Can you tell it’s the NFL offseason? As is often the case, this is that time of year where you’ll find a lot of speculation about the upcoming Green Bay Packers season and team as well as some occasional news stories that emerge.
Mixed in there are some occasional potpourri topics such as this one: How different are fans and player reactions to a loss?
ESPN Milwaukee discussed this on last weekend’s Miller Lite Football show as well as earlier this week on the Green and Gold Today show with Jason Wilde and Bill Johnson.
One of the co-hosts of the Miller Lite show is former Packers tight end Mark Chmura and he had a few interesting things to say. Wilde himself made a guest appearance on the show to discuss some of the player reactions that he has seen after tough losses during his time covering the Packers. Wilde began that role in 1996, the magical season in which the Packers finally brought the Lombardi trophy back to Green Bay after nearly 30 years of mediocrity.
Before getting into the meat of this topic, I remind you all that I am not a credentialed media member nor have I ever been in a NFL locker room. My perspective on this is just as valid as anyone else’s who has an opinion on the matter. And that is my goal, to elicit the opinions of our great readers and followers, as is usually the case.
Rarely do I like to take the first person perspective on topics, but for this one, I think back to my days as a rabid Packers fan when the team was on the come-up in the early 1990’s. Wins were the highest of highs and losses were cause to cancel the entire following week. As a teenager, I thought surely that if I were as upset about a loss as I was from the comforts of my living room, that the players in the locker room had to be twice as down, right?
Over time, we have seen evidence to the contrary that reminds us that football means different things to different people, both players and fans alike. We see players from opposing teams chatting and laughing just moments after they were trying to push and shove their way to a victory.
Of course it’s logical that players from other teams are friends and that those friendships prevail over the game itself. Some of these guys played college ball with the guy across from them and have an inseparable bond, regardless of the rivalry between their pro teams. But it still kind of irks you when your team is on the losing end and the last thing you want to see is cordiality being extended to the other team, aka the enemy, doesn’t it?
Another thing to remember is that football is a business. Whether we want to admit it or not, there are plenty of players who place their personal health and wealth above everything else, including the scoreboard. If they can walk off the field on their own power and are able to suit up the following week and collect their game check, that’s what matters first. If I’m breaking that to you for the first time, I’m sorry to be the one.
I listen to a lot of NFL podcasts and talk radio nearly every day. Most of them have fans that call in to discuss topics and their opinions. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that there are a ton of fans who have a lot of emotional stock in their team’s win/loss record. The crazy ideas that get thrown around about offseason moves that should be made or, in the case of some Packers fans, the sheer agony of the lack of moves being made. Monday mornings are chock-full of calls about how disappointed fans of a losing team still are 12 hours later.
Most of us played sports or still do. I tended to be more on the competitive side and I hated to lose. The phrase “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you played the game” was a bunch of gibberish to me, even as a youth. I subscribed to Vince Lombardi’s theory: “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”. I have, since, tamed that sentiment and actually have a deep appreciation for a good loser nowadays.
But most of us want to believe that if we’re upset at home, hundreds of miles away from what just took place, that the guys who just spent the last three hours putting their bodies on the line, only to fall short, have to be livid. While we know that’s not true, the extent to which it’s not always true can be surprising.
Chmura spoke specifically about the Packers wild card loss to the San Francisco 49ers following the 1998 season. Let’s push aside some of the outlying factors and just focus on that the Packers didn’t win. In the locker room, Chmura said that there was true anger amongst the players. Most of it was said to have been directed at safety Darren Sharper, who blew the coverage on the last play and allowed Terrell Owens to sneak open for the final touchdown.
That Sharper blew the coverage has been illustrated several times on film, further twisting the knife into the guts of Packers fans who were already beside themselves about the loss. I remember watching that game and while I never want anyone to have to feel the way that I did, it did give me some peace of mind that, back then, the players were just as upset as I was.
After Super Bowl XXXII, former Packers defensive lineman Gabe Wilkins was said to have a very “whatever” attitude immediately after the game and after most losses, from Wilde’s recollection.
Another example was the divisional round loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, also dubbed “4th and 26”. After that loss, players were said to want to ring head coach Mike Sherman’s neck for punting on 4th and 1 with just over two minutes left in the game and with the Packers leading. Had they tried and converted the fourth down, they likely would have been able to run out the clock and secure the win. True, they may not have converted and turned the ball over anyway, but it’s the butterfly effect. Would the Eagles have still driven down the field like they did and with the same result?
That game still reigns as the toughest loss I have ever experienced because of how it went down. I have never seen a collapse like it at such a critical time of the season. I know I wanted to ring a lot of necks after that game so again, I was glad to know that there was extreme disappointment from the guys on the field.
Wilde recounted a Packers player after the 2008 NFC championship game loss to the New York Giants who said that it really didn’t matter that the Packers lost because they would have gotten their butts kicked by the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Upon hearing that, former Packers offensive lineman Mark Tasucher reportedly went ballistic on said player, who Wilde would not name. About all that I can assure you is that it was probably not Brett Favre.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were said to be times when former Packers general manager Ron Wolf would walk into the post-game locker room after a loss during the 1999 season and find former head coach Ray Rhodes playing board games with players. Unsurprisingly, Rhodes was let go after that one season.
The competitive spirit is different in everyone and it’s not something you can teach to another person. It’s either there or it’s not. So, do you have it and if so, how do you typically react to a loss? Do you expect players to be just as upset as you are after a loss?
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: