Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Hike up Mount 'Super Bowl XLV'

Clay Mathews with MVP Aaron Rodgers and his much deserved Title Belt

"We’re just getting started."
                          -Mike McCarthy, (Jan 9th 2010) after the Eagles game in the Wild Card round

At that time, it felt like just another passing comment, that slipped past most people. Little did we know that he was leading this team through one of the most improbable, yet dominating Championship runs in the history of the sport.

Improbable because, the Packers had a barrage of injuries all season long, including a few big ones in the Super Bowl. In just the regular season, they had 16 players in Injured Reserve (meaning they were lost for the rest of the year); seven of them were starters. That's almost one-third of the teams starters lost during the regular season. Overcoming this type of adversity is borderline impossible. (Ask the Colts.)

Dominating because, they never trailed a game all year long; that's 18 games, by more than seven points. I repeat "NEVER TRAILED IN ANY GAME BY MORE THAN SEVEN POINTS". Let that thought sink into your head for a second. Now, if that does not impress you, I'm not sure what will.

Phew, I'm still trying to process the Packers win in Super Bowl XLV. Wait, did they just win the Super Bowl? Yes, THE GREEN BAY PACKERS JUST WON THE SUPER BOWL. Surreal.

Apart from the glory and sense of accomplishment that comes with the Super Bowl XLV win, it is the path this team took that will be cherished by fans the most.

The Journey begins

I already wrote about the journey this special Packers team had to take to get to the NFC Championship Game here.

In short, a strong start to the season was cut short by a slew of injuries, which included starters that were the center piece of the offensive schemes, including RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermicheal Finley. Even Aaron Rodgers missed a game and a half after he suffered his second concussion of the season. They went through a bumpy mid-season road with a few losses to sub-par teams like the Washington Redskins, the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl XLV, or die!

Pittsburgh Steelers (+2.5) vs Green Bay Packers
Or can we call it the team of the '70s vs the team of the 60's? So much of history between these two franchises. While, the Cowboys are generally called America's team, a legit case can be made for either of these two teams to be called America's Team. (Here is the case made for the Packers by Gene Wojciechowski).

The Steelers might be the most successful franchise in the super bowl era: starting from the Chuck Noll, Terry Bradshaw days through Bill Cowher and now onto the Mike Tomlin era. The Packers are probably the most successful franchise ever, with the most NFL Championships (when including the pre-Super Bowl era). Their storied history dates back to the days of coach Curly Lambeau, through Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr; and then after a setback in the 70s and 80s, the Packers came back to NFL prominence with the Brett Favre era, which now (in)famously transformed into the Aaron Rodgers era.

And here is Rick Reilly talking about why people without a horse in this race should root for the Packers.

Packer Game Plan

The game is being played indoors at Cowboys Stadium (with the roof closed). Which means Aaron Rodgers will get to wear his favorite shoes. And, more importantly, the Packers offense can showcase its speed.  The one thing the vaunted Steelers defense might be susceptible to is when opposing teams spread things out.

Proof? Tom Brady and the Patriots did it in their meeting against the Steelers in this year's regular season. The Packers themselves did in Week 15 of the 2009 season against the Steelers. Its no gimme. But, being indoors in a controlled weather will be a perfect setting to try exploit that chink in the Steeler D. The big key here, that I keep stressing every week: The Packers WRs should hold on to balls thrown at them. A couple drops (due to lack of concentration that happens a lot to both Jennings and Jones) could cost them the game and title.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The (Soldier) Field of Dreams

I am a little late in doing this, but I wanted to write a post about my experience at the NFC Championship Bears-Packers Game. Hey, better late than never.

I was one of the lucky few that got to witness my beloved Packers take on their arch rival (and the oldest rivalry in pro football) the Chicago Bears in an NFC Championship Game. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in 1941. That's how rare this occasion was. Truly, a once in a generation occurrence. Thanks my bro, Chander for giving me this opportunity, even though I was/am a Packer fan. Thanks man!

Packers - Bears NFC Championship Game kick off
On game day Sunday (January 23rd 2011), the two of us were getting ourselves prepared for the game. It was going to be a cold day. And when I say cold, I mean cold! Well below freezing point. And yeah, the wind chill factor in Chicago was going to make it exponentially worse. Chander, who grew up there and who has been going to Bears games since like forever, knew what to do. Taking tips from him, I got myself into layers of clothes; and when I say layers, I mean like five; including some Packer gear. So much so, even for my hands, I had two separate layers of gloves. In short, I felt like Randy (Ralphie's brother) from "A Christmas Story".

To avoid all the traffic and parking mayhem, we decided to cab it to Soldier Field (just a couple miles away). But before that, apart from all the external protection to combat the cold, we stopped by D4 Pub to down a few drinks to keep us warm from the inside. I badly needed it (Did I mention it was cooooold?). Of course, on the way, I was heckled at by many on the streets. Hmm...maybe it was because I was wearing Packer gear in downtown Chicago. Who knows? (wink wink).

Then a couple hours before kick off, we took a cab to Soldier Field. On the way, of course we were talking about the game. Both of us were real anxious. I sincerely thought the hot streak for the Packers might run out of gas. Especially, given the way the Bears have been playing the Packers of late. While I was expressing those "half glass empty" feelings, Chander, on the other hand, seemed cautiously optimistic. After all, the Bears were playing at home and were well rested with two bye weeks. (Sorry Seattle Seahawks, I count the Seahawks-Bears Divisional Round Game as a bye. You need the other team to show up for a real game). As expected, we had to get off a little far away from the Stadium; a good 25-30 minutes walk (yup, and in the cold).

As we were getting closer to the Stadium, obviously we were were walking along with more and more people. And it was rather encouraging to see some Green and Gold clad folks out there. We tussled our way into Soldier Field through the crowd, past the security check. Got ourselves some beer (again, it was freezing) and headed to our seats (at the North end zone side). Yeah, there were a few Packer fans here and there, but I was surrounded by raucous Bear fans on all sides. None more loud and passionate than my bro.