Saturday, October 16, 2010

Am I Still a "Fan"?

There are times I have to wonder if I am still a Packer "fan".  Now, don't get me wrong.  I love the Packers as my one-and-only and it will be that way until my dying day.  I am loyal, passionate, and love this team.

But the term "fan" come from the word "fanatic", which Miriam-Webster defines as "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion".  But I don't think that covers the breadth of how the term is used nowadays with how fans follow their sports teams.  

I'm enthusiastic, no doubt.  However, I am also critical when the time comes.  I feel like I put a lot of thought into my following of this team, especially as it deals with my blogging.  And sometimes, you can out-think yourself so much that you start losing some of the passion that got you interested in the team to begin with.  As a blogger who is finally getting an opportunity to get some freelance material published, there's the fear of transmogrifying into a neutrally-minded journalist, who puts their personal feelings on the back burner in order to properly report on what happens, good or bad.

That's something I don't think I've done, nor do I plan on ever doing if I can help it.  But one thing that I have done is remain grounded and consistent. That comes from a period of time in my life as a forum rat, when it seemed everything I wrote came under attack from fellow Packer fans who disagreed (passionately) with my opinions.

So, what's my point?  This whole Thompson/McCarthy roller coaster is just getting to me.  Normally, I just kind of laugh at the emotions that seem to rise and fall with our win total, the results of our last game, or even from possession to possession.  But this latest angst has me wondering if I'm missing out on that passion.

Following the 2007 season, McCarthy and Thompson were both given awards as the best in their fields by the NFL and the media.  And the rallying of Packer fans behind the brass of the organization was forged deeper following FavreGate that summer.

But in 2008, a late-season collapse had fans questioning the coaching of Mike McCarthy, and that very mediocre draft in April suddenly came back to haunt Thompson.  

In 2009, not even two years after being feted and glorified by Packer fans, the turnabout was complete.  A photoshopped picture of Ted and Mike as the "Dumb and Dumber" pair made the rounds.  Their detractors vocally called for a change, and defenders carefully chose their words, if they responded at all.  Yes, after the Tampa Bay Debacle last year, many were starting to expect McCarthy to lose his job at the end of the season.

But, that suddenly dissipated, as the Packers upset the Cowboys and went on a late-season tear.  Suddenly, again, the pair were not only off the hook, but back in the "stuff of legend" talk.  A post-season appearance had expectations rising, and again, Thompson and McCarthy looked to be the geniuses leading the team to a certain Super Bowl appearance in 2010.

Now, the anguish is back.  Again.  Thompson won't make the moves this team need to win.  McCarthy can't manage a gameplan or get his team to master basic fundamentals.  Calls for firing, as well as tarring and feathering, can be heard from many corners of the Packer Blogosphere.

This is the roller coaster I am watching, seemingly from afar, even though I am well caught up in its wake.  How the abilities of these two men can change, so abruptly, over the course of a few weeks never ceases to amaze me.  And, I understand it.  It's that fanaticism, the "fandom" that most Packer fans have...everyone should be making the Pro Bowl when we do well, and everyone should be fired when we're not.

And I wonder if I'm missing out on that, if I am still a "fan" in the most passionate and irrational sense of the word.  Does that irrationality make being a fan more rewarding in the long run?  Don't get me wrong...I'm in front of the TV or in the stands every week, seemingly living and dying on every snap of the ball, just like everyone else.  

Even when the Packers were on that tremendous ride in 2007, I offered many critical pieces, including how the Packers had seemingly abandoned the running game in the first half of the season and kept running out of the shotgun (sound familiar?).  Even when Ryan Grant came on later, I questioned whether or not he was being used consistently enough to be an impact when it mattered most.  Trust me, the flack I took at the time for that article were pretty pointed, as questioning the regime was not smiled upon.  But, when the Packers lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship game, what I wrote seemed almost prophetic.

And little has changed since those days of success, at least in my opinions and beliefs about Thompson and McCarthy.  Ted Thompson is an adept drafter, an excellent judge of college talent, and shrewd in negotiations.  But he is so entrenched in his draft-first-and-only approach that he hesitates in exploring other avenues that improve the team, and his cold approach to working with other GMs and free agents have turned off potential signings.  He also seems to encourage a a clandestine operation that starts at the top.

And McCarthy has that tough-as-nails approach that combines with a level of fluidity.  Like Dom Capers, he's not afraid to tinker with personnel and gameplanning when things aren't working.  He never complains about a lack of talent and works with what he has. He's committed to his job and has the ability to get a team motivated late in the season, even if the talent isn't all there.  Conversely, focus issues have beleaguered his squads, from special teams and penalties to when to throw the challenge flag.  He has consistently avoided committing to the run and buys too easily into a "the scheme will fix us" mentality.

Whether the Packers are on a six-game winning streak or have lost four in a row, my opinions haven't changed...both Thompson and McCarthy have strengths that can get us up the mountain, but it still has yet to be seen if we can move beyond the plateau we always seem to reach, often a result of tripping over our own feet instead of getting beat by better teams.

The only difference between, say, 2008 and now is that McCarthy is now coaching his fifth season, while Thompson is in his sixth.  I've always been consistent in saying that while I don't agree with everything they've done, they deserved a chance to see their plan come to fruition and be judged based on the results.

But it's the up-and-downs that are getting the Packers fans restless.  In an article I penned this summer, I noted that the Packers are second in the NFL in team record deviation from season-to-season during the McCarthy era, averaging 5-and-two-thirds wins more or less than the previous season.  Many Packer fans expect the slow rise seen under the Holmgren teams of the early 1990's. or even the slow and steady upturn of the Mike Sherman years in the early 2000's.  

Perhaps it is the inconsistency, the high hopes dashed, then the rising from the ashes that are getting Packer fans impatient and frustrated, as we saw at roughly this point last season following a Tampa Bay loss.  The interesting part is that, if you go back in time about six years, the biggest knock on Mike Sherman is that all he did was win division championships every year, then go one-and-done in the playoffs.

And there I go again, thinking through things instead of grabbing my pitchfork and torch and joining the rest of the mob bemoaning all things McCarthy and Thompson.  Look, I am the furthest thing from an apologist for the two leaders of this team.  In fact, I've been accused of being a Hater on more than one occasion.  

But, Ted Thompson and McCarthy are who we thought they were.  They both have shown the ability to create winning football teams that still set up their own hurdles trying to get to the top.  It was that way even in the 13-3 season of 2007, and will be the same until they prove otherwise.  And maybe, that's what they see as best for the business side of the team.

The question is:  how much more time will they be given?  If the mob has their way right now, it isn't going to be much longer.

1 comment:

BigSnakeMan said...

This will probably be seen as blasphemy in some circles but I believe it's nonsense to tie your mental well being to the fortunes of a football team that, in the end, is only supposed to be entertainment. Where the Packers are concerned, I watch the games, sometimes comment on what I see, and then let it go. Certainly I hope for the best but if they lose I don't let it ruin my week as many others seem to do.

As for TT & M-3, I see them as neither fools nor geniuses. IMO, to apply the word 'genius' to any football coach or GM is misguided. They can hardly be held responsible for the rash of injuries that has plagued the team this season. They have their shortcomings as does anyone else and if there are better men for the job, I'd be on board with making a change. But to automatically assume the Packers would be better off under anyone else is largely baseless.