaking the starting lineup looks to be hard.
I’m another versatile zone guy in the mix,
We're goin' to do the Shuffle,
And see who sticks

James Meredith
You're lookin' at Meredith , I'm the rookie.
I may be big, but I'm no dumb cookie.
Went to the draft, fell like a rock
Packers used a fifth to have me block.
I’m not a jerk, you will see
I won’t be “locker room lawyer”-y
Groomed to be Chad Clifton’s double
‘Til then I’m part of the Offensive Line Shuffle.

(Repeat Chorus)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Harrell Waiting for Next Segment of His Career?

I apologize in advance for this, because I hate taking quotes out of context. However, this one just stood out to me as a great moment of McCarthy-ese during his OTA press conference (hattip to Bruce) today.

Really my expectations for Justin are to stay healthy. I think all of the individual goals that he has and that we have for him, he'll be successful and reach. He's a player that is kind of going through an injury segment of his career, and it happens.

This has been a "segment" of his career? I didn't major in mathematics, but in geometry, isn't a "segment" a part of line that has a set beginning and an end? This "kind of injury segment" started before he was even drafted by the Packers.

I do love McCarthy and some of his ways he likes to explain things off...and you do have to respect how he does his best to talk highly of his players, especially when the media is fishing for some ink. But, he did hit on the truth in the first sentence of that quote: the goal is just to get him healthy. Period.

Otherwise, this isn't going to be an injury segment, but an injury ray.

No Panic on Kampman, But Wise To Be Concerned

Greg Bedard over at the JSOnline Blog noted some issues with DE/LB Aaron Kampman. Now with OTA's in full swing, the Packers apparently wanted Kampman to break his silence about his move from his preferred 4-3 DE spot to the 3-4 OLB spot as the Packers change the scheme. Problem is, Kampman reportedly declined again to discuss the situation. Bedard moved Packer Nation to DEFCON 3.

Now there can be no doubt Kampman is uneasy about his transition to a new position after seven standout seasons.

Coach Mike McCarthy admitted as much after practice.

"I think there's always hesitancy when you're asked to do something different," McCarthy said. "Aaron was very comfortable in the old scheme."

During the first public practice since the scheme switch, Kampman stood up in a two-point stance most of the time and was asked primarily to rush up the field.

The few drops into coverage Kampman was asked to do, he looked very awkward and stiff.

Just like at the rookie camp, McCarthy again tried to publicly sell Kampman on the switch.

"I don't want to be redundant but I think this defense is going to help Aaron Kampman," McCarthy said. "I think this is going to create more opportunity for him, the diversity of the scheme. First and second downs are clearly different for him. The sub packages, there's some multiplicity there that I think will also help him. I think he moves well in space. He's spent a lot of time with (outside linebackers coach) Kevin Greene. I know Dom and Kevin feel very good about where Aaron is today and he's only going to get better."

Now, some have already tried to reassure the crowd that this is all way overblown and Bedard is overreacting just a bit. And, certainly, there is some truth to that. Face it...we don't know what is being said behind closed doors, and the silence makes us often assume the worst before we assume the best. And this is just the very beginning of the OTA's, a far cry from even the beginning of training camp, much less the preseason.

But I wrote not too long ago about some of the misgivings a 30 year-old defensive lineman might have in facing such a monumental change late in his career (and in a contract year, no less). Kampman has reached the age where he is no longer worrying about bling and wheels (not that I think he ever did), but is likely realizing the mortality of his football career. This is the time to finish strong and secure himself and his family financially.

The thought of Kampman moving awkwardly and stiffly in his new position gives me pause. Kampman is a great player, an even better person, and one of the hardest workers in the game. But if you look at his career, it took him time to grow into his position. He started out as a fill-in along the line for his first two seasons, before earning a starting spot. He gradually improved from being a serviceable starter to a solid playmaker, but it has been a process. There was no huge splash or "the light coming on" for Aaron Kampman. He worked for everything he has accomplished.

Which is what makes such a move difficult for a player like Kampman, who might be the kind of guy who needs to work to make himself better, instead of simply being a great natural athlete that can adjust quickly.

Do I think that this is a DEFCON 1 situation? No. Even DEFCON 3? I don't think so, but I think we are securely in DEFCON 4. This is concerning because you don't want one of your veteran team leaders setting a tone of silence in what should be a very positive atmosphere of change and improvement.

I've said it myself: the goal is to take the scheme and make it work with the talent that you have, not to try and stick square pegs in round holes. Dom Capers is likely going to try and make that defense work around Kampman as much as he can...but that is the key. How much can you work with a guy who is too small to play the DE position in the 3-4 and too stiff and slow to play the OLB position? Sure, we can incorporate hybrid schemes, allowing Kampman to come in and play on a four-man front, but that's not going to be every down.

If Kampman does struggle to fit, is he going to be happy in a part-time role? In a contract year? At this point in his career?

The key in this whole she-bang (and what we aren't going to end up seeing from the outside) is communication. We don't know if Kampman has aired concerns to MM and TT, and we don't know if they are entertaining the idea of keeping him or moving him. But as Capers and McCarthy divine more observations and evaluations of how Kampman is going to fit, it's going to be imperative that those lines of communication are open.

If all ends up going fine, I have no concerns that communication will be fantastic between all parties. It is when there are issues and doubts that communication could break down. Ted Thompson has never been a fast mover, particularly when it comes to potentially distracting personality conflicts (Sherman in 2005, Favre last summer). It's one thing to take your time negotiating a's another thing to be passive when your subordinate feels they aren't being respected or are upset and hurt.

Feelings like that don't extinct easily. And the more they are ignored, the more the intensify.

So, while I don't think we are anywhere near panic mode yet, this is a situation that I think should be handled prudently, professionally, and respectfully by all parties. And, with appropriate haste.

