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Monday, Sept. 16, 2013

Green Bay Packers: Good Hope and Beyond

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Frank missed the Packers' opening loss while thoroughly enjoying a few days in Lisbon. But he was back in the U.S. of NFL for the rout of Washington, checking in from Long Island.

 

Frank: The Packers were so dominating that when it was 31-7 Fox switched the New York audience to Dallas-Kansas City.

Artie: I know the Cowboys are a division rival out there, but going from Aaron Rodgers to Tony Romo? That's cruel!

F: And for the first time this season we hear...

A: Tony Romo is NOT a good quarterback! We'll say more on the website about the Pack's win and the Badgers' crazy loss at Arizona State. But first, how was your trip?

F: Wonderful! Great weather, great sights, great food, great people...

A: But how'd you survive in a place without football?

F: I didn't watch the Packers but I did watch football—the Cristiano Ronaldo kind.

A: Yeah, like most of those European countries I guess Portugal only spends its attention on one sport, which is hardly a sport.

F: But see, even you know that for Portugal, Ronaldo puts the "fut" in futbol. At a restaurant in Lisbon we saw him score three goals in a World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland. And hey, how excited are you that the USA has made the big tournament next year?

A: Exactly as excited as I was before they qualified. Soccer has a word for it: "nil."

F: Anyway, Ronaldo is The Man in Portugal right now, but will people remember his name in 500 years? But there is a Portuguese who's riding high after half-millennium: Mr. Vasco da Gama.

A: From my hazy memories of fifth-grade geography, he was an explorer, ain'a?

F: Columbus only thought he got to India but ol' Vasco really did it, going around the Cape of Good Hope and the bottom of Africa in 1498. And the Portuguese ain't forgetting! His name or image was everywhere we went.

A: For instance?

F: At the National Pantheon he has a cenotaph, which looks like a tomb but contains no body.

A: That's my kind of tomb. Sign me up for one.

F: Then we saw his real tomb in an awesome church. His figure in stone lies above the tomb, hands folded in prayer.

A: That's not a good look for me. So what else? Is there a chain of Vasco da Gama department stores?

F: Not quite, but when we went to Lisbon's terrific aquarium what was right nearby? The ritzy, glass-enclosed Vasco da Gama shopping mall. And the goofy blue mascot for the aquarium is "Vasco," of course.

A: Portugal has been around for what, a thousand years, and they only have one hero? The Greeks' heyday wasn't all that long, but they had a ton of big names.

F: Well, there was Prince Henry the Navigator, who got Portugal going in the discovery business in the mid-15th century. And Bartholomew Dias, who in 1488 discovered the Cape of Good Hope but then sailed home.

A: And then came Vasco. Too bad his trip wasn't televised; what's Portuguese for, "He could... go... all... the… way!"

F: Dias fans must feel their guy is like Jan in "The Brady Bunch"—always overlooked.

A: Instead of "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" it's "Vasco, Vasco, Vasco!" But from what I read, Vasco didn't bring much good hope to India.

F: Yeah, like Columbus he was a hard-ass colonial ruler.

A: Like Columbus? More like Ed Gein! I just found this on Wikipedia: "On his second voyage, Vasco da Gama inflicted acts of cruelty upon competing traders and local inhabitants, which sealed his notoriety in India."

F: Ain't no Vasco Mall there. But in Portugal he's even immortalized in stained glass; at a palace outside Lisbon one window in the royal chapel shows some king giving orders, and who's getting them, with his ships in the background?

A: Not ol' Bart Dias. The Portuguese must be a superstitious bunch, like if they don't put Vasco everywhere he'll come back and chop their ears off.

F: But he was a heck of a sailor. Which reminds me, I'm sure you've been paying attention to the America's Cup finals in San Francisco...

A: As much attention as I pay to soccer. Those things are supposed to be boats? They look like spaceships!

F: True enough, and I began to think, "They should make the America's Cup a real challenge—have the teams race to India in the kind of tubs Vasco had to pilot. That would be sailing.

A: To add excitement the TV viewers could vote on their least-favorite crewman, who'd walk the plank.

F: Call it "The Weakest Mate."

A: So Portugal shows that life can be enjoyable without the NFL?

F: Absolutely, but don't go to Lisbon unless you're up for climbing lots of hills! One reason it was a great trip was the accomplishment of surviving.

A: Sounds like something Vasco would say.

 

LOOKIN' GOOD AT LAMBEAU

F: As Vasco might also say, the Packers righted their ship big-time against Washington. You must have had a pleasant viewing experience.

A: It was a very relaxing game to watch, and those are few and far between, at least for me.

F: But some concern about Eddie Lacy's concussion?

A: Absolutely. And what happened to this new tough attitude on players' launching themselves into helmet-to-helmet hits? This Brandon Meriweather nailed Lacy and then he did the same dang thing to James Starks!

