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Can Green Bay add another title?

Packers backed to start NFL season in style

Tom Jackson @JacksonTC

Every so often, we get to witness the creation of a special team or individual talent.

The sporting map is littered with accomplishments that will always be remembered, with fathers keen to tell their sons that they saw the Manchester United treble-winning side of 1999 and grandfathers reminiscing to their grandchildren about Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics or Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile.

American football is no different. Ask 100 fans about their most treasured memories and you’ll be sure to hear about Don Shula’s undefeated Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys side dubbed “America’s Team” or “The Fridge” and the 1985 Chicago Bears who blitzed the opposition.

Whether it be by talent, coaching or just plain luck, there have been a few sides that have set themselves apart. These groups of individuals were more than just teams, though – they developed into something bigger, something that will leave them forever enshrined in their sport. They become part of dynasties.

The National Football League finds itself, potentially, on the cusp of witnessing another great. One that could go on to create a Green Bay Packers dynasty.

Already the NFL’s most celebrated franchise, with more league championships (13) than any other side, last season’s Super Bowl XLV victory signalled that the good times could be about to return to a city affectionally known as “Titletown, USA”.

While there are a glut of teams with their eyes set on making a Super Bowl run this time around, the Packers are in a strong position to become the first franchise since the 2004-05 New England Patriots to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy in consecutive years.

For dynasties to develop, there needs to be a synthesis between the players, coaches and front-room staff. A quick look at the Packers will tell you that the whole franchise is in harmony.

It starts with their three main men – head coach, Mike McCarthy, general manager, Ted Thompson, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

They set themselves apart from the rest of the league by refusing to hog the limelight or steal the headlines. But don’t for a second think this is a bad thing.

Apart from the occasional glorifying tweet from tight-end Jermichael Finley, this team just go about their work and stay true to their goal of being successful. Essentially, the franchise follow the simple principle: “Act like you’ve been there before. This is what the Packers are supposed to do.”

This outlook makes perfect sense when you consider the backgrounds of the three leading men.

Rodgers, who became the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl after attending community college, has always had a point to prove since falling to number 24 in the 2005 draft, where many teams had the Californian going to the San Francisco 49ers as the top pick.

Rodgers can still recall the draft like yesterday, describing it as “very humbling”.

He remembers: “I just kinda sat there and faced the reality of dropping in the draft. On the inside, there was a lot of disappointment, embarrassment… Just thinking about how hard you work. Was it even worth it?”

But the experience provided the spur to Rodgers in what is a potential Hall of Fame career. He sat for three years behind the great Brett Favre learning his trade and now has the poise, accuracy and arm strength to make plays that has the Lambeau Field faithful gasping in wonderment.

Rodgers, though, is just one of a core of talented young Packers. And perhaps what scares the rest of the league most is the roster depth, particularly in offence, that McCarthy and Thompson continue to assemble year after year.

It tells you something that even in the third week of preseason – when most teams have completed their player evaluations and are looking to give their starters meaningful playing time – the Packers are comfortable letting their starters play a quarter-and-a-half before handing over to the guys who are fighting it out to make the final roster.

“We need more information,” was the message from McCarthy ahead of the exhibition game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“We cannot operate in a traditional training camp. We’re not taking this week and saying: ‘Hey, let’s go beat the Indianapolis Colts.’ That’s not what this week’s about. It’s a different year; we have different objectives.”

Privately, McCarthy and Thompson will be pleased with the roster they have assembled and though tough decisions will have be taken, the pair will be confident that they have the players at their disposable to make a resilient defence of their crown.

While there are other teams with strong rosters, the Packers welcomed back to training camp 15 players who were on injured reserve during the title season.

But such is the team’s depth that Thompson was still prepared to let 16 veterans leave as free agents and place the onus on young players to step up and perform. In a sporting world where experience counts for so much, such a move is almost unthinkable.

However, while the Packers’ general manager still values experience, he is quick to point out that a bigger picture needs to be looked at when signing players and letting others go.

“You’d like for all your players in all your positions, the backups included, to have starter potential, which increases competition and the overall talent level of your team,” says Thompson.

“You try to figure out in your head which is the most valuable thing to the organisation. You obviously have to look at the here and the now, and you also have to look into the future.”

It must petrify the rest of the league that Thompson feels that he can afford to have one eye on the future, which goes a long way to explain why he values the draft so much.

The former linebacker is from the Ron Wolf (another Packer great) school of management – re-sign your own players as free agents and build your roster through the draft.

During his time in charge of the Packers, Thompson’s only major free agent acquisition is defensive back Charles Woodson.

