Opening message remains meaningful for these Packers

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – Everywhere the players walk inside Lambeau Field, they can't escape it.

They see replicas of the Packers' four Super Bowl trophies as they enter the building from their fenced-off parking lot.

The hallway that runs between the locker room and team dining room, and takes them to their lounge area, has retired jerseys framed on one side, Hall of Fame players depicted on the other, and mini championship banners hanging from the ceiling.

Murals of former star players adorn the walls of some of the position groups' meeting rooms, too, and the list goes on.

The organization's history is a big part of, well, everything.

When he initially met with the players as a group this past spring to kick off his first year as Packers head coach, Matt LaFleur wanted his team to put that history in the right perspective. So he delivered a carefully crafted message the players haven't forgotten as they prepare to play for a berth in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

"It was more of a present vibe – 'We understand that Green Bay has a lot of history behind it, but look, we're here to make history of our own' – almost that type of vibe," veteran cornerback Tramon Williams recalled this week leading up to the NFC Championship Game at San Francisco.

"As a player, you're like, 'All right, I'm with you on that.' The history here is not going to go anywhere, but the only thing we can continue to do is create new history. I think that's the vibe that Coach gave us, and that's what we're trying to do right now."

It was about finding the right balance between appreciating the aura but not being consumed by it. Between taking pride in the past but not resting on it. Between understanding what's come before but staying focused on what's ahead.

That perspective has helped get the Packers to the doorstep of another NFC title, as the franchise seeks its sixth Super Bowl appearance. But it's a theme that's been applied in other ways as well.

The Packers' tendency to come up big in clutch moments throughout the season is one example.

Making key plays in those crunch-time, fourth-quarter moments requires a singular focus on the task at hand, setting aside whatever good and bad has produced the current situation. Yet the ability to do it week after week is a trait that has built on itself, that has used successful experience to foster confidence and belief.

The past is always in the right perspective.

"It's the same thing we've talked about all year of not blinking," inside linebacker Blake Martinez said of the defense's mentality, and echoing a favorite phrase of LaFleur's. "We don't go out there saying, 'Oh crap, we have to go back out after a turnover,' or 'Oh crap, they're in the red zone,' or 'Oh, it's a minute-30 left and we have to stop them.'

"Whether you want to believe in football gods or whatever it is, I think that aspect ends up helping us in the long run."

It's similar regarding this pending rematch with San Francisco on the heels of the blowout loss in Week 12. LaFleur started this week by saying he wanted to go back and understand why everything happened as it did, but then turn the attention forward to a new game.

The mantra of learning from it but not dwelling on it has been taken to heart. Aaron Rodgers has spoken repeatedly about how everything has felt like a normal week of preparation, regardless of the stakes and the opponent. Individuals like receiver Allen Lazard and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who would rarely cross paths, have both pointed out how well the Packers must play to win and how slim the margin for error may be, yet they don't start Sunday's game behind on the scoreboard, no matter what happened last time.

Again, the proper perspective on the past is important.

"Our guys, they realize that," LaFleur said regarding the first matchup. "This is the National Football League. Stuff like that can happen. It's all about how you respond when you get knocked down like that. We just went back to business. We've got a mature group. We've got great veteran leadership and just got back to work."

They've also got a new head coach who relayed the right message from the beginning, amidst all the history that has included championships and close calls, both long ago and recently. That message has helped carry them this far, with another step yet to take.

They can't escape the history, but it's time to create their own.

"What a great opportunity," LaFleur said. "We have to enjoy this."

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