F: And got laid out himself in the second case.

A: But this is just the thing the league was supposed to be cracking down on. There was no penalty for the hit on Lacy.

F: I daresay Mr. Meriweather will be lighter in the wallet, but you're right, he was certainly launching himself. I do think it must be tough for the officials to spot this stuff in real time because it all happens so fast.

A: But how many officials are there, and where are they looking? I mean, Lacy had the ball, didn't he? All the refs might miss something in the middle of a scrum, but this was out in the open at the end of a 10-yard gain! And the Starks play was right along the sideline. It was astounding that no penalty was called in either case.

F: Not to excuse anything, but again, the game is just so fast. In my Milwaukee Journal days I used to help cover games at Lambeau, and back then we had to get from the press box to the locker rooms by going down through the stands. Some of us would make the descent with a few minutes left in the game and then wait beyond the end zone. And I used to marvel at how much faster everything was than it seemed on TV or in the press box.

A: But again, I thought there was a mandate to keep a special eye out for the kind of stuff Meriweather did. And especially after the hit on Lacy!

F: How about the play where RG III was separated from his helmet? There was some helmet-to-helmet contact there.

A: But no way was that as deliberate as Meriweather's hits.

F: It does go to show, however, that there can be helmet-to-helmet stuff that just happens in the blink of an eye. The ball carrier ducks at just the wrong moment and a hit that was aimed at the chest or shoulders winds up landing higher.

A: All true, but Meriweather was just blatant.

F: How about another possible concern from the game, namely the four sacks of Rodgers?

A: And three of them were really early, in one case on successive plays. But that's just it; all of the sacks were in the first half, and after that I think the offensive line played well. Plus they helped Starks pile up 132 yards—the first time a Packer has run for more than a hundred since 2010.

F: And Rodgers' 480 passing yards tied the team record set two seasons ago by Matt Flynn.

A: So the O-line must have been doing something right. But back to the worry over Lacy; Starks does a good job but he's injury-prone himself. If Lacy's concussion is a lingering thing and then Starks gets hurt, that could be real bad.

F: And not very relaxing for you.

 

THE BADGERS HAVE A BEEF

F: I didn't see a single second of the UW game because it started around 10:30 p.m. for the East Coast. How long did you last?

A: Late into the third quarter. Of course I had my DVR set, and for any football game I program it for an extra hour. But when I woke up Sunday and dialed it up, the dang recording ended with 1:44 left in the game. So I missed the Badgers' final drive.

F: But you saw replays of the weird sequence at the end?

A: Yeah, and all I can say is there must be some conspiracy out West against teams from Wisconsin. Last year's "Fail Mary" hose job on the Packers in Seattle; an admitted screwup in this year's opener that helped the 49ers score seven points instead of three; and now this!

F: I will say that the Badgers weren't entirely free of responsibility for the clock running out.

A: Yes, Joel Stave could have been more convincing in taking a knee after he ran to the center of the field...

F: More convincing? I've seen the replay a bunch of times, and I swear he DID NOT actually touch a knee to the ground. The way I saw it, he kind of bounced into one of his own linemen as he was about to touch a knee, and he wound up getting close to the ground but not actually on it.

A: It looked that way to me too, but I heard guys on the radio say that he momentarily did. But not convincingly.

F: And when he did actually place the ball on ground it was from a totally upright position—and then he walked toward the referee. It just looked unusual—make that goofy—and added to the confusion of the Arizona State defense and the officials.

A: I also heard that the rule book says you can "simulate" putting a knee on the ground.

F: But what does "simulate" mean, especially when you've just bumped into your own guy? However, I did read that whistles were heard on the field when the ball was on the ground, which would mean the officials should have cleared off the ASU guy on the ball, re-spotted it and let the Badgers line up for the spike that would lead to the field-goal try.

A: The ref could stop the clock at any moment just to consult with his crew and clarify what had happened. And it's his job to do that!

F: Or he could have stopped the clock and then consulted with the booth official. After all, in college every play is subject to potential review from upstairs. And what play would be more worthy of a second look—or more—in the booth?

A: I have to think the PAC 12 officiating committee will have some critical things to say about the way this was handled. But it ain't gonna change the score!

F: One other thing: What does it say that coach Gary Andersen felt it was so important to get the ball centered on the field for his kicker? Those hash marks aren't as close to the sidelines as they used to be. It doesn't show much confidence in the kicker.

A: Well, true, there has been inconsistency there, so Andersen was trying to help either Kyle French or Jack Russell—whoever would’ve been chosen to kick. And of course there's no guarantee that either would have made the kick, which would have been about 32 yards. But he should have had a shot at it!

F: Agreed, but with the asterisk that Stave contributed to the confusion.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has traveled to Lisbon Avenue.