Monday, May 25, 2009

How Jim Rome Destroyed The World

I was breezing through one of my issues of ESPN The Magazine, and I found two articles whining about the state of the media today. You know what I'm talking about...the media is realizing that the Internet is providing as much information as the newspapers can provide, and in today's economic crunch, some of those media outlets are feeling the squeeze.

The idea of ESPN carping about it, though, is irony enough for me. Because, as far as I am concerned, the media has made their own bed, and ESPN led the way for the sports reporters.

In this particular magazine, Bill Simmons whined about the dwindling access for reporters and interviews. Mike and Mike complained about how athletes are giving their "interviews" directly to their fans through Twitter or Facebook, leaving the journalists on the outs.

Certainly, the Internet has changed the paradigm of how information is able to be communicated to the public. But the sports media has to take a long, hard look at why they have become less and less relevant in a Web 2.0 world.

When I was in high school, I strongly considered a career in journalism. I had a knack for writing and loved my expository writing classes. But when I looked at the starting salaries for a journalism major, I figured I could always find time to write on the side later on in life.

The big issue comes down to what I call "journalistic integrity". A journalist has the responsibility for interpreting what is happening in the real world for the general public to see. Face it: I am never going to sit in a press conference with Ted Thompson, I get no reports sent directly to me from the Packer organization as to who is being signed or cut, nor do I know how OTA's went today with my own eyes.

The media has the responsibility for presenting the world to us, and they have the responsibility to do so in a fair and balanced, unbiased way. There's not a lot of money in that, but that is what you sign up for when you become a journalist. You are the recorder of current events for the vast majority of us who can't see it ourselves. In its purest form, it is a noble profession.

Of course, sports reporters have long walked the line between white and gray. My favorite example is that of Robert Duvall's character from "The Natural", Max Mercy, who threatened to smear Roy Hobbs in the papers if he didn't "play ball" with him. Certainly, there have been reporters in real life who helped shape the news, and sometimes, public opinion.

For me, Jim Rome started it in 1994 when he publicly tried to humiliate quarterback Jim Everett on his show by repeatedly calling him "Chris". Everett knocked him over, but the public reaction to the event gave ESPN and other sports venues the idea that the athletes don't have to be the only "stars" of the show. Rome injected himself into the game, into the life of an athlete, became a part of the show. Whether it be positive or negative, it was a reaction that made people tune in.

And soon, we saw ESPN continue to try and promote its journalists as much as the sports they tried to cover. Anchors were encouraged to develop catchphrases and inject their personality into the show, so you were just as likely to tune in to see Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann perform their little comedy routine as you were to see what happened on the field that day.

Taking cues from "The Jim Rome Show", shows were developed that showed journalists "ranting" about the news instead of reporting it. Wilbon and Kornheiser developed a steady following on Pardon The Interruption yelling at each other for no apparent reason. When that wasn't enough, Stephen A Smith was brought in to yell-complain about anything that they missed.

The news was no longer being reported, it was simply the baseline for soundbites and rimshots, as ESPN marketed its own stars first. In 2001, Kenny Mayne was one of the "captains" for the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game, and the vision of him sitting in a huddle (with real athletes) trying to rally "his team" for the camera ranks a perfect 10 on the Unintentionally Ridiculous Scale.

Other media outlets have followed suit, with CBS Sportsline hiring a guy by the name of Greg Doyel, whose sole purpose appears to be to write something to inflame a group of sports fans each week, then make fun of them when they object. No journalism, no relaying of information...just trying to provoke a reaction under the guise of being in the media.

Even some of our local Packer outlets have gotten into the act, with somewhat awkward V-logs from the beat guys at the Press-Gazette.

And what of having reporters camp out at airports and outside athlete's houses 24/7, reporting anything they see as potentially viable news (whether it is or not)? They have to report something, don't they?

What is the result of our sports media trying to draw the attention onto themselves instead of the sports they cover? Oh, sure, it made some millionaires out of guys like Rome and his wanna-be's. But, they traded in their journalistic integrity for the easy money of infotainment, becoming little more than glitzy paparazzi and attention whores.

And, they have become less and less relevant. Oh, sure, we tune in for PTI and react to provocative articles when they affect us, but the trade-in for the extra advertising dollars in the short run has cost them today in the long run. We realize that what they do isn't really that hard, or that important.

Take a look around the Online Packer Blogosphere for everything you can get from the mainstream media. If you head over to PackerChatters, you can get much of the latest draft information, online chats with experts, and all the rumors you can ask for. If you're looking for today's news with some biting commentary or a rimshot, check out the boys at CheeseheadTV, who are just as insightful (and occasionally snarky) as anyone making seven figures at ESPN. And if you want journalism like it was meant to be, read the training camp reports at Railbird Central.

Today's sports media is aghast that their jobs as they knew them are in jeopardy, but in part, that is their own doing. Journalism was once a noble profession, because we trusted those writing for us to be noble, honest, and to have integrity. But when you go on AOL and the keyword to find Jim Rome's site is "rants", what integrity is that? How hard do you have to try to find something to rant about every day in the sports world?

Answer: he doesn't really have that much to rant about. He just chooses to because that's his shtick. That's what you tune in to listen to. And that's what he gets paid big bucks to do: make you listen to him rip others apart every single day.

Those in the sports media made themselves the show, and with that, they lost that level of trust we needed to have in them, everything they needed to make themselves relevant. And they are realizing that there are other outlets for the kind of infotainment that they have lowered themselves to...and in some cases, those outlets surpass what they are capable of.

As newspapers across the nation fall into dire straits, the sports media is simply a microcosm of why they got to the desperate points they have. Ideally, the media is responsible for reporting the news and allowing the viewers to formulate their own opinions. But when you have half the nation not trusting anything from FOX News, and the other half not trusting anything from CNN, you realize that you have media outlets doing more than just reporting.

