Sunday, January 20, 2008

Let's play already!

So, this is it. The NFC Championship Game. A replay (of sorts) of the last time the Packers and Giants faced off for the championship back in 1962. Except that was played in New York (when the Giants actually played in New York and not a neighborhing state). And the players were different. And it wasn't anywhere near as cold. But other than that...

Anyway, game day has finally arrived. Although judging by all the sports coverage -- particularly if you reside in the great state of Wisconsin -- game day has been happening since the Pack beat the Seahawks last Saturday...and then it cranked up exponentially once the Giants sent the Cowgirls home earlier than many expected.

Are there any story lines that haven't already been discussed, aired, debated, or even complained about? Probably somewhere. But they are getting harder to come by. Which means that if the Packers do as most expect and go to the Super Bowl, we may be digging even deeper into sports minutiae than previously thought possible.

Still, some of these stories have been pretty good ones: Ryan Grant, obviously; Tauscher and Seubert; Brett as always; the guy from Australia who moved his whole family to Green Bay for this season; folks from around the country and around the world being Packers fans; churches re-arranging services to not interfere with kickoff time; superstitions that fans have while watching the game (for the record, I am once again wearing exactly the same combination of Packers gear as last week and will again be imbibing my preferred libation from my mug -- yes, a shameless commercial plug, but what the heck); the list could go on.

One new story that is worth checking out, though, concerns how the "old" Packers are rooting for these "new" Packers. "Glory Years" players such as Jerry Kramer, Jim Taylor, and Herb Adderly have some interesting insights, as well as advice for the youngsters on how to play in perhaps the coldest game they will ever play in. And Jerry Kramer admits to getting so excited about this game today that "I'm starting to throw a forearm shiver at the door jam." This from a 71-year-old...who would probably still throw on a jersey and execute a key block if asked to.

Kramer would also offer this pregame advice to the team: "Shut out the noise. Get by yourself and think about things a little bit. Think about where you are and what your opportunity is and what it represents. There's no need to get overly excited. Stay cool. Keep your temperature down. Keep your pulse rate normal. But here's an opportunity to step on a world stage and perform. The only reason you're here is because you're very good, so you don't need to worry about being very good. But you can worry about being perfect. So just try to play the best game you've ever played and if you leave everything on the field, and you give it your best shot, Mondays aren't so hard to deal with. Go get them."

Go get them, indeed! Chances are, he might have used some different verbiage outside of a family newspaper, but you get the idea. You can read that story in its entirety here.

The Prediction

The spread for the game is still 7 points. And judging from the poll here at (open until kickoff time today), more than 80% of those voting believe the Pack will win by at least that much.

This is one of those games where, if the weather were not a factor, it would be an easy call. Maybe it should still be. But as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Packers reporter, Bob McGinn, points out in his Packers Insider article (online subscription only, unless you can find a print copy) the weather may well negate some of the Packers' inherent advantages, especially in the passing game. Running the ball will be a key for the Packers today. If Ryan Grant can have even half the game he had last weekend that will go a long way toward helping the Packers control the clock and the game. That means the "O" line has to control the Giants excellent front four. It also means when the Giants come with their myriad blitz schemes, the line picks them up, protects Brett, and makes creases for Grant to squeeze through. It means hanging on to the ball. And on the defensive side of things, it means getting pressure -- lots of it -- on Eli, as well as bottling up the Giants' two good running backs. If Atari Bigby can put the fear of God into the Giants' receivers as he did last week against Seattle, all the better. We want them looking for where the big hit is coming from, not for the ball. And special teams? Please, be special... whether kicking or receiving or covering...don't blow it. And if you can contribute a big play, all the better.

The Pack is the better team playing at home. The only way they lose is if they self-destruct. They learned that lesson well in Chicago a few weeks ago. It will be colder. But it won't be as windy. The team learned a valuable lesson there: for 60 minutes, you have to shut out the conditions and play as if you want it more than the other guys. Don't believe the hype about "a team of destiny"; that and a dollar will buy you tomorrow's paper outlining how you got beat. This is a chance to make a statement. It doesn't come around very often. And you have to make the most of every play because you don't know which play can make the difference between a win and a loss.

So, having said all that -- oh yeah, there could be more, but why bother? -- here's my call: Packers 27 - Giants 17.

Go Pack Go!!!