Monday, October 10, 2011

A Memorable Start

I grew up in the South — in the heart of what was Dallas Cowboys territory when I was young — but, as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of the Green Bay Packers.

My memory of watching football games on TV doesn't go back before I was in elementary school because we didn't get our first TV until I was in first grade. But I remember watching football games with my father on Sunday afternoons (there were no Sunday or Monday night games in those days — except on rare, special occasions), and I got to see Vince Lombardi in his last years as the Packers' coach — even if it was on our rather small black–and–white set.

(I've seen color footage of Lombardi, and it never looks quite right to me. Images of Lombardi only look right in black and white!)

Since that moment when I first saw the Packers play, I have been a Packers fan. You can believe me when I tell you there have been many painful seasons for Packer fans since Lombardi's day.

Modern fans probably look at today's Packers and see an organization that has been largely successful for the last 20 years. The Packers, after all, have been to three Super Bowls in the last two decades and won two of them, and they've come close on other occasions. They've only missed the playoffs a handful of times.

But that isn't the whole story, at least not for those of us who have been following the Packers longer than that. After Lombardi led the Packers to victory in those first two Super Bowls, the Packers went to the playoffs — wait for it — twice in 25 years.

Talk about a long dry spell.

The pendulum seems to have swung the other way. Not only have the Packers been enjoying success since quarterback Brett Favre came along in the early 1990s but his successor, Aaron Rodgers, has led Green Bay to a 5–0 start this season. That's a better start to a season than Favre ever had in Green Bay.

For that matter, the Packers haven't started a season 5–0 since the autumn of 1965 — the year before my family got its first TV — when I was in kindergarten. The Packers actually began that season 6–0 — which means Green Bay must defeat winless St. Louis this Sunday to match that gang from '65 and then must beat 1–4 Minnesota the following week to surpass them.

The Packers have their bye week the week after that, but if they beat the Rams and Vikings, they can go into their break with a record of 7–0 for the first time since 1962. They went 13–1 that year and won their first 10 games before losing to the Detroit Lions, who were pretty good in 1962 as well. The Lions were 8–2 on Thanksgiving 1962, the day they beat the Packers, and would have been in the playoffs if the NFL allowed anyone other than the winners of the two divisions that existed at that time to participate in the postseason.

That's kind of ironic because the Lions, who are also undefeated as they prepare to face the Chicago Bears tonight, will be hosting the Packers this Thanksgiving. And, to make things even more interesting, if the Packers are undefeated when they travel to Detroit in late November, their record will be — wait for it again — 10–0.

Just like that squad from 1962.

I don't know if the Packers will get through the season without a loss. In my lifetime, only one team has gone all the way through the regular season and the postseason without losing a game so you have to figure that duplicating that achievement is highly unlikely — especially since modern NFL teams play two more games in the regular season than they did in '62.

But I'm not even thinking about that right now. I guess I was conditioned too well by all those losing seasons. With the Packers, I take it one step at a time. First, secure a playoff spot. It's OK if it's a wild card. The Packers were wild cards last year and won it all.

If they can win the division, that's even better. And if their record is good enough to earn a first–round bye, that's better still. But just get into the playoffs. The late Al Davis used to say, "Just win, baby." I say, "Just get into the playoffs."

Once the Packers are in the playoffs, I focus on the immediate opponent, and I have to hope the Packers do, too. Sometimes they get ahead of themselves.

Don't look past anyone. If a team is in the playoffs, it is usually because that team has done something well during the regular season. I take all playoff teams seriously, and I expect my favorite team to do so as well.

Last year, the Packers remained focused and won it all.

When you combine their record so far this season with the four consecutive playoff wins that included their Super Bowl triumph and the two season–ending wins that got them into the playoffs last year, the Packers have won 11 games in a row. That's nearly as many wins as the Packers compiled in two or three consecutive seasons when I was growing up.

Times have changed, and I'm enjoying this flirtation with perfection while it lasts.

But I remember what it was like, and I don't want to go back there.

I want to see the Packers win the Super Bowl again.

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