CANTON, Ohio - A year after losing Jordy Nelson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in an exhibition game, the Green Bay Packers are about to play a football game they’d rather not.
Ask a veteran inside the locker room, and their distaste for Sunday night’s opener against the Indianapolis Colts is clear. They have no interest in playing a fifth preseason game. No interest in risking injury while 30 other NFL teams watch ESPN's broadcast from home.
“I’m not ready,” cornerback Sam Shields said, “but it is what it is. It’s just another game to get us ready for the real thing.”
It’s why the Packers are likely to have several starters sit Sunday. But sheer quantity — “four preseason games is a lot,” safety Micah Hyde said — isn’t the only factor for coach Mike McCarthy to consider when filling out his inactive list.
There’s also the venue.
The Packers and Colts will play at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which recently was named for the New Orleans Saints owner. Benson donated a record $11 million to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with $10 million committed to upgrading the stadium’s facilities.
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Benson’s gift provided almost half of the $24 million the NFL pumped into Hall of Fame Stadium renovations. One key facet of the stadium improvements is a new playing surface, something many considered long overdue.
Formerly known as Fawcett Stadium, the venue hosts high school football games throughout the fall, including Ohio state championship games.
“It’s a high school field,” Hyde said. “I’m from Ohio, so I know they play the state championship games there. But it’s not necessarily a proper NFL field that guys like to play on. So I’m hoping they changed it up. I’m hoping last year, they changed the stuff that was difficult.”
Hyde, an alternate NFLPA representative with the Packers, said he heard gripes from other players when he attended association meetings in Hawaii last year. Back then, they were still talking about what happened in last season’s Hall of Fame Game, when Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham tore his ACL making a tackle and was lost for the season.
Inside the league, players believed the stadium’s subpar playing surface contributed to Suisham’s injury. They weren’t alone in their opinion.
“We played in Pittsburgh last year the week after they played in the game,” McCarthy said. “So I was aware of some of the concerns, and obviously the injury that occurred in the game. So we’ll look at that. But I know Mr. Benson has made a significant donation, and I know there’s improvements going on in Canton, and hopefully the field will reflect that.”
McCarthy said he won’t step on the new field until Sunday. He held a meeting with his staff Friday to determine playing time for his roster. It’s unclear how much concerns for the playing surface will factor into those decisions, but certainly it seems they could be considered.
Even with a new field, Hyde said, concerns remain. It’s never fun breaking in a new playing surface. Hyde called new surfaces a “rub-burn field,” with the ground unkind to hard falls.
The Packers also want to get plenty of preseason snaps for younger players. From rookies to players on the roster bubble, a fifth preseason game can be beneficial. For veterans?
No, they’d rather not play Sunday night.
“It is special obviously for the NFL,” Hyde said, “and for us, having a guy like Brett Favre being inducted. But then again, it’s also another preseason game. I think the correct answer from us would be, ‘We love it. We’d like to play in it every year.’ But me, personally, I can’t speak for anybody else in the locker room – five preseason games is tough. Four is tough already, and now we have five.
“It’s an honor. It’s good to be there to support the guys who are being inducted, but at the same time to be playing in the game and the risk of injuries and stuff like that – me personally, I don’t really care for it.”