Go Pack Go!: #12 vs. the 12th Man

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The NFC Championship game is upon us! Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Packers fan and anyone who knows me well knows that I am an analytical cat. My rational tendencies can be my worst enemy at times, but laying out all of the possibilities of a situation, in sports or otherwise, brings me comfort and allows me to think more creatively about said situation.

Compared to last week when I was a nervous wreck for 6+ days, I have been feeling strangely fine this whole week leading up to the game today.

I think this is because the Packers have now reached my expectations as a team this year and if they win today, they will have exceeded them (a packers.com reader voiced these same thoughts perfectly in an Ask Vic column this week).

I thought at the beginning of this season that we would have to go through Seattle in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl. I also thought that it would ultimately come down to an Aaron Rodgers-led offense having to overcome a ferocious Seattle defense and CenturyLink Field’s 12th Man. I didn’t feel good about the Packers chances of advancing to the Super Bowl under those circumstances in September and, up until yesterday, I felt abject about beating the Seahawks on the road with a peg-legged Rodgers.

But things have changed in the last 48 hours. I stopped caring about the national pundits’ opinions and started listening to my heart (and countless Packers podcasts). After carefully weighing every angle of the match up, I think we have a puncher’s chance.

We could be a few hours away from a Super Bowl, so let’s have fun with it! Here are the themes on my mind going into this afternoon’s game, brought to you by the Talking Heads.

Some Good Points…

    • The Packers offensive line has improved drastically since we played the Seachickens, I mean Seahawks, in week one. Remember how it was Linsley’s first NFL game (in the loudest NFL stadium) and Sherrod played in place of Bulaga? Our O-line is now one of the strongest units in the league and I feel good about their ability to protect #12 in the pocket.
    • The Seahawks defense has faced a laundry list of low caliber quarterbacks the last several months. If you’re a Packers fan, you’ve seen the list by now. Their defense played well against Cam Newton last week, but he has practically no offensive weapons to aid him. Long story short, the Seattle defense is a force to be reckoned with but has not been tested regularly since October.
    • No Percy Harvin this time around. The mercurial WR had a handful of big plays and a combined 100 yards rushing and receiving in week one. He was traded in October and was not replaced with a weapon approaching his potency. Lynch is now the only stand out talent for Wilson to utilize.
    • Julius Peppers vs. Justin Britt. I like this match-up for Green Bay. Peppers could be in for some birthday sacks. Hey Britt: don’t take another step, don’t blame it on yourself! (Couldn’t resist the Phish reference;)
    • The Law of Averages suggests that a). the Packers are due for a game changing interception and b). one of the home teams/favorites this weekend will lose.

…Some Bad Points

  • The status of Rodgers and his golden thigh is concerning to say the least. He’s only had a week to recover from the Cowboys game. He looked fantastic in the second half last Sunday, but the Packers can’t afford a slow start or sub-par half against Seattle. The Seahawks are 4th in pass defense when the QB stays in the pocket versus 12th when the QB leaves the pocket. Rodgers will definitely be staying the pocket today. Uh oh.
  • The coaching match up favors Seattle greatly. My friends and family know that, historically, I have lacked confidence in Mike McCarthy. He’s made strides in the right direction in terms of offensive play calling, but I’ll take Pete Carroll over Mike McCarthy any day when it comes to in-game strategy. Did I mention, as a Notre Dame fan and person with ethical principles, I despise Slippery Pete? I just vomited in my mouth a little.
  • Green Bay’s recent defensive history versus athletic, out-of-the-pocket QB threats is bleak. Capers just can’t seem to figure out how the scheme against these offenses. While our defense has been much improved this year compared to years past, I will remain skeptical of this progress until we stop a Russell Wilson or Cam Newton-type in a big game.
  • Marshawn Lynch is a beast. The Packers’ run defense showed improvement since Clay Matthews was moved to the inside, but I’m still unconvinced we’ll be able to stop Marshawn for 4 quarters.

But it all works out, I’m just a little freaked out.

The Packers will win if:

  • Eddie Lacy out rushes Marshawn Lynch and
  • They score a defensive or special teams touchdown and
  • They do not allow a defensive or special teams touchdown and
  • They hold Russell Wilson to fewer than 45 yards rushing and
  • Aaron Rodgers puts together a signature performance

The Seachickens will win if:

  • Aaron Rodgers sits out more than one offensive series or
  • The Packers have more than one turnover or
  • Marshawn Lynch runs for more than 120 yards or
  • Seattle scores one or more defensive or special teams touchdown

Prediction: Packers 27, Seahawks 23

Think of Glendale….Super Bowl City!