So when Mike, Mike, and Bill complain in ESPN The Magazine about how reporters are having less and less pull in today's sports world, they have only themselves to blame.

Speaking of which, I just wrote three pages of rant. Take that, Jim Rome.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Kitchen Analogy and the 3-4 Defense

I've long used "The Kitchen Analogy" when discussing how coaching and talent interrelate. While I know it isn't perfect, it seems to get the point across on how they get along.

Since I don't believe I've ever published the Analogy here, I'll try and sum it up.

In the kitchen, there are several things that make the meal. The meat and all of the ingredients that the kitchen has at its disposal are the talent the team has to work with.

The cook is the person who has to put all of those ingredients together and make a palatable meal out of them, so he equates to being the coaching that the team has.

At its most basic level, a team that is loaded with prime talent is like having a well-stocked kitchen. An excellent cook should be able to take such ingredients and work wonders with them. In other words, an excellent coach matched with excellent talent should be the makings of a dynasty.

But we know that this isn't usually how it works. Often times, a good coach isn't blessed with Angus beef to work with, but Wal-Mart brand ground chuck. The impact of a great coach on a team with little talent is like trying to make your poor ingredients look and taste palatable. And, a good coach can maximize that talent, maybe not make it into a Super Bowl team, but certainly make it work.

A good example of this was the impact Mike McCarthy had on his offensive line his first season, when he was given a bunch of rookies to try and bolster the interior. Even though the talent was still raw and green, he was able to work around it and make it "palatable"...certainly not great, but something that enabled the offense to function.

The other way this can play out is when you have excellent ingredients and a poor cook. You would think that if all the pieces are in place and of the finest quality, you just want your cook to go in there and not mess it up. The same holds true for teams that have the right talent in place and ready to go...while you would love to have a "great coach" to get that team totally ready to dominate, what you don't want it a coach that will somehow mess it up.

I like to liken this situation to Barry Switzer and the Dallas Cowboys. The dynasty team was pretty much in place when Jimmy Johnson left. All Switzer had to do is not mess it up. I'll let you be the judge of whether or not he was successful, but it was clear Switzer was not half the coach Johnson was.

Now, a couple of writers lately have bashed the Packers' decision to transition to a 3-4 scheme, most recently Kevin Seifert of ESPN, who needs to write about something in the lean months between the draft and training camp.

He states:

But the Green Bay switch really gets under my skin. Two years ago, the Packers had an upper-tier defense while running the 4-3. The strength of that team was a very deep, talented and versatile defensive line. The Packers rotated big men in, stayed fresh up front and put an awful lot of pressure on opposing offenses for four quarters. Last year, the defensive front was hit hard by injuries, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was released and Corey Williams was dealt to the Browns before the season. Why not just bring in one or two more 4-3 linemen and stick with what worked?

It should be noted that Dom Capers will be the one coordinating the change. Capers knows what will make the transformation more palatable.

I still contend that the Packers would have been better off sticking with the 4-3 and still drafting Raji. Without making the change, Green Bay would not have had to uncharacteristically jump back into the first round to fill a position of need, and could have used the resources that it took to get Matthews to add to other areas of the team, such as offensive tackle or another 4-3 defensive end. Expect some growing pains on defense.

Now, mind you, I haven't exactly been glorifying the decision to transition to the 3-4 myself. I think that it might be a trendy move that is relying on the scheme to save the defense instead of the talent. And we know how the scheme change saved the offensive line [sarcasm off].

And I agree that this year may be fraught with more growing pains than we anticipate. But Seifert hits on the most salient point (even using the word "palatable") in that the coaching is of critical importance. Dom Capers has the mantle of responsibility of making whatever talent we presently have work to the best of his ability.

And, as we look at our talent (particularly in the front seven), there's a point to be made that our ingredients aren't all prime rib. The talent ranges from the unripe (Raji, Matthews) to the underperforming (Harrell, Hawk, Poppinga) to the damaged (Jenkins, Barnett), to the out-of-place (Kampman). Not to say our talent is poor, but the numbers and the ouster of last year's defensive coordinator shows that the talent did not perform in spite of the coaching, either.

So, what can a coordinator like Dom Capers do better than Bob Sanders? As the cook in the kitchen, it is his responsibility to insure all the talent is utilized correctly. He knows it isn't wise to substitute chicken gunk for chicken salad, as Larry Beightol famously said. You have to work with what you have and make it come together somehow.

And that's where the third part of the Kitchen Analogy comes into play: the scheme is like the recipe that the cook reads from. On the recipe is a list of the ingredients that you need to make your meal, and a list of instructions on how to put it all together. The 3-4 scheme also provides this blueprint, the list of ingredients and instructions. How many times have we seen lists of measurables for prototypical 3-4 nose tackles or the ideal 3-4 outside linebacker? It lists the kind of talent that this particular "recipe" needs.

The one thing that has given me a bit of hope for this scheme change is the declaration by Capers and McCarthy that this is going to be a slow transition, utilizing hybrid strategies into the defense instead of going strictly by the 3-4 script, regardless of whether or not you have the right ingredients or not on the recipe.

The "hybrid" 3-4/4-3 defense is the one getting most of the press lately as being the next innovative defensive scheme, and for good reason. A ton of teams are converting to the 3-4: no fewer than 12 teams will be using the 3-4 at least part of the time next season. Being able to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to how offenses will be countering your defense is pretty smart: more offenses are going to face 3-4's and develop more strategies to counter them.

