Mike McCarthy hopes to receive 'a very positive reception' in return to Lambeau Field

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
View Comments
Mike McCarthy is in his third season as coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy made the pizza run more than once. Didn’t matter if he had to drive a few blocks from the Green Bay street with his name, near the stadium where his legacy was made, to pick up his takeout order.

Back during the pandemic, when McCarthy spent an inordinate amount of time at his home like the rest of society, options were slim. McCarthy did what many neighbors did, supporting local business. In his home, Sammy’s Pizza was a favorite.

The pizzeria is just a half mile from Lambeau Field. A short walk from Mike McCarthy Way. That didn’t stop him.

“If the kids want Sammy’s Pizza,” McCarthy said, “I go to Sammy’s Pizza. … I don’t shy away from that. It’s a small town, and it’s a unique town.”

McCarthy’s roots are firmly planted in the NFL’s smallest city almost four years after the Green Bay Packers fired him, not only because he still owns a home here. When McCarthy had knee surgery in 2019, his year away from coaching, he visited Titletown Orthopedics across from Lambeau Field two, three times a week.

A good friend owns a business on Mike McCarthy Way. He keeps McCarthy updated on any construction happening with his street.

McCarthy knows the Packers as well as anybody, spending 13 seasons and one unforgettable Super Bowl championship run guiding the franchise. He’s never seen it the way he will Sunday. For the first time since his tenure ended Dec. 2, 2018, McCarthy will be on the Lambeau Field sideline.

He’ll lead his resurgent Cowboys, an NFC contender at 6-2, into a matchup against the sinking Packers. McCarthy said he’s looking forward to exiting the narrow visitors’ tunnel at Lambeau Field for the first time. He’s trying to not be distracted this week by what kind of reception from Packers fans will await him, but acknowledged the noise – either boos or cheers – will matter.

“I really don’t have any expectations,” McCarthy said. “I think just like anything, it’s a fan base that loves their team. I’m hopeful that we have a lot of Cowboys fans there, but I was in a conversation last week about it. I worked in Green Bay in 1999 when Coach Holmgren came back to Lambeau Field for the first time, and I thought the crowd treated him with respect. It’s a special place that way, and I would be all for a very positive reception.”

McCarthy’s rebuild of the Cowboys, and the Packers’ subsequent slip this season, might garner more appreciation from his old fan base for what the coach accomplished in Green Bay. That McCarthy enters as a heavy favorite, with longtime quarterback Aaron Rodgers accepting the underdog role after five straight losses, shows how quickly things can change in the NFL.

After McCarthy’s termination, successor Matt LaFleur revived the Packers as Super Bowl contenders. LaFleur led the Packers to 13-win seasons in each of his first three years. Rodgers resurrected his career, winning MVPs each of the past two seasons. McCarthy, meanwhile, has survived the Jerry Jones crucible to turn around one of the NFL’s premier franchises.

After a 6-10 record in 2020, McCarthy led the Cowboys to an NFC East title with a 12-5 record last season. When quarterback Dak Prescott fractured his thumb in the team’s opener this season, missing the next five games after surgery, McCarthy rallied the Cowboys to four straight wins. At 6-2, his team is positioned as an NFC contender, ripe to continue the Packers’ stunning collapse in 2022.

McCarthy indicated he’ll find no personal satisfaction in beating the team that fired him, or the quarterback he partnered with to win Super Bowl XLV.

“I’ve had great communication with Aaron lately,” McCarthy said, “and I’m looking forward to seeing him in person. My motivation is figuring out how to get to 7-2. Green Bay is a dangerous football team. I’m very impressed with their talent, particularly with the talent on their defense. There’s a lot of new faces that we haven’t competed against. Just really focusing on winning the game.”

LaFleur’s rapid success after replacing McCarthy helped alleviate any pressure that might linger in the shadow of a Super Bowl-winning coach. His 39-10 record the past three seasons was the best for any NFL head coach in the first three seasons of a career.

His postseason failures might give LaFleur a special understanding of what McCarthy accomplished. McCarthy has the Super Bowl ring that has been so elusive for LaFleur, who has a pair of NFC championship game defeats in his first three seasons. LaFleur got to know McCarthy well when he was hired as the Packers coach, if only for all the film he watched of his new team.

Dougherty:Packers have a big chemistry problem, and it could lead to a teardown in 2023

Silverstein:Green Bay Packers leave Ford Field a beaten and broken team

“I haven’t spent a bunch of time and sat down and drank a beer with him or anything like that,” LaFleur said, “but hopefully one of these days, we’ll get an opportunity to do that. I know his family doesn’t live too far from me. He’s a guy who I’ve always held in high regard. Obviously, anytime somebody is able to win a Super Bowl, I think you can never take that for granted. He did a lot of great things for the organization, for, I think, the community, and he’s a guy I just have a lot of respect for.”

McCarthy had an unceremonious end to his tenure. He was fired hours after the Packers lost 20-17 to the Arizona Cardinals, who finished the 2018 season 3-13. By then, McCarthy’s offense was a shell of its former, record-breaking version. The Packers finished 6-9-1 that season, missing the playoffs for the second straight year, the only time that ever happened under McCarthy.

The midseason firing, not having a chance to finish out the season, sat poorly. Staying in Green Bay was a challenge, but McCarthy knew he needed a year to rebuild, to reconnect with his family. He’s come back strong in this second life as an NFL head coach.

Now he gets a chance to continue pushing his Cowboys to the playoffs, going through the place he still calls home.

“As far as making peace with it,” McCarthy said, “I think the year off was exactly what I needed. I think I had a chance to just reflect. It was not ideal to be right there in town, to be honest. But I think the fact that it gave me a chance to be with my family so much more just opens our eyes to the things that we all know that we miss as coaches in this industry. But I do understand it. Thirteen years is a very long time, but there’s a reason why it lasted 13 years, and why it went so long.

“So I never really had a problem. I was never really torn about the change, because that’s the way the coaching profession goes. The exit, I definitely was not a fan of. It left a dent with our family, but the year off and the opportunity to be together and do the things we did, I think in hindsight turned out to be one of the best things that we were able to go through.”

View Comments