Streak shadows Lions' annual visit to Green Bay
He liked to imagine how opponents felt when the bus pulled into Lambeau Field's parking lot, next to the visitor's locker room.
They would enter this frozen snow globe, the cold hitting them like a wave. Before opponents ever stepped onto the frozen tundra, they knew the history. This was one of the toughest venues in the NFL, a place where dreams shattered like ice.
Fear, LeRoy Butler always thought, was the root of the Green Bay Packers' storied home-field advantage. The four-time All-Pro safety felt home games were often won before kickoff.
"The intimidation factor kicks in," Butler said. "We were hoping that doubt would set in by the fourth quarter, and it would break their spirits."
During Butler's heyday, the Packers were one of the NFL's dominant home teams through the 1990s. Thirteen years after his final game, nothing's changed.
Green Bay will carry a 7-0 home record into its NFC North Division title game showdown Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Five wins have come by at least one touchdown. Records have already fallen inside Lambeau Field this season. Another could extend Sunday.
The Packers have won 23 straight games against the Lions inside the state of Wisconsin, the longest home winning streak in professional sports. Detroit's last win at Lambeau Field was Dec. 15, 1991. One year and six days later, first-round safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was born.
Clinton-Dix turned 22 on Sunday. He's one of four Packers born after the home streak began. Two Lions players were born after the streak, including rookie tight end Eric Ebron.
"It's before my time," Clinton-Dix said. "It's 2014 now. So I'm just going to go out and play ball."
Entering the season's biggest game, members from both teams have feigned ignorance over the streak. When asked about it this week, first-year Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he was unaware it even existed. It's easy to say the streak belongs to a different era, that it means more to players like Butler, but the former All-Pro safety knows better.
This weekend, Butler said, the Lions must contend with more than the Packers' hot starts inside Lambeau, or quarterback Aaron Rodgers' near perfection, or the fact they haven't won a division title since 1993. Before the Lions step onto the frozen tundra to face the Packers, they'll already know the history.
"It just seems like that's the one team that the Lambeau mystique kind of grabs them," Butler said. "It just kind of mesmerizes them. You look back at Detroit, for some reason when they pull into that stadium, they're behind. That doubt creeps into their head, and they start doing a lot of crazy stuff. They start turning the ball over, they start pressing.
"The negativity that sits in Detroit's mind when they go to the visitor's locker room, to know since 1991 you sat in this locker room and you lost, that doubt does set in. You've got to figure out a way as a professional to fight against it, but it's hard because you're going to see signs up. You're going to be asked about it all week. You've got to keep your blinders on, but I'd rather be a team that has no negative thoughts than going into it thinking we're already defeated."
The streak is a paradox.
In any sport, at any venue, it is impossible to rationalize how one team can beat another 23 straight times. These things beg for some higher explanation. Divine intervention, perhaps.
"To me, it's a coincidence," veteran Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said.
Except, the Packers' home dominance against the Lions is easy to explain. Just follow the logic.
Green Bay is built for the outdoors. From Brett Favre to Rodgers, Packers quarterbacks seem to play better in worse weather. After a while, playing in sub-freezing temperatures offers unexpected comfort.
In the cold, the Packers find familiarity.
The Lions can't benefit from frozen repetitions. Since 1975, their home games have been played under a roof, protected from the harsh elements outside. When the indoor team meets the outdoor team away from the dome, it's a natural advantage. Butler said Lions players complained about the weather back when he played.
"Herman Moore, he was one of my favorite players," Butler said of the former Lions All-Pro receiver. "He used to always say, 'We need to come up there in September. We hate when they schedule us in December.'"
Detroit snapped a 17-game losing streak with the temperature under 40 degrees when it beat the Chicago Bears last week. It was the Lions' first win with temperatures under 40 degrees since Nov. 19, 1995.
Since the streak began, the Packers have hosted the Lions 17 times after the start of November. Weather conditions were similar to what they'll see Sunday, when temperatures at Lambeau Field will reach a high of 28 degrees — just the way Green Bay likes it.
Caldwell said his team doesn't ignore history, but it doesn't dwell on the streak either. Instead, the Lions are determined to block out distractions.
"I know nothing about that," Caldwell said of the streak. "All I know is we have a game coming up this weekend against a very difficult team in a very, very tough place to play. … We take every game as they come. If we go in and do our job, obviously, it'll be a battle either way. if we don't do our job, it won't be as tough.
"Our job is to do our job and not worry about whatever the history and streaks and things of that nature."
Detroit isn't the only team with no interest in talking about the streak.
When the week began, Packers coach Mike McCarthy previewed potential media topics with players. The streak was mentioned. He knew questions were coming.
McCarthy called the streak a "media talking point." Never mind if players in the past have referenced it after games.
Amongst themselves, in the privacy of their own locker room, do Packers players talk about the streak?
"We talk about not answering that question. That's what we talk about," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "You know, honestly, that doesn't come into play. That doesn't come into my mind until every year it's brought up, as far as the streak, so to speak. There are kids on this team now that weren't even born then, I'm sure. Or who were very young at that time.
"Ultimately, it's a new season each and every year."
Which is why the streak is impressive.
Every season is a fresh start, a chance for the Lions to wipe the slate clean. They still haven't.
Inside Green Bay's locker room, the streak wasn't taken for granted this week. Players said they had to show up Sunday, had to take the Lions seriously. It shouldn't be hard. Detroit enters with its own streak, two straight wins in the series.
Of course, those games were played at home. At Lambeau Field, the series has seen nothing but Packers dominance for two decades. Will it continue Sunday? Butler couldn't say for sure, but he knows this game is must-see TV.
"The NFL got it right," Butler said. "Play Detroit in Lambeau, in December, in the black-and-blue division. That's the way it's supposed to be. This game could be the game of the week. Obviously, with playoff stakes, it's going to be rocking.
"I've seen pictures on social media already saying '23-0 … and counting.' Oh yeah, book it. They're confident it's going to happen. I've seen some Detroit social media fans saying, '23-1 ain't good … but we'll take it.'"