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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

Out In the Cold

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Three weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers had just trampled the hated Chicago Bears and were tied for the division lead. Now, after a 24-21 loss to the lowly Houston Texans at frigid Lambeau Field, the Packers are 5-8 and all but eliminated from the playoff race. With one-half of the Observers passionately committed to the Packers, the weekly conversation began somberly.

Artie: Penalties, penalties, penalties. I tell ya, it’s a penalty just to have to watch the Packers this season. Sunday they had four penalties for holding—four!—and each one was absolutely critical. One wiped out a 99-yard kickoff return. I hadn’t seen a flag thrown, but as soon as I saw Will Blackmon cross the goal line I knew there’d be one.

Frank: That black cloud is never far from your head, is it?

Artie: Despite Mike McCarthy’s words, they haven’t “fixed” the penalty problem they’ve had all season—or anything else. Third-down conversions Sunday: 1 out of 10.

Frank: Not to mention 549 yards of offense by a Houston team that came in at 5-7. But wasn’t the Pack driving toward the winning score in the final minutes? Suddenly they were knocked backward and had to punt, but even then they had Houston pinned on the 3-yard line. Less than two minutes later, the winning field goal ended the game.

Artie: Cripes, all those receivers wide open in the middle of the field!

Frank: I think we can safely lay to rest the “Lambeau mystique”—the notion that the Packers have some big advantage in wintry conditions.

Artie: Early on the CBS announcers talked about how cold it was and how the Packers are used to it, “they practice in it.” Baloney! Maybe when Vince Lombardi was around, but now they have the indoor facility and that’s where they practice.

Frank: And what, the Packers only draft guys from the Arctic Circle? I’m sure they have roughly the same number of guys from Florida, California, Texas, as everyone else. So the green jerseys make them immune from the cold?

Artie: No, sir. Wherever the Houston offensive guys come from, they had no trouble moving the ball. Ten times out of nine their quarterback, Matt Schaub, had all the time in the world to throw. The only reason the Pack was in the game was because Houston fumbled twice in the red zone, threw an interception and muffed a punt.

Frank: This Lambeau mystique thing hasn’t existed for years. Michael Vick and Atlanta buried the Pack in the playoffs in January 2003. Two years later the Vikings did the same. And last January the Packers had the Super Bowl in their hands against the Giants on a brutally cold evening but lost in overtime.

Artie: Yup, let’s just say “R.I.P., Lambeau mystique.” But hey, the Packers ain’t dead yet. They could win their last three games, against Jacksonville, the Bears and Detroit, and if the Vikings go 0-3 and Bears 1-2, they’ll all be tied at 8-8.

Frank: Counting on that?

Artie: Hey, why not? The Vikings play at Arizona—already a playoff team—and then Atlanta and the Giants. The Bears play New Orleans and Houston besides the Packers. It could happen!

Frank: And how would the tie-breakers play out?

Artie: How should I know? Hey, this beats the idea of seeing them finish 5-11. Although maybe that would lead to some coaching changes and better draft picks. But what do we want, a team that’s even younger and more inexperienced?

Frank: Makes me glad I’m not emotionally invested in this.

Bowlfuls of Nothin’

Artie: Speaking of emotion, when the heck is our president-elect going to decree, as he promised, that the NCAA dump this BCS system and go to playoffs for its top division in football?

Frank: I don’t think the Constitution bestows that power. But I share your view.

Artie: Florida and Alabama played what amounted to a national semifinal, and now Florida has a shot at the title. Fine and dandy. But Oklahoma gets in the title game by stomping Missouri. Does anyone think Texas—which beat Oklahoma—wouldn’t have done the same thing?

Frank: Not me. There’s no problem with using polls and computers to rate the teams. But why not use ‘em to determine the top eight teams and then have a three-week playoff?

Artie: Pre-fockin’-cisely. Let’s say Oklahoma beats Florida and Texas beats Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Texas beat Oklahoma, so why shouldn’t the Longhorns be the champs?

Frank: Or how’s this: Whoever wins the title game will end up with one loss. The Rose Bowl winner, Penn State or USC, will have one loss. If Texas wins the Fiesta, they’ll have one loss. If Alabama beats Utah in the Sugar Bowl, they’ll have one loss, and if the Utes win, they’ll be 13-0! Even in a playoff system there’ll be disputes about who’s really best, but why not have head-to-head games weed things out?

Artie: I think the NCAA says it would lengthen the season too much.

Frank: Then why’d they let teams have a 12th regular-season game? I say have all the same meaningless bowl games if you want, but make the major ones playoff games. In a gesture to the old days, let the Cotton and Gator bowls be quarterfinal games, And let the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta rotate yearly for the other quarterfinals and the semis. Then have your title game on Jan. 8 every year. That’s exactly the date this season will end!

Artie: It won’t take any interest away from low-level bowls because there isn’t any to begin with. I’m a UW fan but I ain’t gonna watch whatever blah-blah bowl the 7-5 Badgers are in.

Frank: That’s your Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 27, against 8-4 Florida State. Wowie-zowie! I do like to watch some of the Rose Bowl for the mountains and the sunset and that stuff.

Artie: I’ll watch the Rose Bowl this year because of Penn State. For 40 years, since Joe Paterno was a youngster, I’ve loved ‘em for those bland uniforms—not a thing on the helmets. This school is cool!

Frank: I like JoPa because he’s a Brooklyn guy, although he went to the high school that was my school’s bitter rival. He was a few years ahead of me, for the record.

MU Rah-Rah

Frank: The other big event of the weekend was Marquette’s 61-58 victory over Wisconsin in hoops. With that close a score there’s really no difference between the teams, but it was a nice win for MU.

Artie: They should have won because they had the Three Musketeers, the senior guards, Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. But Lazar Hayward was really the saving grace for them.

Frank: He had 13 rebounds and MU won the battle of the boards. The Golden Eagles didn’t solve two of their big weaknesses: three-point and free-throw shooting. But the Badgers were just as bad in both, and MU’s quickness on defense turned things around.

Artie: The Badgers have had to revamp their lineup more than MU and they’re still not quite where they want to be.

Frank: Hey, did you notice the best thing about the telecast? MU fans were holding these big blow-ups of famous faces, and one of them was the photo of Bo Ryan that ran with our column last week! The one that made him look a little, um, scary.

Artie: As always, the Observers set the style.

Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years. Art Kumbalek hopes that after the new president fixes the BCS system, he can do something about the number of TV timeouts in an NFL game.


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