Veterans Recognize Opportunity Knocking

Brett Favre went to the playoffs six straight times before he turned 30. Ryan Pickett played in the Super Bowl as a rookie. Mike McCarthy coached in the AFC Championship his first season as an NFL assistant. All of them lend a valuable perspective to Green Bay’s 13-3 season and first-round playoff bye. Namely, that this scenario doesn’t unfold every day. - More Audio | Video | Playoff Game Center


Brett Favre went to the playoffs six straight times before he turned 30. Ryan Pickett played in the Super Bowl as a rookie. Mike McCarthy coached in the AFC Championship his first season as an NFL assistant.

All of those individuals, as well as countless others around the NFL, will talk about how easy it is to take success for granted. They've experienced it, and then learned how difficult it is to achieve it again.

In that sense, all of them lend a valuable perspective to Green Bay's 13-3 season and first-round playoff bye that many of the first- and second-year players on the NFL's youngest team don't necessarily have. Namely, that this scenario doesn't unfold every day.

And while "taking advantage of opportunities" has been a mantra of McCarthy's since his first day in charge here - in reference to everything from subbing for an injured player for a day in practice to capitalizing on a turnover in the fourth quarter of a tight game - it becomes an even more vital message leading up to the NFC Divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 12.

"I told them the story about my first year in the National Football League as a rookie assistant coach," McCarthy said, referring to 1993 with the Kansas City Chiefs. "We played in the AFC Championship Game and went to the Pro Bowl. I thought this is great stuff. Pro football is awesome. I haven't been back since.

"It's hard to go 13-3. They realize that, I'm hopeful. They've been told that."

Pickett certainly knows. As a rookie with St. Louis in 2001, Pickett and the Rams landed the NFC's No. 1 seed and advanced to the Super Bowl, where they were upset by the budding dynasty known as the New England Patriots.

A chance to avenge that championship loss hung with the Rams for a few years, but Pickett's team was bumped in the divisional round in both 2003 and 2004.

"I thought it was going to be easy just getting there," Pickett said. "We got there my first year, and I thought, 'Oh, this is how it's going to be my whole NFL career.' But I haven't been back, and it's a tough thing. From that aspect, I think I learned to appreciate it greatly."

Charles Woodson has said the same several times this season. After reaching the Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders following the 2002 season, Woodson suffered through three seasons after that with just 13 total victories.

The Packers themselves went through a dismal 4-12 campaign in 2005 after four straight playoff appearances.

It's times like that, Favre said during his press conference on Friday, that have helped him develop an appreciation for winning seasons like this one. He admitted he's disappointed he hasn't won more playoff games and reached the Super Bowl more often, and with no telling what the future holds, there's no better time than the present.

"I would say that the chances of going 13-3 for any team, the chances of getting a first-round bye - in our case we had a very good chance of getting home-field advantage - don't come around very often," Favre said. "I think at this stage of my career, as opposed to '95, '96, where you say, 'OK, we'll get them next year,' a lot can change in a year. If you look at last year and the previous year, yeah, it is an opportunity that is right there in front of us that hasn't presented itself in quite a while."

For all of the youth on Green Bay's roster, there are still plenty of veteran players who can attest to that. Al Harris, Nick Barnett, Aaron Kampman, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Rob Davis, Donald Driver, Bubba Franks, Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton all were an overtime period in Philadelphia away from advancing to the NFC Championship following the 2003 season.

The next year, they were ousted at home in the Wild Card round by division rival Minnesota, and then came 2005, when they were 2-10 with one month left in the season and playing out the string.

"I've never been to the point where you win that second round," Driver said. "I've always lost that second round and never got to the NFC Championship game. I'm getting older and I want to get there as soon as possible."

{sportsad300}Kampman believes the message was being communicated just by the atmosphere in practice on Friday. Everything is more intense in the postseason, and the best way to prepare for that is to reach a stage of "heightened awareness," he said, that helps with focus and sharpness but doesn't go so far as to make anyone too tense to perform to their capability.

"We've already been talking about it, even in practice, to keep turning the knob up," Kampman said. "It's not like you get into the playoffs and it's downhill. Actually the hill keeps getting steeper. That's kind of the mentality you have to approach it with. Every day a little bit more, every day a little bit more, and like I said, we had a great start today."

The veterans will be relied on more and more as the game gets closer. It's not that every one of them will give a speech in the locker room or in a meeting, but they'll share by word or example how they're going about making the most of what's in front of them.

"You always ask them for great advice, how to approach certain situations, and I think they've been great leaders, in addition to the coaches," third-year linebacker Brady Poppinga said of the team's veteran core. "I think they're a big reason we've been able to get through the youth, so to speak, because they've been great leaders."

The message appears to be taking root in at least some corners of the locker room.

"There's a lot of guys in the league that don't have an opportunity to ever play in the playoffs in their career, let alone get to the second round which we automatically get into," second-year offensive lineman Daryn Colledge said. "So we're excited for the opportunity to go out and compete. I'm excited for this chance to go out and play in the playoffs and do something that not everybody gets to do and try to win a ring."

The one guy on the roster with a ring knows as well as anyone how hard it is to win one, or even be in position to do so. Those weren't his thoughts 10 years ago, which only emphasizes the lessons his young teammates may not have their own 10 years to learn.

"There was a time where we won and, you know, 'No big deal. What's so hard about this?'" Favre said. "The last two years were a little bit of a wake-up call, especially 4-12.

"To win 13 this year is something special, but we all know it's what you do in the playoffs, and there's no second chances in the playoffs, so we have to play our best football."

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