I admit it: I am a Green Bay Packer fan. And when the Brett Favre-led Vikings beat my Packers 38-26 on Sunday, it stung. Still does. The over-under on the time it takes me to get over a Packer loss is usually about ten minutes. But this one feels a little different. This one felt personal.
The Packers have endured far worse (Fourth-and-26, anyone?) in recent years. Why does losing this one still burn?
Chalk it up to cognitive dissonance. I can’t forget how much Brett Favre has done for the Packers. It still outweighs how much he’s done to the Packers in the two times he’s beaten them. His contributions to the team go well beyond his hall-of-fame statistics and durability. Those would be quite enough on their own.
The Green Bay Packers were a mediocrity from the end of the Lombardi/Starr era until Favre replaced the injured Don Majkowski in 1992. That’s more than two decades in the wilderness. An entire generation.
Then along came Brett. All of a sudden playoff appearances became routine, almost expected. The team won its first Super Bowl in 26 years with Brett leading the way. In Brett’s 16 years in Green Bay, the team only had one losing season. That level of success is almost unheard of, especially for a small-market team in the Midwest.
Brett’s quality play and penchant for come-from-behind victories had another, under-appreciated effect: his presence made the rest of the team better. Packer draft picks once mourned their fate, and bided their time until they could move to another, more glamorous team. Now they celebrated — especially receivers.
Just as important, big-name free agents like Reggie White and Charles Woodson started coming to Green Bay of their own free will. Before Favre, nobody wanted to play in Green Bay. The weather is enough of a turn-off for most people. But if the team is lousy, why bother? Players play to win, not to lose and be cold.
Brett Favre made Green Bay relevant again. How many players have done that for a team? That’s the real reason why Brett was so loved by his fans. Yes, he has a colorful personality and a compelling life story. If he wasn’t a winner, nobody would care.
No, Sunday’s loss hurt to watch because the person who brought my favorite team out of the NFL’s basement was working his hardest to throw it back down there.
As for the actual game, it also hurt that the loss was avoidable. A personal foul by defensive tackle Johnny Jolly after a key third-down stop in the red zone directly allowed a Viking touchdown instead of a field goal. That’s four points right there — half the margin of defeat — on one penalty.
Then there was defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ game planning.
The best way to force poor throws out of a quarterback is to apply pressure. Even Brett Favre gets rattled if 300-pound men are in his face on every passing play. That means you blitz hard, and blitz often. The standout Packer secondary allows Capers to blitz with little loss in coverage ability. Yet Capers rarely sent more than the standard four pass-rushers.
There were also offensive issues. The Vikings have an excellent defensive line. That means you give your quarterback extra protection, especially given Green Bay’s porous offensive line. The Minnesota secondary is that team’s weakness, especially with its best player, Antoine Winfield, out due to injury.
That means that keeping an extra player in to block, who could otherwise be an open receiver, comes at a small price. The Packers did little to max-protect, and even less to pick on a depleted secondary.
The lack of protection meant six sacks. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was limping by the end of the game. That could hurt the team well beyond this game; Rodgers has proven to be a more-than-worthy successor to Favre.
The game itself was painful enough. But the real pain was in seeing the player who made the Packers matter again doing his all to undo all that.