But through the draft, Thompson finds his depth. Just take this season, for example, when he immediately upgraded the Packers’ return game by selecting Randall Cobb and added another weapon to the backfield in Alex Green.

First-year players who have the ability not only to compete but also to win starting berths and contribute is Thompson’s target.

However, assembling a talented roster is only half the task. Developing those within it and helping them to become successful is the job of the brilliant McCarthy, who is quickly drawing parallels with the greatest coach of them all, Vince Lombardi.

Signs in downtown Green Bay read “In coach McCarthy we trust” and it his quest for perfection that will continue to drive the Packers forward.

But, for McCarthy, this year isn’t necessarily about going out to repeat the achievements of last season because, he says, his side is a “new team with fresh faces and new goals”. It’s a sensible way of ensuring that his players don’t get caught up in the Super Bowl hype and a reminder that, for many of them, their careers are only just beginning.

The head coach doesn’t let his players sit on their laurels, though – even Rodgers isn’t immune to criticism and arrived on the first day of training camp to a playbook that had been given 48 alterations to make it more devastating.

Not that McCarthy is necessarily a great play-caller (there are several head coaches who would rank ahead of him), but what sets the Pittsburgh native apart is his man-management skills, not to mention the recognition he gives to his assistant coaches.

Since he assumed control in 2006, McCarthy has brought in a number of former Packers as coaches who the players respect and are eager to learn from. There is no-one better for Clay Matthews to listen to than Kevin Greene when it comes to rushing the passer, and the same goes for the receivers and running-backs, who are mentored by Edgar Bennett.

These guys, with their ethos of hard work and self-development, set the tone for the Packers – and also help youngsters appreciate the history and heritage of the franchise they represent.

“When you win a championship in Green Bay, you’re part of a very special fraternity,” says Thompson. “You’re part of the men from the teams in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 60s and 90s – the men who won a title. These players now can stand alongside the great ones. When you win in this town, you become a little bit immortal. Just like those before us. That’s the beauty of this place: we didn’t invent it. We’re just continuing it.”

Whether the Packers can add a 14th championship this season remains to be seen, and it is important to recognise that they are far from shoo-ins to defend their Super Bowl crown or win multiple titles over the next decade.

Why? Well, the reason is simple – the NFL finds itself in rude health with a logjam of teams all posing credible threats to the Packers.

Unlike Green Bay, the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles have invested heavily in free agents in the hope of securing this season’s Super Bowl crown. The Eagles, in particular, look set to make a deep pre-season run after splashing out on Cullen Jenkins and Nnamdi Asomugha while giving quarterback Michael Vick a new $100 million contract.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will once again be contenders and attempt to avenge February’s Super Bowl defeat, while the New Orleans Saints have made the off-season acquisitions to challenge for a second title in three years.

The Atlanta Falcons, meanwhile, have looked to copy the Packers blueprint by trying to build some offensive depth. And there is also the intriguing prospects of the St Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, who are young and hungry for success, though 2011 may be a year too early for either franchise to make a real impact in the playoff race.

McCarthy, meanwhile, just remains focused on his charges and their development over the coming months.

“I think you want to grow throughout the year,” he says. “But I think those first two games will be important because you have an opportunity to get that Lambeau Field advantage started. You need to take advantage of that. And then at the end, you want to be playing your best football.”

If, by January, the Packers are playing their best football, the rest of the league better watch out.

The new NFL season starts with Packers v Saints on Thursday September 8th at Lambeau Field

If you enjoyed this, then check out Matt Ogborn’s NBA piece “Evolution of a Big Man”

6 Responses to “Green With Envy”

  1. I like the AFC’s big 3, New England, San Diego or Pitsburgh. But the Packers have a shot at a repeat title, that is for sure.
    Philip Rivers turn for a ring.

  2. Bobby Bartlett September 7, 2011

    Great to have American Football back. Great article to welcome back the NFL. Tom, no fumbles here. FIRST DOWN! Great stuff.

  3. Really good piece, perfectly sculpting an idea of the team. Totally agree that there is this lingering feeling of uniqueness about this team, and that there is a definite chance for them to continue winning and form that dynasty that so many envision.

  4. Akhil Nayak September 10, 2011

    Manchester United winning treble was pure luck……So it can’t be considered as a footballing great let alone sport’s great achievement……
    Achievements by Barcelona,Brazil,Holland,Arsenal’s Invincibles etc are real sporting marvels

  5. Akhil Nayak September 10, 2011

    Any sorry for not appreciating your article first…..It was a nice one :)

  6. Con Air October 4, 2011

    Packers are tearing it up. I think you might be spot on Sir. The offense is like a machine. Rodgers has gone from star man to God. Closing in on Brady as the best in the game. The Cheese Heads must be in Heaven.


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