Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Season To Remember

Bucky Channel writer Gweeds takes a look back at the season that was, from the first preseason game all the way until the final whistle in the Super Bowl: 

This season sure had its fair share of ups and downs, but in the end I can't say I would have changed a thing. As a fan, the first goal is to have confidence in your team. And in being a preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl, we had tons of confidence in this team. But the Packers were a little less dominant during this preseason than they were the year before, as in the 2009 preseason I think I said "Super Bowl" during August more than I ever had in my life. I wasn't worried about not being as dominant in the preseason as I thought we could be, but it is always nice to play well no matter when the season. Still, it gave me enough confidence that the feeling I had from the start with this team was "Don't worry, they are good enough to figure it out when they need to."

With that being said, everything still seemed to be all fine and dandy with this Packers squad, but when Ryan Grant went down in week one I guess you can say it was a little hard to not be a little worried. The Packers were able to get a little run game going after the injury with Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn in the weeks to come, but the ground attack still remained a concern. I kept still thinking that they will figure it out, just give them time. Then after a week two 34-7 win against the Bills, you kind of forget about the Ryan Grant thing, and you have to like what this team was doing after two weeks starting the season at 2-0.

But then came week three on the road against the Bears. This is one of those rivalries where you think, no matter how this season goes, good or bad, we still have to beat the Bears twice. I can't think of a regular season game that means more to me than a Pack vs Bears game. I'm a big Tar Heels guy, but I would still say that a UNC vs Duke game comes in a way distant second. The week three game was on a Monday night, on ESPN, under the lights, and it was time to show the world that we are a team to be wrecking with. If you look at the stats during this game we won everything but the game. Penalties, fumbles, and dumb mistakes cost us, and had Packer Nation in a frenzy. You had to be a little worried though, because those mistakes are what hurt us in the past.

The next three weeks are when this season became a real question mark. After the loss to the Bears the Packers came back to beat the Lions, but it wasn't the blowout we expected.  At home against the Lions, we should have won this game by at least 14 points yet we only won by two. The next two weeks were the worst weeks of the season. The Packers lost to both the Redskins and Dolphins in overtime. With the way that the Packers were struggling and now losing in close games, nearly every Packer fan I know was in a panic. My roommates and I collected all of our Packers paraphernalia throughout the apartment and banished it to a pile in the corner of our living room, not to be used again until the Packers won another game. We were 3-3, and it seemed that this was going to be another heart broken season. The injuries were starting to pile up, and it just seemed that even God didn't want the Packers to win. Nothing was going our way, but at least we had a lot of season left.

So it turned out that in order for the Packer pile to disseminate, it would take a win against Brett Favre and the Vikings on Sunday Night Football. After he beat us twice last season, this might have been the most important regular season game for the Packers in a long time. Getting our record to 4-3 didn't mean as much as beating Favre did at this point in the season. Looking back, this game was kind of like all the playoff games (minus Atlanta) where it came down to the defense coming up huge in the final minute. In this particular game, Favre threw a pass out the back of the end zone on 4th and 15 which sealed a Packers victory. This game was a huge relief, and allowed me to pull my Jennings out of the pile so that I could wear again proudly. This win signaled a change in the Packers season. In the next two weeks against the Jets and the Cowboys, the Packers scored 54 points while giving up just seven. They took a 6-3 record into the bye week, and it felt very good to be a Packer fan.

Coming out of the bye week the Packers took it to Favre again, and it began to seem that this team was the one that was going to lead us back to the Super Bowl. When the Pack went into Atlanta, that seemed to be the game to decide who was going to get home field for the playoffs, and it was about as close of a game as you can get. In the game's final moments, Aaron Rodgers led an awesome drive to bring the Pack back to tie it. It seemed that maybe this is when the Packers would start getting some breaks as well during their season. Then on the kickoff the Falcons got a huge return that set them up for game winning field goal. Another heart breaking loss in what seemed like would be another season of heartbreak. Still, I was confident that their was still a lot of good to come out of this season.

The Packers made right the following week by taking it to the 49ers, highlighted by Donald Driver's spectacular run after a catch that lead to what may be the touchdown of the year. Then the week after, Green Bay headed to Detroit for what should have been a free win, right? We'll win that game, and then easily head to the playoffs. There is just no way that we would lose this game, at least that was the collective thoughts of Packers fans. But then Aaron Rodgers goes down with a concussion, and a crushing 7-3 loss makes it look like our season is all but over. How could it be the Lions to end our season? Can an outcome like this really happen to a storied franchise like the Packers? This was our year, and there is no way a game against the Lions is going to end it. For me and my friends, this loss occurred the week before we were all to head out to Boston for our annual Packer road trip. I began to wonder, will we ever see this team do something great again?

Because of the loss to Detroit, I woke up on Monday morning feeling like selling my ticket to the game against New England just to try and get more drinking money for the weekend. As the week went on, I really don't know what it was, but something came over me telling me that we were going to win this game. The Packers will shock the world, and win the last three games, easily heading into the playoffs with all the momentum in the world. I figured that we had a solid defense, and our offense should be able to score on the Pats defense. I don't really know why I felt so confident as the week went on, maybe going to the game itself might have had something to do with it.