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My Cup is Overflowing

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12/11/2014

My mother called me on the phone the morning before Thanksgiving.

“Shawn, Grandpa died this morning.” My Grandpa Tom in Wausau.

I was home for the holidays but had spent the night at Erica’s house on the west side of Madison. We had spent the previous evening talking, eating cookies, playing pool, and laughing a lot at a friend’s log cabin out in the country. Meanwhile, my grandfather was spending his last night on earth in a hospital bed in northern Wisconsin, his wife of 63 years by his side, in his 85th year, giving up the ghost in his singularly good-humored and gentle way.

We drove north that afternoon, Erica, my uncle, and I. We talked a little bit about life & death and Grandpa. At dusk, we arrived at the house on Skyline. No one was home – the siblings and Grandma were still at the funeral home making arrangements. We kept the engine running the cold November frost, eventually pulling out of the driveway to meet the family at a Chinese buffet. We waited, hugged, ate, and spoke little of Grandpa’s passing. A pall in everyone’s step and eyes told it.

Thanksgiving was strangely comforting, even jubilant. With 20 of us in the house, we didn’t all fit at the long table in the sun room looking across to Rib Mountain. We sang “Back of the Bread” for grace – one of Grandpa’s favorites. Turkey & fixings that tasted more rich than ever, lots of good football, and plenty of card games made for a homey afternoon.

For the next four days, we prepared for the wake and funeral. The hours passed and I was not thinking much of anything beyond those present moments with my aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, brother, wife and Grandma. I remember drifting from person to person, asking to help with anything that needed tending to: sorting clothes, retrieving items for the displays showing Grandpa’s interests, playing with the younger kids. It’s all a sort of bittersweet blur of a long winter’s weekend now.

The funeral service was on Sunday afternoon, with a visitation an hour before. I had tried to avoid visiting the casket at the wake the day before, but ultimately brought my mother forward to it near the end of the evening so she could, “say goodbye to my Dad.” I’m not sure why I acted like this – perhaps I wanted to avoid saying goodbye, maybe it was the utterly uncomfortable feeling of seeing the body of a man who was so vibrant and witty during his life lie motionless in an eternal bed, make up caked onto his face along with a cold, straight grin he never would’ve worn. A body is just a vessel for the spirit & the soul, and to see his existence to reduced to a corpse for people to visit seemed a crude symbology in which I didn’t want to fully partake. Nonetheless, I visited the casket alongside my cousin at the visitation. I cried then. Seeing others cry made me feel my grandfather’s absence.

I had a heavy and hard time until the beginning of the funeral. I served as pallbearer with some of the other men in the family. The service was meticulously planned by Grandpa and included four hymns, three readings, a family remembrance, a version of a creed he wrote himself, and a military farewell featuring a firing squad and “Taps” to conclude. My eldest uncle led the family remembrance, ending with the lines, “I always looked up to my father, and I can still do that today & forever more. Hey, Dad!,” his hands and face rising to the sky.

Another uncle and a trio of cousins performed Grandpa’s hymn “My Cup is Overflowing” during the service and it has been stuck in my head all day. I’ve only realized the significance of this metaphor in the last few hours as I returned to Oakland and went to my school. When you are so blessed to be around caring people you can call companions, to have a loving family, to be in good health, to be living & breathing in this magical world the gods have given us, how can you not be overcome with joy and thanks? Your cup overflows with these blessings, life is beyond good: it is blissful, with an infinite number of possibilities for the present and future. So treat others with kindness and be a generous listener, for that is the pinnacle of earthly existence; to share moments of beauty and curiosity with others and to appreciate it all the while. I used this frame all afternoon, speaking with students and colleagues, each and every interaction. By practicing patience, being open, sharing my thoughts, doing simple deeds, and listening to others, I felt a tremendous happiness and gratefulness. Thank you for teaching this to me, Grandpa.

As I continue to reflect on Grandpa’s teachings to me over the years and emotionally process his flight from us, I continue to return to the question of how to honor one’s memory. There are simple ways, like putting his picture in a place in our apartment or meditating with him in mind & spirit. But I feel the most meaningful way for me to honor my Grandpa Tom will be to ponder his father & presence, continue to apply his teachings & learn from his example. That doesn’t mean duplicating all of his life choices, though I always admired his well-rounded, renaissance-man nature and hope to continue to develop myself in that direction. I think it means to remember his commitment to family, to kindness for others, to intellectual self-improvement, and to humor; a hug a day, a smile every ten minutes, plenty of reading & writing, and lots of jokes. I will keep him with me by leading a life with these the tenets in mind. In doing so, he will live on with us, in spirit & smile, forever. Love you and miss you, Grandpa Tom.