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Mike Vandermause column: Undefeated status doesn't distract Packers

Nov. 26, 2011
 
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has ingrained in his players a laser-like focus on the ultimate goal — winning another championship. An undefeated season is "the bonus goal."
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has ingrained in his players a laser-like focus on the ultimate goal — winning another championship. An undefeated season is "the bonus goal." / Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
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Can they do it?

Can the Green Bay Packers become the first team in National Football League history to go 19-0, and only the second team besides the 1972 Miami Dolphins to complete an entire season undefeated?

With the Packers sporting a franchise best 11-0 record, that question is becoming more and more prevalent.

But at least one former player from the Packers’ Glory Years in the 1960s is sounding the voice of caution.

When asked about the Packers going unbeaten this season, Jerry Kramer said: “I’m not sure I want them to.”

Those weren’t the words of an embittered ex-player hoping to see the current team fail. Quite the contrary, Kramer still bleeds green and gold and is the biggest Packers fan on the planet. He was the starting right guard under coach Vince Lombardi and played on five championship teams. The closest he came to a perfect season was the Packers’ 14-1 finish in 1962.

But like Lombardi, Kramer covets a championship more than a perfect season.

“I am afraid that if we get down to 13-0, 14-0, 15-0, that the emotional hype and the media attention will be so overwhelming, it might take our eye off the championship and the playoffs,” said Kramer. “If we go 16-0 I can hear the sigh at the end of the season, ‘We did it.’ And then, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, we have a playoff game here and we have a Super Bowl to go to.’ ”

The New England Patriots famously went 16-0 in 2007, rolled into the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record and promptly lost to the New York Giants in the title game. Maybe the pressure to produce a perfect season cost the Patriots a championship.

Kramer would gladly accept a regular-season loss if it meant the Packers had a better shot at winning another Super Bowl.

That seemed to be Lombardi’s philosophy in 1962 when the Packers started 10-0 before losing to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. Lombardi was anything but livid after that loss.

“That is the object — not to win ‘em all but to stay in first place,” Lombardi told the Green Bay Press-Gazette following the game.

Although Lombardi is known for his “winning is everything” mantra, his primary focus was on championships, not individual games. He guided the Packers to five titles in a seven-year span, a feat unmatched in NFL history.

Lombardi seemed more relieved than anything in 1962 when the Packers lost. He used that game as a springboard to winning a championship five weeks later.

But that’s not the same attitude carried by the 2011 Packers, who seem oblivious to the pressure of a perfect record.

“I don’t feel any pressure by it,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy after the Packers manhandled the Lions on Thursday. “It’s a great place to be. It’s nice to be undefeated and to be part of those conversations. Anybody would like to be part of those conversations. But really, not to be cliché, it's about the next game. Because if you don’t get No. 12, that talk’s over. We won’t shy away from the talk if we get to that, but it’s a hypothetical situation.”

McCarthy is primarily responsible for the laser-like focus of his players. They are taking it one day and one goal at a time.

First, they must win their division. Then they’ll look at claiming home-field advantage. After that the attention turns to winning a championship. If what McCarthy calls “the bonus goal” of a perfect record happens to be part of the package, they won’t shy away from the hype.

“I think if any team is prepared for it I think it’s this team,” said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. “We’ve been through so much. We’re going to be the same regardless of what the hype is, and whether people say we’re going to do this or that. We’re going to go out and prepare every week. We’re going to play our style of football. We’re a determined group.”

Plenty of distractions still await the Packers in the weeks ahead. The arrest Friday morning of starting linebacker Erik Walden for alleged domestic violence is sure to attract unwelcome attention. More injuries to key players could occur. An increasing number of national media members will descend upon Green Bay with each successive victory.

Plus, the Packers’ five remaining regular-season opponents will be highly motivated to gun down the unbeaten defending champion.

Yet nothing so far has fazed this team. The Packers haven’t just overcome adversity, they seem to thrive on it.

“I think this team has got a level head,” said tight end Jermichael Finley. “This team right here is pretty special. So I think everybody’s ready.”

The longer their winning streak lasts, the greater the hype will grow. But rather than shrink from the situation, the Packers seem prepared to embrace the impending challenge.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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