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Ask Vic

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Expectations can ruin a season before it begins

Posted Jul 29, 2014

Season opener is creating great anticipation

Candido from Tehuacan, Puebla

Vic, we have heard all about the best games and seasons you have covered. How about the opposite? Do you have any season you would like to take off the book of memories?

The 2008 season was awful. Why? Because expectations made it awful. The team I was covering ate the pizza. It signed a couple of free agents and immediately proclaimed them to be the missing links. It literally helped convince the media to make that team the AFC favorite. So how did that turn out? It began with 0-2 and by Thanksgiving they were on their way to losing six of their final seven games of the season en route to a 5-11 record. The expectations were unrealistic. That team fell into the one-player-away trap. When the season ended, it was blow-it-up time. Expectations are very dangerous. They can become a contagion that spreads wildly through the locker room and the fan base. Perspective is critical. Coaches are vigilant in providing perspective for their teams. That team wanted to be something more than it was. It felt good to be something more than it was and I think it felt a need to try to sell that to its fans. The season was over before it began.

Cody from Tobyhanna, PA

I cannot get enough of your thoughts and questions. I’m trying to find you on Twitter but can’t. I’m an Alabama fan and a Packers fan living in Pennsylvania after getting out of the military. I see Eddie Lacy getting very little love in Madden and with the experts. This troubles me, seeing how one man changed an entire offensive playbook.

Don’t let that kind of stuff bother you. Lacy looks fantastic. He is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was at this point last summer.

Mike from Des Moines, IA

I have been more intrigued with this year’s training camp than I have been probably ever. What are your thoughts on the outlook of training camp? Is this one of the most anticipated ones you’ve seen?

Last year’s wasn’t the most anticipated? Next year’s won’t be the most anticipated? It’s the start of a new season and that always excites us. Training camps are different in this CBA period. I don’t get the same war-of-the-worlds feel that I got from camps of yesteryear. Training camps are no longer tests of endurance or even rites of passage. They’re practices. It’s all part of the new culture, meant to reduce injuries and preserve careers. The anticipation I feel is for the season opener. I can’t imagine a more exciting start to the season than what Packers fans are going to experience on Sept. 4. I view this training camp as preparation for that game. Last year’s camp had some of that same feel, because the Packers opened in San Francisco, but opening in Seattle against the Super Bowl champs creates, in my opinion, an even higher level of anticipation.

Ben from Washington, DC

While on the topic of helping the players maintain healthy bodies, is there anything in the CBA or individual contracts that allows teams to require certain preventive health measures, like vaccines? I heard that two seasons ago many on the Packers were suffering from the flu during the last few games. I’m an RN and I’m hoping the vaccine is something which is at least encouraged by the team now.

They offer flu shots. Every team I’ve ever covered, going back to before the days of the swine flu, provided flu shots. Don’t worry about the medical needs of this team. I’ve never covered a team that attends to its players’ medical needs as intently as this team does.

Mark from Stewartville, MN

Vic, I’ve often heard the adage, “Let’s keep the game in its proper perspective.” Could you put into words what that means to you?

I perceive it to mean life is bigger and more important. Football should complement life, not dominate it. It should only be fun. If it’s not fun, it’s no good.

Michael from Hendersonville, NC

I attended a school where the head coach used a nonstandard form of football practice, and he went on to become the winningest coach in college history by keeping his players healthy and fresh. I believe Coach McCarthy’s new schedule will be a stroke of genius on his part, especially toward the end of the season. After all, the most trained players in the world can’t win any games if they are sitting on the bench with an injury. Would you agree, Vic?

Lombardi did it a different way and it turned out pretty well for him. Here’s the difference: That was then and this is now, and that’s another reason we shouldn’t try to compare teams, players and coaches from different eras. Lombardi’s players didn’t get $10 million signing bonuses. He didn’t have to worry about a salary cap. The game he coached was all about toughness. Today’s game is played within a much different platform and in a very different style. This is the player-safety era. Playing hurt was once expected; now it’s discouraged. Yes, a coach needs to be vigilant about keeping his team healthy. His practices need to be demanding enough to prepare his team, without damaging his team. The good coaches are identified in today’s game by their ability to achieve that balance. It’s a different game. What works today wouldn’t have worked in Lombardi’s era, and vice versa.

James from Groesbeck, TX

Vic, what do you think of the teams that are fighting during training camp? Does it make for better competition or is it a recipe for disaster?