You don't believe me? The 3-4 is utterly unstoppable? Please. Why in the world did most NFL teams abandon it in the 1980's if it was completely bulletproof? The reason it is becoming so successful is because offenses haven't faced it in years, and are just now relearning the strategies to counter them. It's all cyclical. In ten years, most teams will be changing again to a 4-3.

Which is what makes the hybrid defense the smartest move for our cook, Dom Capers. As he looks at our recipe for the 3-4, he is going to see that we are missing some of the ingredients. A bad cook plows on, putting square pegs in round holes, determined that the scheme will save us all, even if we don't have the right ingredients needed. We'll substitute paprika for that salt we don't have, or we'll just skip the corn starch altogether.

If you rely on the scheme to win it all for you, you will end up with a huge mess coming out of the oven.

That's why Dom Capers may be our biggest free agent signing of the offseason: it is going to be his job to make the right substitutions and modifications to the scheme that will make it most successful. Aaron Kampman may work out at OLB, and he may not. It is going to be up to Capers to put him in the spot where he will be the most effective, and if that means having him put a hand down several times a game, then that's what needs to happen.

Where does Hawk fit? Is Raji ready to go at DE or is he going to make the team better at NT? Can Poppinga be placed in a position the help the team more than hurt it?

Can the master chef take an assortment of ingredients and still make a great dish out of it?

There's enough pressure to go around on this defense in 2009, with several players wearing targets on their backs. Will Hawk blossom? Will Harris fall off? Will Barnett finally become the linebacker we thought he would develop into? Will Collins be a one-year wonder?

But the most pressure will likely fall upon our chef. Dom Capers is going to prove if he can stand the heat, or if he should get out of the kitchen.

Murphy, Thompson Roadblocks Unlikely

A comment from HHHTheGame following my last article about Curly Lambeau triggered some interesting thought processes on the role of Mark Murphy, and subsequently, Ted Thompson, on their roles on if and when Brett Favre would be invited back into the Packer family.

HHH’s comment:

Yeah, that sounds about right. If Brett plays for the Vikings it will take about 20 years for the Green Bay faithful to forgive and forget. One wild card in this is Murphy. If he takes this personally, it could be a long time before Favre is welcomed back. He's only 51 years old and most likely will stay president for a while. Look at Herb Kohl and Marques Johnson and their rift. 20 years sounds about right....

So, I thought: would Mark Murphy really be the one to lead an ongoing rift with Favre for many years? I suppose it is possible, but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Personally, I don’t think Favre’s number will be retired until they induct him into the Packer Hall of Fame (much the same thing as Reggie White). That gives him five years from the point of his retirement until there is some sort of “obligation” to invite Favre back to honor him in some way or another.

I see this summer working out one of two ways. The first way is that Favre is going to want to play for the Vikings, but either physical issues or Viking decision-making will prevent that from happening. Personally, this is my preference (actually, my real preference was he had remained retired in 2008), and one that I think has a good likelihood of happening. The shoulder injury and age are going to catch up with him, and the Vikes may look at those issues and decide that this is just one year too late for them.

If this happens, Favre is eligible for induction in the Packer Hall of Fame in 2013. While obviously many fans will see his desire to play for the despised division rivals as criminal intent, it is also as likely that five years will wash away some of the ill will.

The second way this could work out is that he does end up playing for the Vikings. I don’t think it matters if he actually plays against the Packers or not (though that would certainly increase the hard feelings). Even if he were put on injured reserve in the preseason, the fact that he signed the contract and donned a purple jersey will have created a conundrum for most Packer fans. Many will find this unforgivable for a long time.

If he were to finish this year playing for the Vikings, he would not be eligible for the Packer Hall of Fame until 2014. While there would still be some healing (especially if the Packers find major success in the next few years in spite of the Vikings), it would be a much more difficult induction ceremony for Favre and the Packers.

The other two possibilities, Favre playing for a team besides the Vikings this year, or coming forward and admitting his wrongdoings, are both so unlikely they don’t deserve consideration.


So, getting back to Murphy in either of the likely situations, I still find it to be a stretch that the team president would place himself in the middle of this situation. In a sense, Murphy is in both a difficult situation and an easy situation. Yes, as a P.R. man, he has to balance the egos and demands of all those in Packer Nation, including the players, the fans, the coaches, and the legends. Yet, he wasn’t Favre’s President, and the only interaction he really seemed to get drawn into was the $20M marketing contract offer. Favre has directed no vitriol in Murphy’s directions, so this places him in an ideal spot to make good, objective decisions without harboring any of his own personal ill will.

I suppose it is possible that Murphy could be upset that Favre marred his first summer on the job, but in reality, the onus is on Murphy to be the professional, even in the face of Favre's juvenile behavior. It is no medal to be pinned on Murphy’s chest for him to lower himself to the same levels of personal vendettas as Favre. Taking the high road is his best choice.

Bob Harlan, the past Packer president, was a master at playing the P.R. game. He struck that very delicate balance in being supportive of his staff, but also being available to the emotions of the fans. He had a way of keeping his hands clean of any dirt that was being flung around at the time. Murphy will be wise to take a page out of Harlan’s book.


So, while I don’t see Murphy standing in the way of a Favre return, it does beg the question of the man who is the target of most of Favre’s vitriol, Ted Thompson. Will Thompson be the kind of man to stand in the way of Favre’s invitation back to the ring of honor at Lambeau Field someday?

Most fans tend to think so. Mike Vandermause recently wrote that while he believed that Favre will one day be invited back to Titletown, it “won't be until Ted Thompson is gone”. We can take that one of two ways: that Favre won’t accept an invitation back until Thompson is no longer part of the organization, or that Thompson would, actively or passively, block the way for Favre’s return.

