Sunday, February 1, 2015

Packing it Away...Until Next Season

My Green Bay Packers sweat shirts "Packed" away.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

You likely know the Super Bowl is today, February 1st.  The defending champion Seattle Seahawks face off against the New England Patriots, also former champions.  I expect it to be a great game.

And I could not be more disappointed with the match-up.  

The reason?  Simple, I am a Green Bay fan.  I've been one for as long as I can remember.  Unlike other teams and sports where I have strained a muscle jumping on whatever band wagon was rolling through "Firstplaceville," I've been with the Packers...for a while.  

Yes, my friends, I've been a fan, through the "wilderness years" of the 70s and 80s, when Green Bay lost regularly.  When our arch-rivals, the Chicago Bears, would pummel us without pause or pity, reflection or restraint.  Through the late 80s when we got the first faint hopes that the post-season might, just might, include our team.  Not since Bart Starr had been under center did the Packers have a quarterback who could engineer wins.  Enter Don "Majic" Majkowski.

The "Majic Man" arrived in Green Bay in 1987, by way of the tenth round, hailing from the University of Virginia.  Two short years later, a turnaround was clearly apparent.  The Packers even found a way to savor victory against the Bears in 1989.  Like a candle in the darkness of the room of "losses and no post-season," a bit of light could be seen.  

However, it was not until the 90s that the "Pack" was truly back.  Led by the gun-slinger Brett Farve, the Packers returned to greatness.  It culminated with winning the 1997 Superbowl.  From then on, the Packers fielded competitive teams, making the playoffs most years and even winning the whole thing again in 2011.

The iconic image of any Superbowl team is lifting the trophy, "The Lombardi Trophy."  More on that and the namesake in a moment.

So as a Packers fan, I both hope and yes, expect, they will not only play in, but win the Superbowl.  All was in order to get back to this year's the big game two weeks' ago in the NFC Championship Game.  Green Bay had a solid lead late in the game.  Then disaster struck and Seattle engineered a comeback that will be (sadly) recalled for years to come.  I can still hear the cackling from the various bars and Irish pubs on Rush Street at how the Packers let this one get away.

It was painful to watch, to say the least.  Still, I was mildly proud of myself (being an only child, I'm easily impressed with my accomplishments) for not moping around the house after the loss.  There was a time when that would be par for the course.  Chalk it up to getting older or having other stuff to worry about.  Or, perhaps, (dare I say it) recognizing that I can neither take credit nor shoulder blame for the Green Bay season, so any disappointment should be kept in perspective.  I was able to (mostly) let it go and move on.  

"Let it go, let it go.
And I'll rise like the break of dawn.
Let it go, let it go..."

 Yes, I went there...Frozen lyrics.  Sorry about that, I had a moment.  I'm back and better now...

As I mentioned a few lines ago, the Superbowl trophy is named the "Lombardi Trophy," after the football coach Vince Lombardi.  Even as a hopelessly biased Packers fan, it is both fair and accurate to say he is synonymous with football excellence.  This man sought out victory the way Arthur's knights quested for the Holy Grail.  

Coch Lombardi, 1962, from Wikipedia, public domain/fair use claimed, full cite below in sources.

He has been known for any number of memorable lines.  One of my favorites was recently re-told in a great blog post by James Clear (citing to David Maraniss' book).   In the post, Clear tells how Lombardi began training camp by holding up the ball and saying:  "Gentlemen, this is a football."  There are others.  However, the one I'd argue he's best known for his musing on being #1.  It's worth presenting in full:

What it Takes to be Number 1 by Vincent Lombardi

"Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don't ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.

Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he's got to play from the ground up - from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second.

Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization - an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win - to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don't think it is.

It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there - to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules - but to win.

And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.

I don't say these things because I believe in the ‘brute' nature of men or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour -- his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear -- is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

Pretty powerful stuff.

There are a number of books, I suppose, written on Lombardi.  I have only read one but this one is enough.  When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss is that book.

Here is what Allen St. John of The New York Times surmised, in part, regarding his book review back in 1999:

"In his biography, When Pride Still Mattered, David Maraniss searches behind the slogan for the man who started it all. Lombardi has been characterized as (pick your stereotype) a success-obsessed tyrant, a great leader, a bully who browbeat his players into submission, a masterly motivator who drew the best out of his team. Maraniss insists that he was all of the above."

There is something to be said for pursuing victory.  We live in a world with plenty of ugliness, of people who would gleefully do us harm.  In those situations, we best fight back and, to quote Coach Lombardi, " win, and to win, and to win."  I've commented on such situations before and expect to again.  However, for purposes of football, that is not one of those.

It's OK to be disappointed when your team loses. I view that as a sign of loyalty and loyalty is something I'll pay full price for.  However, keeping things in perspective is key.  This is especially important regarding things we cannot control.  I'll go so far as to call it a virtue.

I'm reading a great book, Dying Every Day Seneca at the Court of Nero, by James Romm.  It tells of how the great stoic writer and teacher was caught in the quicksand that was Imperial Rome.  It was against this backdrop of selfish excess and narcissistic (and murderous) impulses that Seneca wrote some of his best work.  One in particular is De Brevitate Vitae (On the Shortness of Life."  In it, Seneca offers some sage advice on dealing with disappointment caused my matters not of our doing.  He writes:

"Withdraw yourself into calmer, safer, and greater learn what substance God is made of, what experiences await your soul..." (citing to Romm, p. 53).

A bit much?  Maybe.  Then again, there's some applicable wisdom in both the approach of Seneca and Lombardi.  It might come down to this:  Pick your fights, fight like hell to win those you can, and know when it's not your fight.  When it's over, accept the reality for what it is.  Then put away your team colors.  That way, you'll know exactly where to find them for next year.

Be well my friends,



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