When we say "Happy Holidays" in these parts, we're not just talking Christmas and New Years. The sweeping greeting is now meant to include the NFL postseason and the Packers participation therein, however long it lasts.
That certainly seems to be the case for anyone under the age of 30, a demographic that has come to expect if not demand a playoff run, the longer the better, thank you. And that's not on them: when all you've known for your entire existence is excellence, why wouldn't you come to anticipate it?
It may explain a mentality I first saw mentioned in the recent Sports Illustrated article on head coach Mike McCarthy and his up-down-up 2016 season, one that had some of the faithful calling for his job and those of others as the team dropped four games in a row. falling to 4-6 while reducing postseason hopes to dim-at-best. "The NFL's smallest city," the author writes, "can also be its most unreasonable--call it "Entitletown"--though perhaps the judgment of its citizens has been impaired by heartbreak. McCarthy is 8-7 in the postseason", pointing out the recent playoff losses that came on a the game's final play. Yeah, there's that.
Truth is, you can't hear the sound of falling leaves but this autumn featured a new noise--that of ankles snapping as Packers fans lept off the bandwagon at the nadir of the team's slide. Fire McCarthy, the rabble cried on sportstalk radio. Can Thompson, they hollered via social media. The heat generated by the negative vibes could've lit the stoves for a million booyah dinners in the Green Bay metro area.
Does that make us entitled, or just...typical?
The reflexive action for the modern sports ban in times of franchise swoon is to demand a bloody head on a fence post. Is there a better person out there? Doesn't matter. The thinking is that the current titleholder has deemed himself unworthy by recent developments regardless of past track record. McCarthy himself had to take the podium at the height of the crisis to remind the press room as well as fans listening beyond that hey, I'm pretty good at this coaching thing. So good, in fact, that some are calling this the best job of McCarthy's Green Bay tenure, now that the team clinched the NFC North amid a brutal rash of injuries that has the team looking for available DB's on the Green Bay Preble High School roster.
Upper-demo fans remember the Glory Days of Lombardi and the gory ones that followed--two decades of "The Suck" that enveloped Packerland like the stench from a paper mill. It's the stretch that started with the legendary coach's departure to Mike Holmgren's arrival--1968 until 1992--one that featured all of two playoff appearances and not a whiff of a Super Bowl. I, too, grew up with the expectation that a title was a sure thing, what with the Pack having taken three in a row as Lombardi headed toward the door. Reality set in as Phil Bengtsen, Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forest Gregg and Lindy Infante tried turning the battleship around while the reset of the NFL wondered why it had a franchise is such a backwater city in the first place, one that no longer seemed professionally competitive or capable.
It was the classic football film "Grumpy Old Men" that taught us all, young and old, a few truths about we who are close to the rocking chair, among them is that we never walk past a bathroom. Trust me, someday you'll understand. Another life lesson is that, in today's world of pro sports, a title should never be expected and a postseason should never be taken for granted. The league is littered with teams that could only hope for the Pack's brand of success. Getting to the tournament isn't always easy or pretty but it happened again for McCarthy, Thompson and the team. Queston methods and strategies if you will, but this is a results-driven business and the numbers say this is a winning combination. No one wants to play Green Bay right not, certainly not at Lambeau.
Does that make we who live and breathe the Packers denizens of "Entitletown"? Or does it mean that the local football bar is now raised to levels unimaginable during the Reagan era? Do we take for granted those who guide our team's fortunes? How long would it take McCarthy to land another gig if cut loose here? I'm guessing his time in the jobless line clocks in in hours, not days.
Savor these moments, fans, because there were times when the Packers didn't have a speaking part in the NFL's second season, when the closest you'd come to see a player in action during the winter would be at a charity donkey basketball game at the local high school. These new glory days are to be celebrated.
And, we should never feel entitled.