Monday, January 24, 2011

This Was Worth the Wait

All week long, I was fairly confident in the fact that the Packers were going to beat the Bears and become the NFC Champions, and when the Packers took a 14-0 lead, my confidence rose exponentially. But late in the first half, a pass intended for Donald Driver's hands actually hit his feet and then found it's way into the arms of Lance Briggs. At that moment, I began to freak out. We had been dominating Chicago up until that point, but this was exactly the type of dumb luck that the Bears often find themselves taking advantage of. From that point on, I had zero confidence that the Packers would win the game, but that's mainly because I'm a bit overdramatic at times. The difference in this game was that when the Bears did find themselves on the receiving end of dumb luck, the Packers were able to stop them from capitalizing on it.

Take that Briggs interception for example. After that pick, the Bears were looking as if they were going to score before they headed into the locker room, destined to go into halftime with the momentum. But Sam Shields came up big and had a huge interception. Later, Brian Urlacher was a sure bet to score after picking off an Aaron Rodgers throw, but Rodgers manned up and make a tackle that prevented Chicago from putting points on the board. Even when the Bears tried to create their own Frank Reich type story by inserting Caleb Hanie into the game for an "injured" Jay Cutler and a terrible Todd Collins, the Packers defense was able to step up and stop a guy some defenders had never even heard of (from the mouth of Ryan Pickett). The Packers offense played brilliantly in the first half, but after that, they stalled out pretty hard. Thankfully, said defense was able to step up and bring another NFC Title back to Green Bay. The defense has performed brilliantly all posteason - a far cry from the days when Rodgers would set us up for a victory only to see the defense give it away.

I'm not sure where the moment that I realized we were going to the Super Bowl ranks in terms of my all-time best moments category, but I can't think of a Packer game where I've ever felt happier. It's hard to say that when I have experienced a Packers Super Bowl win in my lifetime, but again, at the time I was just a kid, only thirteen, unable to account for just how tough it was to get to the championship. I'm 26 now, and I feel I have a much better appreciation for what the journey is like to get to the Super Bowl, and how rewarding (as a fan) it is to get there.

Not saying that watching the game was fun though, as I actually had a terrible time. I was an emotional wreck for most of this matchup, and towards the end of the game I ended up doing the same thing I did during the NFC Championship game back in the 2007 season - I had to watch the game by myself. In a crowded bar, I had to find a corner where I could watch the game solo, because having to experience any potential heartbreak with others was too much for my soul to bear. When Chicago cut the lead to seven, I was already thinking of what parts of the bar I was going to destroy, and which items throughout the establishment that I was going to set on fire. But when B.J. Raji picked off the Hanie pass for a touchdown, I was elated and overcome with tears. I dropped to the floor, and a river of joy started coming out of my eyes. The Packers were five minutes away from the Super Bowl at that point, and victory would soon be ours.

Then however, Hanie led a blink and you'll miss it kind of drive that cut the Bears deficit down to seven, and once again I was in depression mode. After the Packers couldn't get any points on their next possession, I sunk even deeper into the depths of negativity. But when Sam Shields picked off his second pass of the game on a Bears fourth down, I could finally realize the fact that Green Bay was headed back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years. I desperately tried to rejoin my friends for celebration of this moment, but no lie, as soon I made the initial jump out of my seat I twisted my ankle and laid on the ground in pain for the next five minutes. It's the closest I'll ever get to the Jack Shepard death moment - laying on the ground in pain, but satisfied about the result I saw above me.

To me, the best part about this victory was all the guys that stepped up that weren't the big name type players. On offense, Greg Jennings still gets my game ball on offense for his 8 catch, 130 yard performance, but James Starks was just as big of a difference maker as well. B.J. Raji was a stud on this day, with the aforementioned pick-six and also his use as the decoy on offense at the goal line that allowed Aaron Rodgers to roll out for a touchdown. Shields looks a hell of a lot better than he did in these two teams first meeting this year at Soldier Field, and in the last month Tim Masthay has played as well as any punter that's ever worn a Packers uniform. This 21-14 victory by the Packers was a complete team effort, all the way from number 53 on the roster up to the genius that is Ted Thompson.

It's been a difficult journey as Packers fans since the last time we hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, but it's so good to know that we're finally headed back to the 'ship. It's a feeling I still can't quite grasp, as it's something I've been waiting so long for. Since Super Bowl XXXI, we've gone through a Super Bowl loss to Elway and the Broncos, 4th and 26, home playoff losses to the Falcons and Vikings, the demoralizing loss to the Giants in the '07 NFC Championship Game, the Brett Favre retirement tour, and even this season alone the ups and downs of injuries and heartbreaking losses. But we're back in the Super Bowl, against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's way too early for me to have a prediction or even a gut feeling about the game, but as of right now I'm feeling good. This Packers team can overcome anything, and I truly believe that this is a Super Bowl winning team. We have four quarters left to execute that dream, and the next two weeks are going to be terribly long waiting for it. But hey, after 13 years of heartbreak and struggle, what's another two weeks?

From the bottom of my heart, Go Pack. I've never been this happy to be a Cheesehead.


Nick said...

Where did you watch this at Winks? I saw it at Andruzzi's in GB and the place was electric. Great atmosphere...definitely coming back for the Super Bowl

Yes, the game was an ugly victory, but was there any other way? I know not many people are going to talk about this, but Tim Masthay was incredible. The fact that he was so much better than Maynard on this day may have been the difference in the game. Coming into the game, the story was "Hester is going to kill you guys", and he ended up doing basically nothing.

I loved the B.J. Raji decoy play as well. McCarthy is a good coach and he deserves this opportunity. That said, his second half playcalling was pretty terrible. He seems to have a knack for throwing up curveballs to mess with the opponent's head, but why can't he do it when the team has a lead in the second half? His entire 4th quarter gameplan with a lead is "run, run, pass". Take 1:30-2 minutes off the clock and punt. Every team knows its coming and the result is the other team getting a chance to win/tie in the last seconds (as the Eagles did 2 weeks ago).

Whatever, can't complain, too excited...go pack gooo!!

Winks said...

Watched the game at a bar down in Fondy, JR's. We've been going there all playoffs, so no reason to stop now. Although I would love going up to Green Bay to be there for the Super Bowl.

I agree with you on the McCarthy play calling in the 4th quarter, it was very Sherman-esque. Doesn't matter to me though, we are in the Super Bowl, and I couldn't be happier!

Tony Brown said...

I watched the game at a Packers bar in DC. I have to say it was probably the second best sports on TV watching experience of my life, second only to US/Slovenia and US/Algeria. The crowd was awesome. The place was packed. There's something about solidarity in the minority that makes sports viewing away from home amazing.

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