I find it unlikely that Favre would, after five years of retirement, rebuff any attempts by the Packer organization to honor him, even if Thompson is still the GM. Hall of Fame honors and retired numbers are not the business of the GM, but of the President and other folks in charge of the P.R. buzz. The GM is in charge of football operations for the current season, and five years from now, that’s going to be just as busy of a job as it is today. Thompson doesn’t have time to be concerning himself with the welfare of Dorsey Levens’s legacy right now. He needs to be trying to figure out of Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson can carry the load in 2009.

And face it: it is pretty clear that Favre enjoys the attention of the media and making himself a bigger part of things that he might actually be. Combine that with five years away from the spotlight and it is likely that he will be ready to come back to Green Bay in 2013 or 2014 and be a part of his glorification, whether Thompson is there or not. My guess is that the men on the field with Favre would have last names like Holmgren, Sherman, Wolf, and Driver, with Thompson watching from the comfort of his box seat.

The question is, then, would Thompson actively (or passively) block or delay such an honor? It is hard to tell, because Thompson himself is such a hard nut to crack anyway. But, let’s glean information from what we know of Thompson and see what we can decipher.

Thompson is a private man who seems to have one driving motivation, which building his football team. For many men, this can build a high level of personal pride and ego in them, since it tends to define all they are. But I don’t see that in Thompson. Remember, this is the man who has been booed at Draft Day Parties and been reviled in the media for his lack of activity in free agency.

Yet, through it all, there has never been even a smidge of personal ego-bruising or outrage from Thompson. In fact, his reactions might be best described as objective amusement. There’ve been no “Who the hell is Mel Kiper, Jr.” outbursts, or even a reaction to the “Fire Ted Thompson” movements that took place even before last summer.

He seems somewhat impervious to the demands of the outside world. Many GMs would have made moves in response to media and fan outcries. He has stuck to his guns implicitly, making the moves that he has in mind even when they don’t make sense to the rest of us.

So, when you try to measure of the impact that Favre’s anger and immaturity directed at him, I tend to believe it is negligible. Certainly, Thompson is human, and it is human nature to strike back when you are attacked. But whatever personal affronts he feels, he has kept those reactions out of the public eye.

And that, again, is the key. Favre has chosen to avoid the high road for some time now. It’s his choice and right to do so, and to suffer the consequences for it. He has made questionable decision after questionable decision, and lost the Superstar Mulligan a couple times over in the eyes of many fans. But that is his choice.

It is Thompson’s choice in how to react to it. He is the one paid to act professionally and represent the Packers organization. Now, I will be the say that I thought he could have handled last summer better. Yes, he was given a difficult situation to handle, but that is his job and what he is paid to do. I wish he had simply granted Favre’s release when he first asked for it and let Favre take the heat for his own decisions, instead of clumsily trying to “protect his legacy”. After the last 12 months, its pretty clear that if Favre won’t protect his own legacy, it certainly was no responsibility of Thompson.

But since that time, Thompson has chosen to cross the Rubicon with his quarterback, his coach, and his team. And one can say he is loyal to the players he has brought in, particularly Aaron Rodgers. This is true of any GM, and in fact we often use the “loyal” descriptor in a more negative tone when describing Mike Sherman. When you build your team, those players are “yours” and you have a vested interest in their development.

Thompson, in my opinion, takes that loyalty to high levels, letting overpriced veterans go to be replaced by high-scouted draftees (he does pride himself on his scouting acumen). He doesn’t have time to worry about how good the team might have been had he kept Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. He has to continue to find players to replace them. And besides, we all can keep arguing about that move for him.

Five years from now, if Thompson’s ego holds steady, I don’t think he is going to stand in the way of Favre’s welcome-home party. I think he will wisely not be a part of the ceremonies, but the idea that he would actively stand in the way of it seems greatly out of character. And frankly, it would be lowering himself to the same levels that Favre had.

The other consideration would be if Thompson would passively prevent or delay such a ceremony…giving off enough vibes of discomfort that Mark Murphy or others involved would feel like perhaps it is a good idea to hold off until Thompson has left the building.

I also think this is unlikely. I don’t think Thompson holds himself in as high regard as some of his most fervent fans. The lines I heard repeatedly last summer that I raised an eyebrow at was, “I’m not a Favre fan, I’m a Packer fan”, or “If you disagree with/hate Ted Thompson, then you aren’t a Packer fan.”

As if Ted Thompson is the Packers.

He’s not. No more than Mike Sherman was the Packers when he was GM. And I think Thompson understands this.

Thompson is in charge of football operations, and is in charge of building this team. As many have taken sides on the Thompson/Favre Fan War, they have elevated Thompson up just a touch higher than I think Thompson would find comfortable. Certainly, it must be reassuring to know he has support from the fans, but to be considered “The Packers” is more than most of us would agree with.

Thompson comes off as a relatively humble man who is passionately married to his plan on how to build a winning football team. Ego is a big deal for any man. In fact, while taking the Lambeau Field stadium tour, my tour guide told the story of how Favre used to have a special parking spot inside Lambeau Field while the rest of the players had to park outside. Then he pointed to a truck and said, “Now that Favre is gone, guess who uses that parking spot now? Yep, that’s Ted Thompson’s truck right there.” I had to smile a bit.

But I don’t believe that Thompson now sees himself as the walk-on-water diva that Favre saw himself as. The parking spot (incidentally, next to Mike McCarthy’s) is simply a more suitable location for the leadership of the team (particularly in a climate that saw some harsh reactions to last summer).

Once again, it will come down to the P.R. role of the President, and how that person feels the mood and tone is among Packer Nation. If there is still fierce animosity among the fan base, that could be reason to postpone any honors. That isn’t Thompson’s decision, nor do I think Thompson’s feelings will come into play when it comes to making that decision.

