Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy. On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com
The interest level in tomorrow's Super Bowl should be at an all-time high. First, it's a great matchup, with the top seeds from each conference squaring off (for only the fourth time since 1990). It features the league's best offense (Denver) against the best defense (Seattle), and Peyton Manning matched up against Seattle's brash secondary.
Despite the great matchup on the field, the fact that the game is being played in the New York City area is generating even more interest. How many times this week did you hear the weather forecast for Sunday in New York?! This will be the first time that a Super Bowl has been played outdoors in a northern city. In order to award the bid to New York, the league had to waive the requirement that the average temperature at the Super Bowl site be above 50 degrees on the date of the game. I believe that there will be many fans that will watch the game just to see what the weather is like. In addition, the fact that the game is being played in the media capital of the U.S. has generated a lot of buzz this week.
As much interest as there is among fans regarding the game, there may be even more interest among NFL owners, especially those owners of teams located in northern cities and league officials. They will be watching the game closely to see how the weather impacts the game and fans. If all goes well in New York, owners from teams in northern cities will likely submit bids to hold future Super Bowls in their cities. Hosting a Super Bowl is a real coup for an owner and a city. In addition to the tremendous economic impact the game has on the city, it also brings great publicity and credibility to the city. So, as you watch the game tomorrow, know that there is a lot at stake, both on and off the field.
Now, on to your questions:* *
Marc from Monmouth Junction, NJ
What do you feel the team needs to do to get back to the Super Bowl and bring "the Lombardi" back to Titletown?
Mark, this is the question that we all (and every team) ask ourselves after every season. Right after the season, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy do a thorough evaluation of our entire football operation – including players, coaches and schemes. Mike meets individually with each player and coach, and uses the input he receives to help assess what changes are needed. Although we were disappointed with the playoff loss and a .500 record overall, I do think there is much to build on for next year. Everyone associated with the organization is proud of the fact that we were able to overcome adversity this year, and still win the division. We do have weaknesses, though, and Ted and Mike will address those in the offseason. Injuries again played a big role in our season, and we will study the nature of the injuries to determine what can be done to reduce the number of injuries our players suffer in the future.
Bill from Ridgeway, WI.
I was born a Vikings fan and was for a while until the mid-'70s but now I'm a Packers fan for life. I was watching a game a couple of weeks ago and was astonished to hear that almost 100 percent of the players on the squad are brought up through the organization. How difficult is it to maintain such a high success rate with players that basically come in raw and learn the system versus picking up a veteran with proven ability?
Thanks, Bill. I am often asked about this issue. There is no question that we are primarily a draft-and-develop team – we use the draft as the main vehicle to add players to our roster. The draft is not an exact science, though, and we will miss on some players and injuries will often be a factor. Injuries have limited many of our top picks in recent years, for instance. For this reason, and because we are always looking for ways to improve our roster, we use other means to acquire players, including signing undrafted free agents, street free agents (players released by other teams) and unrestricted free agents. The advantage that drafted players (and undrafted free agents) provide is that they are typically less expensive (which is very important with the salary cap) and are younger and ascending as players. A big issue for us this year is the large number (20) of free agents that we have on our own roster. We must identify the core players among this group that we want to keep on the team going forward.
Jim from Litchfield, IL
I understand the league's concern for player safety, and the new rules that have been established. But I am also concerned about the way that the referees are interpreting the rules and flagging players, for nothing more than a good, hard, legal football hit. I have seen games lost because a player was penalized for such a hit. Last year, Nick Perry was flagged for a personal foul against Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. The hit was a perfect hit to the football, which Luck was holding to his chest, while scanning the field. It was a violent hit, that caused a fumble that was recovered by the Packers at the Colts 10-yard line, I believe. The Packers were destroying the Colts and this would have surely led to an even larger lead. With that phantom penalty, the Colts maintained the football, and the momentum of the game was completely reversed. You know the result of the game. These last two years, we have seen referees flag a player whose pinky barely touched a quarterback's helmet, and then other times called nothing when the helmet was smacked. In this past weekend's Conference Championship games, we saw legal, hard hits that were flagged as "hits to the head" when indeed, they were to the shoulder. What can be done to rectify this problem? I am afraid that the game is being destroyed by these new rules. All these new records should have an asterisk* beside them. The game is indeed changing, but unfortunately, for the worse.
Great question, Jim. I remember that play against the Colts very well. As you note, it was a key play and completely changed the momentum of the game. It also illustrates the great challenge that our officials face in today's NFL. The health and safety of our players is the number one priority of the league, for good reason, and officials are told to err on the side of safety. So, when an official sees a hit like Nick Perry's in the Colts game, it looks very violent (as Andrew Luck's head is jerked backward), and his first reaction is to throw a flag. Our coaches must obviously know the rules, but also how they will be enforced by the officials, and convey this information to their players. After the Colts game, I asked Dom Capers what he could tell Nick Perry to do differently to avoid having a penalty called. He said that it is a really tough situation (for both the player and official), but that he would encourage him to try to tackle with his shoulder and not to lead with the crown of his helmet. With our current situation – lawsuits by former players regarding concussion and declining participation in youth football – it is imperative that league officials focus on improving player safety. So far, I think we've been able to do this without impacting the popularity or nature of the game. It is a fine line, though, because the fact that football is fast and physical is what makes it so popular.
Chris from Schwenksville, PA
Considering the playoff ticket issue, are the Packers considering doing what other teams have done and only charge credit cards for the games that will be played at Lambeau?
Thanks, Chris. This is a very good and timely question. Shortly after our playoff game against the 49ers, we conducted a survey of our season-ticket holders, people on our waiting list and general fans to determine why we had trouble selling out the game. We had a great response to the survey, and have just started evaluating the results. I anticipate that we will make a number of changes and adjustments based on this feedback from our fans, including offering a "pay as we play" type of option for playoff games. With current available technology, we should be able to use this type of method as an option. A challenge with this method is that we have two ticket packages, and we want to make sure we are considering our Gold Package ticket holders as we work through the process. Finally, in retrospect, I would say that we made a mistake in deciding not to refund the money to fans this year for playoff games not played. We learned from this mistake and will have a better policy in place next year.
Jack from Racine, WI
I see that the football players at Northwestern are attempting to unionize. What is going on at your former school?
Thanks, Jack. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. The key issue is whether the football players at Northwestern are considered employees. This will be decided by the National Labor Relations Board (and then likely the federal courts on appeal), and will have huge ramifications on both the NCAA and NFL. The NCAA has already stated that the players are not employees, and that the players are students with a main purpose of receiving an education. This lawsuit puts Northwestern and its athletic department in a difficult position. Jim Phillips, who succeeded me as AD and is doing an excellent job, has stated that the students are not employees, but he also has to be responsive to the concerns raised by the players. If the players nationally are successful in unionizing, it will completely change the relationship that schools have with their players. The NCAA has been dealing with a similar issue with calls for payment to players, and the NCAA has increased the monthly stipends to players over the years, but unionization would take it to a whole different level. In terms of the NFL, the NCAA colleges have served as a great breeding ground for NFL teams over the years. If the college players unionize, there will be more pressure on the NFL to establish a developmental league. I think both the college athletes and the NCAA have strong arguments to make, and it will be a difficult decision for the NRLB.