Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thoughts on football, life, and tragedy

Typically we use sports as an escape. It takes us away from our real lives for a while. We don’t have to think about the stressful things—jobs, relationships, health issues, money, etc.

However, there are those rare times when we can’t escape what is happening in the real world. It is too overwhelming. 9/11 was one of those times where everything came to a standstill and some games were cancelled. In 1945, during World War II, Major League Baseball cancelled the All-Star game.
Other times tragedies occur and games aren’t cancelled. We saw this earlier this fall during the college football season. The Oklahoma State football team played a game, just days after learning that a plane crashed with no survivors. The plane was carrying the Cowboys' women's basketball Coach Kurt Budke and Assistant Coach Miranda Serna. Oklahoma State faced Iowa State in their only loss of the season—an overtime loss. They came out and took an early lead, then let Iowa State tie it up.

Some sports pundits were surprised that the game was not rescheduled. And, it could be said that team was overwhelmed with grief and it was too early for them to play a game. On the flip side, it also could be argued that Iowa State just outplayed them on that given day. We will never be able to measure the affect that this tragedy had on the players and the coaches that day. However, we do know that they are human and can only imagine how they felt. They felt an extra burden to win…to help those in pain forget…for just a little while. They wanted to win to honor the memory of those lost.
Most times we don’t get the fairy tale ending we’d like to have.

This was true Sunday when the New York Giants played the Green Bay Packers in the NFC playoffs.
On Monday, we learned that the body of 21-year-old Michael Philbin (son of Joe Philbin, the Green Bay offensive coordinator) was recovered in the Fox River in Oshkosh, WI, after he had gone missing the day before. He drowned. Michael’s funeral was held Friday, just two days before the game.
A dejected Aaron Rodgers
According to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Philbin is “very important to our success.” “The day to day stuff — all the coaching responsibilities he has, installing plays and explaining plays, his role in those meetings, the way that he helps get practice run the right way. He does a ton for us. As players we probably don’t even see half the stuff he does to get us ready during the week…We all love Joe, me probably as much or more than anybody in here just because of how much he’s meant to me and my development. Just how important it is, the time we get to spend each week, how he gets us prepared and just his presence around here, it’s just tough to see him and [wife] Diane and the family dealing with this.”

Without Philbin to help them prepare all week, the burden fell on the other coaches and each individual player.
Packer Coach Mike McCarthy preached to his team, “the ability to separate” the tragedy from the game—a difficult thing to do. For those of us who have lost someone close, we know the pain and the struggle to “separate” just days after to continue on…to go to work…to be professional. And, we also know that, for the most part, we are not at the top of our game.

The Packers lost in a lackluster performance. It seemed like everyone was off their game. Starting with Rodgers, last year’s Super Bowl MVP and one of the best, if not the best quarterback in the league—his passes weren’t sharp, and he didn’t lead his team like he typically does. His receivers had too many drops on balls that were catchable. And, the defense, while not one of the best in the league, is known for takeaways. They had only one and the defensive game plan seemed confused. With the confused part coming on who was covering...leading to no one covering the receivers and giving up way too many yards.
Troy Aikman, one of the announcers calling the game, said that the Packers did not seem emotionally up for the game when he talked to them the day before and that carried over into the game.

Earlier in the week, Rodgers said, “It gives you perspective on … as much fun as we have playing ball…there are some bigger issues that we deal with each day.” He continued, “You have to be able to separate the off the field from the on field stuff and make sure when you’re at work it’s your main focus, but we’re human as well,” he said. “The human element in this is that it’s on your mind….”
Once again we ask the question, how much did this tragedy affect the Packers? They wanted to win for the Philbin family, for the Packer family. They felt that extra weight on their shoulders to carry on and perform at a high level.

Another big question is how much were the Packers affected by not having Coach Philbin at practice all week?

On this given day, one thing we do know for sure: two days after the Packer family buried one of their own; the NY Giants outplayed them and rightfully earned their spot in the NFC Championship game and a shot at going to the Super Bowl.
After the game, the Packers stood up and took this hard loss. No excuses. They just didn’t come to play.

Even with one of the best quarterbacks and with the best record this season (15-1), the Packers were not able to overcome their grief and put this aside. They were not able to separate. They were human, just like you and me.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Philbin/Packer family.