In the end, it will likely come down to us, the fans and the media, and whether or not we are ready for #4 to be emblazoned next to names like Starr, Nitschke, and Hutson under the scoreboard at Lambeau Field. It will come down to whether or not Favre is voted in on the first ballot to the Packer Hall of Fame, whether or not fans are receptive to seeing a jersey retirement ceremony, and most of all, whether or not Favre antagonizes the situation further over the next five years.

But I don’t think Mark Murphy or Ted Thompson will be the one’s putting up the road blocks on the way. Favre’s done a good enough job of that himself.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lambeau: Time Heals All Wounds

Time heals all wounds, so they say.

Breezing through the Packer Blogosphere, there’s precious few days you can go without some headline about Brett Favre, usually accompanied with more conjecture than any confirmed facts. And so it goes, Favre being placed more and more in the crosshairs of Packer fans. He’s a traitor, they say. Spiteful. Disrespectful of all Packer fans.

And he might be. Time will tell the story of Brett Favre, and how this messy divorce will be looked back upon. But if history proves correct, Brett Favre will once again be beloved by Packer fans. It’s just going to take time.

It’s uncommon for any player, coach, or GM to leave on fantastic terms with his team. Usually, for some reason, one of the two parties ends up feeling a little slighted. When a coach is fired for having a poor record, he usually doesn’t agree with the reasoning, and often, the media and fan base don’t remember him with love and adoration, either. Players bolt in free agency, get traded, or are cut as soon as their usefulness is past. Some of the biggest names in Packer history left with some sort of dark cloud following them.

But the bigger the star power, the bigger those emotions become. Ego, power, entitlement, pride: all play a factor in how stars view themselves, how the team treats them, and how the fans regard them. And certainly, Brett Favre had as much star power as anyone.

But perhaps one of the biggest stars in Packer history had one of the ugliest divorces from the team. Curly Lambeau, the team’s founder and winningest coach, engaged in a power struggle with the Packer Board of Directors in the late 40’s and 50’s. His 1946 purchase of the controversial Rockwood Lodge as a training camp site set the tone for the board to start questioning his decisions…something the team’s founder wasn’t used to.

If you think Brett Favre has been “the face of the Packers organization”, imagine how Curly Lambeau had to be regarded. The man organized the team, helped get funding for the team, played for the team, and coached them for over thirty years. And, he was remarkably successful: a 229-134-22 record and six NFL championships.

Curly Lambeau was the man. That is, until the Packers Board watched Lambeau suffer through the 1948 and 1949 seasons with a combined record of 5-19, and pulled off a major coup: for the first time in the Packers’ 31-year history, a coach (and vice-president) was fired. And it wasn’t pretty. The power struggle had gone on for several years, and had become a distraction to the team and the fans.

And Lambeau didn’t leave happy. In fact, he refused to come back to Green Bay for years, even when invited. He was angry at the Packers front office over how he was treated, how he was let go so unceremoniously. He went on to coach two other NFL teams before finally hanging it up three years later, but there was no happy homecoming for Curly Lambeau. He stayed away from Green Bay, and reportedly, he stated that he did not want to be associated with the organization in any way.

As the Packer Board members continued their own internal power struggles throughout the 1950’s, the team on the field also suffered through a revolving door of coaches that left many fans wishing they had Curly back. It wasn’t until 1959 when a new coach finally walked through the door, pounded his fist on the Board table, and stated, “Let’s make one thing clear, I am in charge here.” That man was Vince Lombardi.

But as the Packers enjoyed a Renaissancence in the early 60’s, Lambeau, the father of the Packers, continued his difficult exile from the organization. He was invited back in 1959 for Vince Lombardi’s first game as coach*, but it set up a quiet rivalry between the two. By many accounts, there was no love lost between Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi.

A couple years ago outside the Atrium, I was standing near the two statues of Curly and Vince while waiting for some friends before a game. An older gentleman struck up a conversation with me, talking about the irony of the statues standing thirty feet away from each other.

“In life,” he said, “those two would never have gotten that close to each other if they could have helped it.” And now, they are frozen in time together, even though in the early 60’s, it was clear there was some ego and pride running in overdrive on both sides.

Curly had been approached on several occasions by different parties in Green Bay for some sort of honor for his years of service, but Lambeau consistently declined, as he did not want his name associated with the organization.

Curly Lambeau died in 1965 with this kind of relationship still standing with the Packer organization, his own 31 years of founding, coaching, and insuring the prosperity of the franchise marred by pride, hurt feelings, and perhaps, spite.

But on the occasion of his death, the Green Bay Labor Council began a push with the local media to name New City Stadium posthumously after Lambeau. City officials were hesitant, given the previous rebuffs by the man himself. But there was one man who was vehemently opposed to the idea, and spoke out against a “Lambeau Field” many times in public.

That man was Vince Lombardi. Even after Lambeau’s death, the rivalry, spite, and prideful competition continued.

In the end, Lambeau’s family approved of the idea, and a groundswell of support for the man who founded the franchise drowned out the catcalls and naysayers. Today, not only do we visit a stadium named for the once-deposed (and sometimes despised) coach, but we admire his bronzed likeness as you walk in to the Atrium and order a cold beverage at the pub that bears his name.

Pretty good for a guy who was run out of town on a rail, and who swore never to return. People forget those less savory details as time goes on. They remember how important it is to honor your past, especially when it is the past of the greatest football franchise in the NFL. Today, those who write about the ugly rift between Lambeau and the Packers often sweeten it up with a passing “less-than-amicable split” or a “didn’t leave on the best of terms”. In reality, it was an ugly, permanent divorce, involving a man who was more than just the “face of the franchise” for sixteen years.

