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Passion of Packers fans is a phenomenon


Joseph from Wessington, SD

If you watched NFL Network's top 100 players list, the Packers had the most players on the list, with seven players on it, even though I would disagree on what spots they went on the list. Hey, they made the list. What I thought that was cool was the NFC North had the most players overall. So are we the toughest division? We had 15 players on the top 100; two other divisions had 14, the NFC South and NFC East. The AFC had 51 players to the NFC's 49. The NFC had five players in the top 20, with two in the top 10 and one at the third spot. I already know who the best team is. Just something to think about and talk about until we get back to football.

Mike Spofford and I are launching a point, counterpoint series today. The first installment is an "AFC or NFC?" piece. You provide some worthy information. Based on the complaints I've received about NFL Network's Top 100, I would've thought the Packers were totally ignored. Obviously, they were not. Yes, I believe the NFC North is a strong division, but I don't think it's the strongest in the league. I think the NFC South holds that distinction by a slim margin, mostly because the Bucs made the big jump up last season that I expect the Lions to make this season. If that, in fact, occurs, then the NFC North might be the best. Frankly, I think five divisions – NFC East, North and South and AFC East and North – are on the same plane.

Eric from Los Angeles, CA

It seems a lot of people believe the level of play will be significantly diminished due to lost time this offseason. I disagree. I think we'll see the highest level of play we've seen in years because coaches will be forced to trim the unused fat from their playbooks and re-focus on fundamentals. Maybe, finally, the focus will truly be on players instead of plays. Coaches at all levels waste an inordinate amount of practice time on concepts they rarely use in game situations. Maybe the lockout will temporarily cause coaching staffs to go back to what really butters their bread.

I love the way you think. "Less volume, more creativity." It's a sign I saw on the wall of Mike McCarthy's coaches' meeting room. It's a way of saying do more with less. Don't fill the playbook with plays that'll never be used; master what's in the playbook and use it, and find creative ways to do new things with the same plays. It always comes down to players, not plays, because X's and O's don't move, only players do. They execute the strategies. Their speed, strength and understanding of the play is what makes it succeed. I can remember from years ago a young quarterback having immediate success. I asked the team's general manager how the kid was able to learn and apply the audible system so quickly. The GM told me they weren't using audibles. They just called the play and ran it, no matter what the defense was, which meant the premium was on execution. Players, not plays. It promotes accountability, instead of using plays as an excuse for failure.

Otis from Pearland, TX

I would like your opinion on something I have found curious for some time. Why are there so few player-for-player trades in the NFL these days when compared to other professional sports?

It's been that way for as long as I've covered the NFL; this isn't something new. Teams want draft picks, not players. Draft picks are the pieces of gold personnel directors seek. It gives them the maneuverability they require. A GM would much rather trade a player for a pick than a player for a player. For starters, coaches aren't crazy about populating the league with players that take with them inside information about the team they're leaving. They know the playbook, the audible system, the hot color and keys, and the personality traits of the staff and how it strategizes. The same thing applies to assistant coaches. You want to keep your staff intact because losing guys to other teams will flood the league with information about your team. Try trading a player for a draft pick when you've got former assistant coaches all over the league. The team that's considering trading for the player can call the player's former coach, who's now on another staff, to get the skinny on the guy. The salary cap era, of course, made it especially difficult to trade players because that player's remaining amortization accelerated into that season when you traded him.

Dane from Jacksonville, FL

What contributes to coaches preferring certain kicking philosophies? I mean, why would a coach prefer a directional-kicking philosophy over purely distance kicking?

Different special teams coordinators have different strategy philosophies, which requires building special teams units according to those strategies. If you're a cold-weather team that plays in a lot of wind, you want a guy that can cut the wind and place the ball; throwing it up into the wind isn't the way to go. If weather isn't an issue, you can go for the hang-time guy. It's a personal preference based on specific circumstances. If you play in a stadium that doesn't yield a lot of long field goals, then you want a guy that's more accurate than he is strong-legged. In a place such as Jacksonville, where weather isn't an issue late in the season and the ball flies long in the hot Florida air, go ahead and get a thumper. Directional kicking is the choice of coordinators that are willing to sacrifice a few yards of gross or maybe even net, to reduce the risk of a long return. Hang-time punters will get you the big boot when you need to flip the field, but out-kicking the coverage and dud kicks are a concern. It's all in what you want, and then you build your units accordingly.

Dale from Raytown, MO

I'm a born-and-bred Packers fan transplanted from Milwaukee. I don't get the daily media coverage of the Packers but I do know what the national media is saying about them. The one consistent thing I heard about them during their run last year was the "next up" and "one for all" concept that they carried to the Super Bowl. My question is can they rally around something else this year or do they really need to? Your thoughts?

Last season is gone. There is no carryover. This year's team will have to reinvent itself. It'll have to acquire a new personality and a new crusade. You can't stay the same. Teams have to grow. If you're not getting better, you're getting worse, because your competition is getting better. One of the big challenges for this year's team, in my opinion, is to become more proficient at running the ball. The Packers will need to make opposing defenses respect the run. If they don't, everybody is gonna load up against the pass.

Harsha from West Palm Beach, FL

Do you see this year's lack of practice time as a real benefit for the solid teams that don't need their rookies to contribute right away? The Packers have a bullseye on their back for the season, just like every other Super Bowl winner, but I don't see the Vikings, Houstons, Detroits of this league coming out and being better, due to the fact that there isn't enough time to implement all the new schemes and get the new players up to snuff.

It's a good year to be good; that's an interesting theory, too.

John from Neptune Beach, FL

My son Andrew just received his Christmas present from last year: his waiting list number for Packers season tickets. He's proud to know that every current season ticket holder would have to pass on, as would a complete second stadium full, before he would get a chance to buy his four tickets halfway up the upper deck in a corner of an end zone. He's 15 now; he'll probably have to pass it on to his grandson.

It really is a phenomenon and I'm going to enjoy observing the passion Packers fans have for their team. Yesterday, the Lambeau Field Atrium was full of visitors. The tour guides were out in full force. One of those guides told me last week that the total visitors for the tour has reached the 700,000 mark; I think he said that's since 2003. That means the tour total is likely to hit a million visitors within the next three years. That's truly amazing.

Justin from Stanley, WI

How do you think coach will get the rookies into the system quick this year with very little time?

You can't rush it; all you can do is reduce the volume of what they have to learn. My guess is that coaches around the league will be trying to find specific roles in which they can use their rookies, and then trim what they have to learn to fit into that specific role. The idea of teaching them the whole playbook is out of the question. The first goal has to be finding something they can do because they have to be able to contribute in some way to warrant a place on the roster. This is new stuff. I'm going to be very interested to see how it plays out.

Aaron from Denver, CO

I think it's funny that the "Lambeau Leap" was created in Milwaukee. I still remember the game like yesterday, 28-0, against the Raiders and Darrell Thompson having a career day. Do you remember anything from this game that I am forgetting? I always have to remind people that the "Lambeau Leap" started in Milwaukee. So did Hank Aaron and "Laverne and Shirley," but my information is that the first "Lambeau Leap" did, in fact, happen at Lambeau Field. It was against the Raiders, as you said. Here's your "Leap."

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