Hello Packer Nation,
I just heard a song on the radio coming into work - "Dream Warriors" by Dokken, an 80's hairband. While the song was originally made for the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3" it reminded me of this Packer team. The one verse...
"Sweet revenge, the bitter end
Break the spell of illusion
Bound together waiting for you
Don't want to dream no more"
Packer fans do not have to dream anymore! The Packers came out of the Divisional Round victorious against the Seattle Seahawks 28-23 at Lambeau. They will head to San Jose to play the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. What do we take from this game?
This 2019 Packer team relishes being "snubbed" as Za'Darius Smith eloquently displayed after a sack of Russell Wilson. While his proclamation stemmed from Smith being snubbed from the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams, it also seemed to tie back to his team. They thrive on being the underdog, the inferior team to everyone outside the locker room. They fight tooth and nail to earn their victories. They have been clutch at the end of many games. There is nothing dominant about this team on the field. They converted big run plays against Kansas City earlier in the year to seal that victory with exemplary execution. I have been searching for a pulse on this team all year and it became apparent in this Seattle game.
The Packers locker room has been a stagnant cesspool of mediocrity for years that contributed to McCarthy's demise. A strong locker room is vitally important in the playoffs because teams are now playing sudden death and under extreme pressure to produce. There is a ton of outside pressure as media and social media all have avenues to reach players. There is always noise coming from haters. It is up to team leaders such as Za'Darius Smith to put the team at ease and tell their teammates "let's prove the haters wrong!"
The Packers are receiving more than Za'Darius Smith's production on the field. They have a regular dude who came into the league with very low expectations. He wasn't drafted high (pick 122 in 2015 draft by Baltimore). He is not a man who takes anything for granted and he has worked hard to be the best he can be in all aspects. He seems eternally grateful the Packers gave him a substantial contract to become a Packer and the freedom to be himself. He even bought his mother a new home and told her to retire!
After the Seattle game, Za'Darius made the following comment that tells you all you need to know about its new team leader;
"The world knows now...I wanted to do something great here and out of my first year, I felt like I gave it all that I got, but came up short in those situations (Pro-Bowl, All-Pro) but we're not even focused on that. We're worried about getting to the Super Bowl." Even Aaron Rodgers trusts guys like Za'Darius. According to Za'Darius, Aaron Rodgers told the locker room leading up the Seattle game that "We have this opportunity to go all the way, and I hope you guys can bring me my second ring." Smith is doing everything he can to lift this team on his shoulders. The team looks up to him!
This 2019 team embraces representing the smallest city in professional sports and the only professional sports team owned by the community. Green Bay is a city just over 100,000 residents and is known as a "gritty mill town." Blue-collar workers own this team (literally) and the team has taken on the city's persona. First-year head coach Matt LaFleur has let his team know how much he appreciates their resiliency. They do not back down from any challenge. They are a team. Thanks to LaFleur, he first starting building this team's identity in the first training camp practice. Leaders such as Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Davante Adams, Mason Crosby, and Aaron Rodgers have all filled important rolls as team ambassadors, much like previous ambassadors Reggie White, LeRoy Butler and Charles Woodson. LaFleur knew a strong locker room is vitally important and he has built one in his very first year as a head coach. It is pretty impressive!
A strong, confident locker room can overcome talent deficiencies and much more. From Preston Smith showing appreciation and buying all his defensive teammates scooters for Christmas to Rodgers calm presence on the last two third-down conversions to seal the win against the Seahawks, this team exudes internal confidence. As long as they are "brothers" they can overcome anything.
If the Packers cannot win in this week's NFC Championship game, one thing is now certain - the team's culture has changed for the better. Even as 13 time World Champions, the outside world isn't looking at the Packers to carry the Lombardi trophy home from Miami. There is nothing more dangerous than a team nobody thinks it will see in the Super Bowl over the "sexy" 49ers. This Packer team seems to have taken on Packer great Vince Lombardi's swagger and a few of his famous quotes...
"The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have." Vince Lombardi
"Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi
"Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers are all about. They didn't do it for individual glory. They did it because they love one another." Vince Lombardi
Go Pack Go!