Like most Wisconsinites growing up in the 1960s, the Green Bay Packers have consumed my interest each autumn ever since my first recollection of Packer glory: The 37-0 drubbing of the New York Giants in the 1961 NFL championship game.
I don’t remember much about that game, other than everyone was really happy afterward. By the next year, when the Packers beat the Giants again, 16-7 at Yankee Stadium to win their second straight NFL title to cap a 13-1 season, the Vince Lombardi era was in full swing.
By the time the Packers won the 1967 NFL title in the “Ice Bowl,” their third straight and fifth in seven years, Lombardi was a living legend and all activity around the state pretty much stopped for the three hours each Sunday the Packers were in action.
The NFL has changed a lot since those days. The players are much bigger, faster and stronger. Superstar players in the 1960s wouldn’t even make the NFL these days. But in fairness, players in the early 1960s didn’t have weight rooms, personal trainers and first-rate college facilities to prepare them, as is now the case. Some also had offseason jobs to supplement their incomes.
But other changes in the NFL have soured my outlook. I now enjoy Saturday afternoons watching college games much more than the pros. Only the most elite college players will ever get rich playing football — the universities mostly reap the fruits of their labor — so the rest play for the sheer love of the game, and it shows.
I am a bit turned off by national anthem protests initiated by Colin Kaepernick and picked up by others. I would much rather see the NFL players ask the crowd to stand in silence to honor a fallen public servant. A good example would be Baltimore police Detective Sean Suiter, 43, who was gunned down in the line of duty recently, leaving behind a wife and five children. Imagine how much money could be raised to help fund his children’s future education through such an effort.
Kaepernick and others don’t realize that most working-class NFL fans aren’t likely to rally around a millionaire protesting injustice by failing to respect a pre-game ritual to honor America. President Donald Trump elevated the issue by calling the protesters SOBs, resulting in other players rallying behind their teammates, which was not surprising.
I find it hard to take seriously Trump lecturing anyone about patriotism after his sick comment that U.S. Sen. John McCain isn’t a hero because he was captured by the North Vietnamese and held and tortured in the Hanoi Hilton. This from a guy who may never have gotten dirt under his fingernails his entire life, but I digress.
Here are a few other beefs I have with today’s NFL:
Excessive celebrations: The league for the first time this season — and hopefully the last — is letting the players celebrate touchdowns by doing pretty much whatever they want. Big mistake.
I’ve seen players act like they’re in a sack race, playing “duck-duck-goose,” and one player imitating a dog relieving itself. I know I enjoy watching Packer players celebrate touchdowns with fans with a “Lambeau Leap,” but if banning the leap is what it takes to get rid of this embarrassing turn of events, I’m all for it.
Pass interference: I know the game has gotten a lot faster since the Lombardi era, but it seems every pass play involves receivers and defenders holding, grabbing, pushing and otherwise jostling each other down the field. Sometimes a penalty is called, sometimes not.
I feel for the refs, because if they called every infraction by the letter of the rulebook, the game would become little more than a sea of yellow flags. Making matters worse is that one key pass interference call — or non-call — can decide the outcome. Something needs to be done.
Too many breaks: Between the countless commercials and replays that go on forever, a three-hour game is pretty much an endangered species. Four quarters is an hour of action, and most of that are players huddling up. People I know who record the games, replay them later and fast-forward through all the breaks boast about how quickly they can watch the entire game. Makes sense.
Chest-thumping: How many times have you seen a player make a nice play and then congratulate himself by pounding his chest, flexing his muscles or making some other goofy gesture? I realize football is a game of emotion, but if a receiver makes a great catch, it’s not just about the receiver. If the offensive linemen don’t do their jobs, the quarterback won’t have time to make the throw. Also, the quarterback has to put the ball on the mark so the receiver can catch it. Football is the ultimate team game, but you wouldn’t know it watching some of these self-absorbed “heroes.”
Jerry Jones: For some reason, the TV networks require us to watch the Dallas Cowboys’ annoying owner/president/general manager ad nauseam whenever his team plays. Maybe the camera operators get a bonus every time they show him in his luxury box, but I swear the guy is on the air more than the GEICO gecko.
Lombardi, as we all know, was a strict disciplinarian. His teams won not because they were the biggest or fastest, but because they were the best prepared and best disciplined. There are many examples of Lombardi taking players who were average at best before he coached them and turned them into champions.
I can’t help but think he would have been extremely turned off by all the shenanigans that have become part of today’s NFL. I know I am.
Huebscher, former editor of the Leader-Telegram, is a contributing columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.