I was looking forward to this trip all season, but when we first booked it the thinking was that the Packers would be playing for home field advantage in the playoffs. Instead this game almost had to be won for us to even get there. Game or not though, this turned out to be the best Packers trip that we had taken by far. As you can tell from the picture above, we did a lot of drinking. We may have even lost a person for awhile. There may have been a trip member that had to spend the whole second day in the hotel because he had too much the first day. But it was a great time, even before the game was to be played that Sunday night.

For game day we took a bus from a Packer bar in the heart of Boston to the parking lot out in Foxboro. As the game got closer, it felt like the making of a special game. DeSean Jackson had a game winning punt return against the Giants that really opened the door for Packers. The Lions were able to pull off another upset, this time against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And we had spent the afternoon watching the Jets get a huge win against the Steelers on a TV connected to the side of an RV. It was just a crazy day of football, which led me to believe that something crazy would happen during the Sunday nightcap as well.

Crazy is exactly what happened, because this was one of the strangest games of the year. The Packers start off with a surprising, and successful, onside kick. They take a 17-7 lead, before some lineman returns a kick 71 yards. Still winning at halftime, backup quarterback Matt Flynn throws a pick six right away in the third. The Packers fight back to take the lead, but then need one last drive to win it only to come up short on a 4th and 1. The offense had the chance to win it, but just came up short. I think this shinned a light on the defense, I really do. They realized that they blew it last season, and it was now time for them as a unit to step up and carry this team into the playoffs. As we were walking out of the stadium, getting heckled the whole way out, I just kept telling people that we'd see them in a few months, more specifically in the Super Bowl. Turns out the Patriots would never get the invite.

After this game, the Packers were forced to win out in their final two for a trip to the playoffs. I think the only thing that went the Packers way all season was getting two home games to end the year. I had family Christmas during the Giants game, and I have to say because of this it was one of the best family Christmas's ever. Watching the game with the family and seeing the Pack just crush the Giants was awesome. Rodgers came back healthy and ready, and showed that he was ready to make a run at it all. Next up was the Chicago Bears on the final week of the season. I was able to attend this game, and well it wasn't the greatest win ever. It was another hard fought game, but the Packers did what they had to do to win. Nick Collins picked off the last pass of the regular season, and gave me a lot of hope going into the playoffs.

From the time the Bears game ended up until the playoff game on Sunday, all I could think about was the Packers. With everything the Packers had to go through just to get to the playoffs it just felt like their year to win it all. I can't say why I felt so confident for every playoff game, but I knew that I would be crushed if we lost. I felt that we should have been favored every game, because this team was using the Patriots game as fuel to their fire. They knew that they had to overcome a lot of things to get to the playoffs, but went they got there they had no excuse. In the postseason, we would play three teams we had already played in the regular season, so we knew their game plans. Also the run defense had been so great of late, which forced the other teams' QB to get in a shootout with ours. Rodgers knew that we didn't have much of a run game, and all the other teams we played relied on the on run game a lot. All those factors only lead to my increased confidence.

Now, we had been hearing since week one when Ryan Grant went down that the Packers had no running game. But despite that injury, and many others, the Packers got to the playoffs with what they have and made that  work all the way through the playoffs. I watched the playoffs at a local bar in Fond du Lac, and while that doesn't seem ideal, I wouldn't have had it any other way. I was initially against the idea of watching such important games at a bar, because I just like to be home and able to hear everything during the broadcast. But I eventually gave in, as the weeks went on so did other people, as it seemed like the crowds got bigger and rowdier every week. We started a pregame routine at the bar, playing "Start Me Up" and "Bang on the Drum". Winks would buy a round of SoCo Limes for a warmup shot, and then we'd watch our Packers do what they do, and that became winning games. I may have lost all my finger nails after every game, but man I will never forget those five weeks of my life.

For how much time I invest in this team, this season was really something special. The moment that pass on 4th and 5 hit the the ground I just had to pause and take it in. After about a minute I think I hugged about five people, and picking a teary-eyed Winks off the ground to give him a hug is something I been waiting for forever. The final thing I had to do was text my dad, and all I said was "AWESOME."

It was a roller coaster of a season for sure this year. Before the season we felt like no one would beat us. But then Ryan Grant goes down in the first game. The Bears beat us week three, and we are 3-3 after week six. We get back our swagger back against Brett Favre. In between there somewhere I went as Ben Roethlisberger for Halloween (and no I didn't rape anyone). The Packers drop a tough one in Atlanta, and then drop another one to the Lions. The season looks all but over, and then some how we make the playoffs. Down go the Eagles, Falcons, and Bears. Of all people we have to face big Ben in the Super Bowl, and I still have a Roethlisberger jersey in my closet as I celebrate a Packers Super Bowl win against the Steelers. It was a whirlwind right, but it's nice to once again be able to say that we are the World Champions.

This team showed us the definition of what a team really is. They had good times in the season together, and they had their bad times together. It is just unbelievable what they had to go through to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay. Not only did this team deserve it, but the Green Bay fans also needed this. The state of Wisconsin has great sport fans, and we just really needed a championship. It has been a long time, and we deserved every minute of it. So as you sit around the house on these football-less weekends, be sure to remind yourself just how incredible the past six months were. This was the by far was the ride of my life, and I hope I can experience something like this again sometime soon. This season was special, and it will always be the season to remember.


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