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Mike Vandermause column: It was a good year to be a cheesehead

Dec. 31, 2011
 
Fans celebrate the Green Bay Packers 35-26 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011.
Fans celebrate the Green Bay Packers 35-26 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette

2011 should go down as the greatest year in Green Bay Packers history.

How can it get any better?

In one glorious calendar year, the Packers won a Super Bowl championship and produced an all-time best 19-1 record.

Their starting quarterback enjoyed the finest season of any signal caller in NFL history.

They announced contract extensions for their coach and general manager to ensure a promising future.

They were the beneficiaries of a newly signed 10-year collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players union that keeps a salary cap and the draft in place and guarantees the Packers will remain prosperous and competitive despite playing in the leagueís smallest city.

They began work on another expansion of Lambeau Field and raised more than $60 million to help pay for it through a wildly popular sale of team stock.

On or off the field, the Packers possessed the Midas touch and became the envy of the league. Their biggest problem will be trying to stage an encore performance.

Here are the top 10 Packers stories from a magical year to remember:

1. Lombardi Trophy comes home

The year began with a hard-fought 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears on Jan. 2 that enabled the Packers to win a tiebreaker with two other 10-6 teams and slip into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed. They proceeded to win three consecutive road playoff games at Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago to set up their Super Bowl XLV triumph over Pittsburgh at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. The Packers became just the second sixth-seeded team to capture a championship. It was the Packersí 13th overall title and fourth Super Bowl crown.

2. Historic start to season

The Packers burst out of the gate with an all-time team best 13-0 start this season and extended their overall winning streak to 19 games, second longest in NFL history. The Packers went 364 days without a loss. The streak finally ended on Dec. 18 at Kansas City. The Packers, who shattered the teamís single-season scoring record, earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the first time since 1996. The only other calendar years when the Packers suffered just one loss (with no ties) were 1919 (10-1) and 1962 (14-1).

3. Superstar quarterback

Aaron Rodgers was phenomenal in guiding the Packers to four playoff victories and capturing the Super Bowl MVP award. But he didnít stop there. Through 15 games this season, he posted the best single-season passer rating (122.5) in NFL history. His 45 touchdown passes and six interceptions makes him a prime candidate for NFL MVP honors. Best of all for the Packers, Rodgers is only 28 and in the prime of his career.

4. Fans gobble up stock

In early December, the Packers sold 185,000 shares of team stock at $250 each during the first 48 hours. By yearís end, that total reached more than 250,000 shares, which raised around $62.5 million for the $143 million expansion of Lambeau Field that will increase capacity to 79,000.

5. Management team remains intact

Coach Mike McCarthy signed a contract extension through 2015 that pays him in excess of $5 million per season. The Packers also announced the contract extension of General Manager Ted Thompson, also through 2015, at an estimated salary of at least $3 million. The new deals reflect the Packersí commitment to the Thompson-McCarthy football brain trust that has been together for six seasons. McCarthyís 67-35 overall record (.657) ranks fourth all-time behind Vince Lombardi (.766), Curly Lambeau (.667) and Mike Holmgren (.667).

6. NFL lockout ends in time for training camp

Owners and players squabbled for months over a new collective bargaining agreement, which wiped out all organized offseason practices. The Packers were criticized in some circles for not holding players-only workouts during their down time. The NFL granted the team permission to stage their Super Bowl ring ceremony in June during the lockout, which ended just before the start of training camp.

7. Veterans receive rewards

The Packers rarely sign unrestricted free agents from other teams, but they proved once again they put a priority on retaining their players. Linebacker A.J. Hawk, receivers James Jones and Jordy Nelson, kicker Mason Crosby and guard Josh Sitton remained in the fold by signing new contracts.

8. Not everyone stays

Thompson has proven he wonít let sentiment stand in the way of making personnel decisions. Several veteran contributors either werenít re-signed or were sent packing. Unrestricted free agents Cullen Jenkins, Daryn Colledge and Brandon Jackson signed with other teams, while linebackers Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar were released.

9. Pro Bowl safety down and out

The Packersí defense suffered a major hit when three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins injured his neck in Week 2 at Carolina and was lost for the season. There is no guarantee Collins, who underwent surgery on a bulging disc, will play again.

10. Tackle football

For the second straight year, the Packers drafted an offensive tackle in the first round. After taking Bryan Bulaga in 2010, they made Derek Sherrod out of Mississippi State the final selection of Round 1. Sherrod saw limited action before breaking two bones in his leg against Kansas City. Packers second-round pick Randall Cobb made the biggest rookie splash with his combination of receiving and kick return skills.

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

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports