SUAMICO, Wis. – Dude, let's go bowling.
The Green Bay Packers traded in the footballs and cleats for bowling balls and glow-in-the-dark shoes during their annual impromptu team-building exercise on Tuesday morning.
As has been customary, players were not warned ahead of time that they'd forgo the traditional workday during organized team activities in favor of an off-site event.
To announce the change of plans, the coaching staff rolled a clip from the Coen Brothers' cult-classic, "The Big Lebowski," during their usual morning meeting.
The team quickly picked up on what it meant.
"It was a very happy team meeting this morning," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "As soon as they saw 'The Big Lebowski' come on the screen, the veterans knew what was happening. A lot of fun."
Tuesday's news was met by a roar of applause. Once things settled down, the team boarded buses headed to the Gutter bowling alley in nearby Suamico where players and coaches were split into random groups of five.
The level of competition varied depending on the lane, but regardless of the outcome it was an invaluable opportunity for veterans to get to know some of the new players on the roster.
For example, Randall Cobb shared a lane with rookie punter Peter Mortell, whom he hadn't met before. The Pro Bowl receiver learned about how the Green Bay native actually ran game-day stats in the press box during high school.
"They do a great job of mixing guys together," Cobb said. "I've never had a conversation with Peter. I didn't know he worked here in high school. He's from here, went to (the University of) Minnesota and came back. We get to know our teammates on a different level, so it's just kind of cool to see everybody in a different light."
Many of the team's rookies and first-year players had an idea that the Packers usually cancel one day of the offseason program for a team-bonding event, but were just as surprised as anyone when it was announced.
Long-snapper Rick Lovato, who signed with the Packers in December, channeled his excitement into a career day on the lanes.
After bowling a 210 with six strikes and three spares during his second game, Lovato joked afterward that he's done with the sport.
"I surprised myself today," Lovato said. "I'll never bowl like that ever again. I'm going to keep that and probably retire."
Rookie linebacker Blake Martinez was a part of a few spontaneous team events at Stanford – Cardinal coach David Shaw held a movie day last year during fall camp – but having the chance to do it again with the Packers made for a nice memory to his first NFL season.
"It was a great thing. Fun to get out here with all the guys," Martinez said. "It kind of adds that little extra day to get to know each other and have fun. It's a good thing to do to kind of destress the guys – a lot of these guys have been here for seven weeks now. It's a good thing to do."
Rookies and veterans alike see the benefit in conducting the annual offseason off-day and its importance to developing culture and team identity.
Instead of practice, the Packers headed to the Gutter in Suamico on Tuesday. Photos by Ryan Hartwig and Duke Bobber, Packers.com.
Punter Tim Masthay believes the festivities go a long way in helping forge relationships similar to the team staying on the St. Norbert campus during training camp and getting meals together during the week.
Many of the Packers' defensive backs and a few others like outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott actually bowl together during their off days in training camp to unwind a little.
It was a relaxed setting under the cosmic lightning, but naturally there still was some competitiveness.
"It's fun to get out here with your teammates," defensive back Micah Hyde said. "Talk a little trash and get in your little groups, and bowl as best as possible. We're all competitive. It's good to do something else other than football and come out here and compete.
"Honestly, guys are competing. I know it sounds like a joke because we're bowling, but guys are definitely out here to compete."
The Packers have had some type of team-building exercise each offseason since McCarthy was hired in 2006, including clay shooting the past few years and dodgeball.
Regardless of the activity, McCarthy believes it's imperative to step back at some point during the offseason program and decompress.
The chance for the players and coaches to roll a few frames is something he believes plays a vital role in the process of building your team for the upcoming season.
"I think it's important to be able to step away from the fire," McCarthy said. "These guys have been competing throughout the whole offseason program. I think to get away one day each and every year, see the personalities come out – it's very healthy for our football team."
Players quickly shifted their mindset back to their playbooks once the games were over, understanding that it's back to work on Wednesday.
Still, it was nice to step away from the hustle and bustle of offseason preparation for a few hours.
"It's refreshing," Elliott said. "It's kind of a good thing because you go in there with your mind ready to practice and you're kind of dragging a little bit, but that kind of lifted the spirits back up. "It's a good thing to have it, but it's time to get back to work tomorrow."