If it’s the result of a genuine intensity, and not just show-off stuff meant to impress the coach, it makes for better competition and competition makes for a better team. The Packers had scuffles in their half-line drills last summer, and I believe they were the result of genuine intensity. That turned out pretty well for the running game, didn’t it? Hey, let’s not make this game too soft, OK? It’s an edge game. It’s a tough game for tough guys.

Paul from Farnborough, UK

Vic, do you ever get bored with your job? What keeps it fresh for you when you’re being told the same old thing in the same old situations and you have to come up with a way of making it exciting for the reader?

The games keep it fresh. That’s when the talk stops. The scoreboard writes the story. You are what your record says you are. That’s the reality.

Don from Weaverville, CA

I follow the blogs that report on the Packers training camp. There is an almost real-time narrative provided by bloggers. I knew within moments that Colt Lyerla had dropped a catchable ball and this did not bode well for his chances. What’s your take on blog journalism? Will you ever blog?

What you’re describing is reporting. If it’s accurate, then I’m all for it, but I need something more. I need perspective. I don’t need to know immediately that someone dropped a pass. What I’ll need to know, in time, is how that player’s performance pertains to the big picture. I gravitate toward writers than can frame a story and the team they cover.

Dan from Stockton, CA

Vic, my expectations have not been this high for a Packers team since 1997. That year fell just short of the ultimate prize, but it gave us a lot of thrills along the way. I’m feeling more and more anything but a Super Bowl win will be a disappointment this year. Discuss.

Be careful with expectations; be very, very careful. End of discussion.

Chris from Rochester, MN

Vic, we are excited to be making the trip from Minnesota to the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field this weekend for Packers Family Night. Do you have any recommendations as to what we should focus on during the practice to get the most out of the experience?

Don’t focus too tightly on any one thing. Absorb everything. Look around the stadium. See everything. Feel what you’re seeing. Talk with the people around you. Every memory is another moment of joy.

Dave from Calumet, IA

When are you going to move on? Spofford is a better writer than you, and not as pompous or sarcastic as you are. Do you realize there is a fire movement on Facebook?

Is it because of the black hard hat with the yellow revolving light?

Darren from Toronto, Ontario

Vic, I can’t help but fear you are one of a dying breed. Is there anything you can say to help me believe the future of sportswriters doesn’t belong to ex-jockos or rankings on nfl.com?

The profession is changing.

Michael from West Bend, WI

How does the Jordy Nelson extension affect the efforts to lock up Randall Cobb, as well?

I don’t see a connection. If you’ve dug deep to sign one guy, why wouldn’t you want to sign the younger guy?

Jason from Waupun, WI

What was it like to cover the Steelers when George Atkinson sued Chuck Noll for defamation of character, and forced players and coaches into a public trial?

With apologies to Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was also the age of confrontation.

Joseph from Raleigh, NC

Vic, I’ve seen a lot of talk about Julius Peppers in drills against Bulaga, but I’m more interested to hear about Raji going against JC Tretter. Did anything catch your eye in that matchup?

I read a report that Raji had his way with Tretter, but I saw a lot of lateral movement between the two, and that’s not how I judge a center in that situation. Interior linemen have players to each side of them. Centers aren’t space players. Most of all, they need to be able to block the bull rush. When it comes to lateral movement, it’s all about being able to funnel and direct. What I’ve seen in Tretter during team drills, I like.

Tim from Madison, WI

I’m aiming to have an “Ask Vic” day of nothing but questions from me. I’m smarter than the other fans anyway.

There’s a Facebook movement to ban you.

Paul from De Pere, WI

Vic, has training camp been everything you expected? Any impressions after the first day in pads?

Can we give it a little time? We’ve got a long season ahead of us. Is it possible the instant-media craze has caused us to attach too much importance to every event? It was a first day. I didn’t get a sense of it being anything more than another practice.

Kevin from Minneapolis, MN

Why can’t you be a little more critical of the Packers? Is it because they pay your salary? And please have the courage to be professional with your answer.

That’s an insulting and unfair accusation. I do the best I can, and I do it for my readers because I respect their need to know.

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Vic Ketchman

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Do you have a question for Vic? Your question could be posted on packers.com. Vic has covered the NFL through 42 seasons, including 23 years covering the Steelers and 16 years covering the Jaguars.

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