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Mike Vandermause column: Playoff chase insignificant in light of tragedy

Jan. 9, 2012
 

There are no words that can console Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

What can you possibly say to Philbin that would ease the pain of a broken heart?

Philbin’s 21-year-old son, Michael, was reported missing Sunday. A day later his body was found in the Fox River near Oshkosh, an apparent drowning victim.

It’s every family’s worst nightmare.

The anguish that Philbin and his wife, Diane, and their other five children are going through must be excruciating.

The tragedy cast a pall over the Packers organization on Monday as the team began preparing for its NFC divisional playoff game Sunday against the New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

The chase for a second consecutive Super Bowl championship seemed insignificant.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was understandably subdued during his news conference. Reporters felt awkward asking football-related questions.

In light of the circumstances, the Packers canceled Monday’s scheduled locker room access to the media.

Instead of the usual excitement at the stadium that accompanies the start of a playoff work week, there was sadness and a feeling of helplessness.

It was difficult to focus on football, and you couldn’t help but feel for Philbin, the witty, good-natured, hard-working assistant coach who joined the Packers organization nine years ago.

Things have never been better in Philbin’s professional life. He helped guide the Packers’ high-powered, record-setting offense this season and was getting noticed around the NFL. He reportedly interviewed for head coaching positions last week with the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins.

But Philbin would give up those career achievements in a heartbeat if he could have his son back.

Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy experienced a similar devastating loss in 2005 when his 18-year-old son committed suicide. Six weeks later, Dungy said at a speaking engagement: “I’m not totally recovered, I don’t know if I ever will be. It’s still ever-painful.”

The loss of a child cuts deep. While time is a great healer, there’s a dull ache that never goes away.

“As children we all have to someday say goodbye to our parents, but a parent should never have to say goodbye to their child,” tweeted Packers guard T.J. Lang, whose 55-year-old father died last week.

The Packers organization is offering support to Philbin in his time of need.

“As we always have, we’re a family first philosophy with our organization, with our program, so we’re supporting Joe and his family the best we can,” said McCarthy.

Philbin should take all the time he needs away from football. His family needs him now more than ever.

The Packers are making contingency plans for Philbin’s absence. “We’re prepared to do whatever we need to do as a staff to make sure our football team is ready to go,” McCarthy said.

In the meantime, Philbin is faced with a far more difficult task this week than preparing for the Giants.

He must bury his son.

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

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