This is the sixth post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.
With the Badgers on a bye this week and the Packers not playing until Sunday night, it took forever for Football–in the true sense of its being deeply meaningful to me–to get here. There is always a personal trade-off when the Packers play in primetime: it is great to have national attention affixed on the team–especially when they are good–but the waiting can be excruciating. This was especially true as I got to Will’s Northwoods Inn around noon yesterday to make sure I got a table and had to endure a slate of decent but largely uncompelling NFL games and Game 1 of Brewers-Cardinals.
For lunch at Will’s, I broke away from my typical cheese curds and bacon cheeseburger order to try their bread bowl chili and was not disappointed–it was outstanding. It was gigantic and I probably shouldn’t have finished it but oh well. Sorry I’m not sorry.
After the first round of NFL games, all the TVs at the bar were set on Brewers-Cardinals while I streamed Patriots-Jets. My dad and his brothers (and therefore my uncles) Harry and Johnny joined us at Will’s for the Brewers game. Without going into too much personal detail on this forum, we have all had an immensely challenging week that has strained our nerves, patience, and emotions but ultimately brought us collectively closer together. About two years ago, after the Yankees won the World Series, I wrote a column about not taking joy in their victory. To summarize, since 2000, the fact they had been signing soulless, unlikeable mercenaries, coupled with their new stadium–with its conspicuously empty seats behind home plate and moat separating the upper class from the commoners–made the team unenjoyable to root for. I decided to shift my allegiance to the Brewers which, at the time, had the opposite effect of being a frontrunner.
For the noon slate of games, I got the manager to put on the Red Zone Channel and Bills-Eagles as I streamed Raiders-Texans and Steelers-Titans split screen on my Macbook. I was dealt a crushing blow when, just as the fourth quarters were starting and the Red Zone Channel is must-see TV, the bar switched over to Vikings-Cardinals which a) was already on a another TV in the room and b) featured two crappy teams in which one (the Vikings) was leading by 21 points. I took this dagger in stride and started streaming the Red Zone Channel at full screen on my laptop.
That being said, I haven’t really been following the Brewers closely over the past two seasons. Watching them now is kind of like playing with house money–I am happier when they win but it really doesn’t affect me on a personal level when they lose. As such, I am careful not to become TOO happy when they win because nobody likes a shameless bandwagoner. It’s been nice that the Brewers have combined with the Badgers and Packers to form WINsconsin but as a true sports fan I cannot allow myself to bask in exultation that I know I do not deserve should their run continue.
At some point during the Brewers game, which felt interminable in my anticipation for Packers-Falcons, I made friends with Will’s regulars Kim and Lucky. Kim always sits at the bar and always brings cheese curds and her delicious, homemade dip. Upon further investigation, the dip is comprised of sour cream, mayonnaise, onions, garlic, and BACON. “The sour cream and mayonnaise that you use matter,” Kim explained, deriding the use of lesser quality ingredients. “I use Breakstone’s sour cream and canola oil mayo.” The dip is even better than you might imagine.
FINALLY, the Packers game started although much of the first half made me regret my anticipation. From the outset, it just felt like one of those games that Bill Simmons describes as a No Effing Way game. To clarify, this was like one of those video game contests where the computer was going to impede your path to victory at any and all costs. In video games as well as real life, very little is as frustrating as the No Effing Way game.
After the Falcons won the coin toss, Matt Ryan led a methodical 85-yard touchdown drive. 7-0 Falcons. On the ensuing Packers possession, Green Bay moved the ball slightly into Atlanta territory before the Falcons recovered a Ryan Grant fumble. 10 plays and 60 yards later, it was 14-0 Falcons. On the next Packers drive, left tackle Chad Clifton injured his hamstring and went out for the game. Green Bay would march it to Atlanta’s two-yard line before giving up two consecutive sacks (Atlanta had not had a sack since Week 1) and settling for a field goal. As the Packers were driving at the end of the first half, the normally sure-handed Jermichael Finley dropped an easy catch that would have either been a touchdown or given the Packers first and goal on the one; Green Bay settled for another field goal and went into halftime down 14-6. After giving up a sack on the first play in the third quarter, the Packers went three-and-out to start the second half.
At this point, I was not necessarily concerned about the Packers’ long-term ability to compete this season but I didn’t conceive that there was any way they were winning this game. It just seemed as if circumstances would converge for a frustrating loss that, as they tend to do, would snowball into a No Effing Way week. Then, all of a sudden, a light flickered. The defense stepped up, intercepting two Matt Ryan passes en route to giving up zero points in the second half. The offense, meanwhile, hit two big plays–a 70-yard touchdown pass to James Jones and 29-yard catch-and-run-and-DIVE into the endzone score by Greg Jennings–to help secure a 25-14 Packers victory.
The scene at Will’s could be described as jubilant as the Packers showed themselves to be resilient in the face of adversity. Between 2000 and Week 16 of last season, the Packers would have lost that game nine times out of 10 (if not more) after their miserable first half. The mistakes would have perpetuated and the end result would have been a maddening loss capitulated by an endless array of what-ifs. This Packers squad, though, is playing with confidence and swagger that has rendered them, thus far, unflappable. We saw this in their comeback win Week 2 against the Panthers where they got behind but did not panic, adjusted, and willed themselves to victory with a meticulous second half on both sides of the ball.
At 5-0, one has to nitpick to find flaws in this Packers team but it is precarious that in four of their five games they have had long stretches where they look flat. Packers fans are a little spoiled at this point but it is frustrating to see a team so capable of utter domination go through full quarters and halves where it gets squarely outplayed; right now it feels like only the Packers can beat the Packers. Objectively, though, this was a great win by a great team. At 5-0, the Packers are sitting pretty and their issues–real and/or perceived–are the envy of the other 31 teams in the league.