He was the franchise...for thirty-one years.
Not too long ago, history again repeated itself. When Reggie White retired from the Packers in 1998, he did some things that caused the Packer organization to slowly distance themselves from their once-glorified player. First, a speech made before the Wisconsin state legislature was characterized as being racist and stereotyping by critics. Then, he made public statements against homosexuality, and appeared in anti-homosexuality ads in his Packer jersey. These actions caused him to receive a reprimand from both the Packers and the NFL for appearing in his jersey without approval, and lost him a TV commentator spot with CBS.

When Reggie White asked for his release in 1999 so that he could un-retire and play for the Carolina Panthers, the Packers didn’t blink an eye and quickly let him go elsewhere. Few seemed to question why he wouldn’t want to come back and play for the Packers (or why the Packers wouldn’t want to make him play with them first). You did not see Reggie White as a regular at Fan Fests or making pre-game sideline appearances. By the time of his death, the Packer Pro Shop no longer carried any White memorabilia or jerseys. There was a quiet rift between the Packers and the player who had brought glory back to Titletown.

But when White passed away in 2004, the Packers couldn’t trip over themselves fast enough to bring White back into the Packer family. Within a year, they had retired his number and placed his name in the Ring of Honor inside Lambeau Field, and enshrined him into the Packer Hall of Fame soon thereafter.

Time heals all wounds.

As we continue to deal with the ugly divorce Brett Favre has had with the Green Bay Packer organization, it is wise to look back on other seemingly immortal Packers who saw the end of their careers end on "less-than-amicable" notes. Most of us today never think twice about Curly’s resentment towards the Packers, or recall White’s exodus from Green Bay. We celebrate them as Packer heroes, men who laid the foundation for today’s Packers to continue to be a part of a storied organization in the NFL.

Someday, Brett Favre will receive the same kind of honors: a retired number, a place in the ring of honor, a plaque in the Packer Hall of Fame, and likely, some sort of permanent fixture inside or outside Lambeau Field. Perhaps another practice field or facility will bear his name in large letters as we drive by in our hovercars twenty years from now. People won't remember Greta, or the $20 million dollars, or the Vikings.

It’s just the way history works.


* the picture you see is indeed of that visit by Lambeau in 1959, but I also show it for another reason: the young man and woman standing behind Curly are two of the greatest Packer fans I know: my father- and mother-in-law, Bill and Gail Phillips, a newspaper clipping that still hangs on the wall in the Phillips basement today.

Resources used for this article

The History of the Green Bay Packers: The Shameful Years by Larry D. Names (1995)
Lambeau Field: Green Bay’s National Treasure by The Green Bay Press-Gazette (2003)
Al Breightol, my tour guide on the Lambeau Field Stadium Tour on 5/13/2009 (yes, I did field work to research this article!)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Greg Doyel: Translated

I happened across CBS Sportsline, and found this precious little nugget from some columnist I've never heard of. Apparently, he's got a quite a bit of Favre Angst, something you don't usually see from a national columnist (in fact, you don't normally see this from amateur bloggers).

Oh Lord he's doing it again.

Brett Favre is coming back. Probably. Again. So we're all talking about him. Definitely. Again.

It would be hilarious if it weren't so sad, but it is sad, and my goal today is for one of you Brett Favre apologists -- just one of you -- to read everything I have to say and then, at the end, concede that you're wrong. That I'm right. That Brett Favre isn't merely another great athlete struggling with the decision all great athletes have to make, eventually, about retirement. That Brett Favre is actually a liar, a fraud, a creep who for some reason -- and I think it's a lack of intelligence, I really do -- cannot stop burning through his hard-earned goodwill any more than a chain smoker can stop burning through Camels.

Just one of you. Please. This is your come-to-Jesus moment. So come, my son. Confess that Brett Favre isn't a jeans-wearing, spiral-throwing good ol' American icon. Confess that he's a deceitful egomaniac willing to step on anyone, in any town, to get what he wants.

And what does he want? To play for the Minnesota Vikings, apparently. Makes no sense to me, mind you, but that's what Favre wants. He wants to play for the one team that his fan base back in Green Bay dislikes more than any other, short of the Dallas Cowboys. And everybody, other than people in Texas, loathes the Dallas Cowboys. Nobody loathes the Vikings, because loathing the Vikings is like loathing your kid's music recital. You can be bored at the recital. You can be unimpressed by it. Depressed by it. But moved to loathing? No. You cannot be moved to loathe your kid's music recital. Or the Minnesota Vikings.

But they loathe Minnesota in Green Bay, so that's where Favre wants to play. It's incomprehensible, but there it is. He wants to be a Viking. He wants to take those 16 years he spent in Green Bay, winning three MVPs and one Super Bowl and hundreds of thousands of loyal fans, and flush them down a purple commode.
Wow. Quite the spewing of emotion! I'm exhausted just reading that!

Now, look...I'm the first to admit I have been a Favre Fan, and have defended him for years...long before the events of last summer. And I'm also the first to admit that my undying admiration has been muted a bit given his decisions over the last twelve months.

But this line of Jim Rome-wannabe rantage from Doyel, loosely translated, is this:

"The Favre storyline has always been a sure-fire blockbuster for all of us in the least until recently, where it seems more people are weary of Favre or just don't care. So, I am just going to bait the Favre supporters into becoming more vocal, which in turn, will get the Packer fans back into fighting with each other again!"

Come on. CheeseheadTV bought into it. Seriously, if you really, really wanted to get a mea culpa from former Favre defenders, this is the tone you would use to get it?

Nope. It's directly inciteful, a cheap piece of sensationalism that is designed to do one thing: keep the fans fighting and arguing. It's worked for the media for quite some time, as we all know. Favre can scratch his butt while mowing his lawn and it's been headline news.

Why? I just posted an article last week stating how much we all--Favre Fans and Favre Critics alike--need to move on and stop allowing this to clog our message boards and blogs. We needs to stop minimalizing each other with taunts and accusations and "labels".

And then, we get this from a "national journalist"? Apparently, the thought of the Packer fan base moving on scared the heck out of those who make their living off our hysteria.

Doyel is the perfect exhibit as to why newspapers and the media are in trouble nowadays. Instead of sticking to their true journalistic teachings, they whore themselves out to shock writing... whatever they need to do to illicit a reaction from the crowd. Because, as long as people are reacting to what you are writing, you can make the point that they are reading it. Right?

Journalists have the responsibility of presenting the world in an objective light. Yes, they can offer opinions and even a level of bias when they write, but this is the kind of ESPN sportutainment that lowers the bar even further. Sure, you may agree with it. You may indeed be weary of people defending Favre, attacking Ted Thompson, and ripping apart Aaron Rodgers. And I will be the first to admit that the folks attacking Rodgers are way out of line.

But those aren't "national journalists" that are doing the irrational defending of Favre, attacks of Thompson, and ripping apart of Rodgers. Those are regular schmoes, just like you and me, who have an internet connection and too much time on their hands. If national journalists were doing those sorts of things, many of us would spare nary a second in condmening them.

Just because you may agree with his thoughts, the intentional baiting and belittling is just as condemnable.

Did I ever think Favre should have come out of retirement? Nope. But that doesn't mean that I (or Thompson) have any right to prevent a man from making a living (and live with the rewards and consequences for his own decisions).

Do I think Favre walks on water? Certainly, after this past year, we all have to admit that Favre is not going to be the one to take the high road.

Is it wrong for Favre to be looking for revenge against the Packers, assuming all these "unnamed sources" are for real? What would you rather have... for it to settled on the field, once and for all, like men? Or more interviews with Greta?

If you truly wanted some sort of admission by Favre fans that their hero isn't all he was cracked up to be, would you really force them to grovel on their knees and beg forgiveness, to finally have Packer Nation come together in a tearful reconcilliation?

Doyel doesn't want that. He wants the complete opposite. I guess spite is in high supply these days.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Forty-Time, Schmorty-time.

Lot of ink the past day or so about undrafted FA Tyrell Sutton, the undersized running back from Northwestern, who ended up missing out on millions of dollars on Draft Day after suffering through injuries his last two years at college, then recording a plodding 4.75 40-yard dash at the combine.

He's latched on with the Packers, and the 5'8" back seems to be an intriguing prospect. 3,884 total rushing yards in the Big Ten isn't a fluke. It could make you Ron Dayne, too, but at least he's worth considering.

I'm kind of rooting for him. Not making any predictions or anything, but you like to see kids rewarded when they have the real talents you need in the NFL. And news for you: blazing straight-ahead speed ain't one of 'em. Remember Willie Gault? Or did you forget about him, too?

In fact, of all the measurables out there at the combines, I'm offering that the 40-time is one of the most misleading predictors of success in the NFL. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am totally on board that you can't teach speed, speed kills, and all those other cliches.

But speed without the intangible skills is useless. Case in point: LeShon Johnson, and his blazing 4.35 40-yard dash time. Highly touted as a first-round talent, he dropped to the third round in 1994, where Mike Holmgren was left to wonder "how can I get this speed on the field?"

He was left to wonder that for quite some time. Johnson was blessed with some pretty impressive speed, but he lacked the real skills you need in the NFL: awareness, vision, picking the right lane, waiting for your blocks to develop, and hitting the hole hard.

Come on. You all remember LeShon getting the ball, hitting his warp speed drive, and running right into the back of his blockers (who got credit for the tackle). In college, they never told him the names of plays: they just told him specifically what hole to go hit (they numbered them for him).

LeShon blamed it on poor vision, but never really got it going as a career rusher. He finished his career in the XFL (while "He Hate Me" is finishing his in the NFL. Irony?).

If Sutton is able to embody those talents that Johnson didn't have, I'm willing to throw out his lack of straight-line speed. In fact, how often does a running back ever really have to use straight ahead speed? The position is dependent on securing the ball, being able to see the field, to move laterally as well as forward, to change speeds, and take a hit.

In fact, the stat that makes me feel a bit better about Sutton isn't his 40-time, it's his Wonderlic, which is a respectable 21 on his first test, and a 25 at the combine. While that in and of itself doesn't mean he's going to have all those intangibles that Johnson didn't have, it gives me a lot of hope that he has that capacity to translate his skills from college to the NFL a lot more successfully.

And why not? He's 5'8". According to scout John Dorsey, he's short, but not small at 213 lbs. Can he become the change-of-pace back we've hoped for from Brandon Jackson, but never quite got?

The coach was impressed.

“Good little football player, I’ll tell you that,” Mike McCarthy said after Friday’s practice. “He jumped out today. I don’t know what everybody here thought of him. I thought he definitely showed some ability. He definitely has a chance. He has a spring in his step, and he’s instinctive, so we’ll see.”

Of course, this is rookie camp, and other than the drafted guys, few of them will even be around come training camp. It's fun to get excited about a kid like this, but we all know the chances are slim.

But Jerry Rice proved that you can run a 4.7 40-yard dash and compensate by getting the job done elsewhere. Face it...if you need someone to catch one pass for you to win a game, do you want Jerry Rice or Don Beebe on the other end?

Sutton may be an excellent fit for McCarthy's hybrid ZBS if his instincts serve him well. Getting a handoff in the ZBS means you get it, wait for the blocks to set up in front of you, then make your one cut and go. In other words, LeShon would have been a really bad ZBS running back.

But Sutton might be the kind of player that would thrive in it as a third-down option. We will have to see if he can beat out Kregg Lumpkin as the third RB, another UFA. Lumpkin was unavailable most of last year due to injury. You never know if that sits in the back of a coach's mind when looking at the roster the next year.