(Thursday, I wrote about a topic submitted to us by one of our readers, Nathan Heineke. Unfortunately, I was not able to touch on the final part of Nathan’s multi-layered question. I will do that now.)
Nathan asked in his e-mail: “At what price comes winning – would we tolerate a Roethlisberger with the Pack if he brought home the rings?”
It’s an interesting, and difficult, question to answer.
Originally, I was certain we would not tolerate such a player on the Green Bay Packers. The first thing – or should I say, person – that came to my mind was Mark Chmura.
When sexual assault allegations were leveled against Chmura in 2000, stemming from an incident at a post-prom party in Waukesha, it didn’t take long for Packers fans to collective turn on the former Pro Bowl tight end. He had yet to go to trial, but to many of us, he was already guilty of terrible judgement. As such, he was no longer someone we considered “one of us.” The organization clearly agreed, quickly releasing Chmura (who was, of course, later found not guilty on all charges).
The idea of a player needing to be “one of us” – or, as some put it, “Packer People” – was really started by Ron Wolf, the same man who released Chmura. It’s essentially a nice way of saying that anyone who plays for the Packers must also be a person of high character. Wolf was always a big believer in the idea that you could not win with bad character people. Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson have followed Wolf’s thinking, for the most part, and it’s become a fairly important factor in the decision-making process for the organization. Not all organizations take the same approach (see: the Cincinnati Bengals).
Roethlisberger, through and through, does not seem like a “Packer Person.” He comes across as rude, arrogant and intolerant of those he deems to be beneath him. Even his own teammates have turned against him in the past and, again, that’s not even mentioning the sexual assault allegations that have been thrown at him.
So, there it is, cut and dry, right? We wouldn’t tolerate him, would we?
Then, of course, my mind quickly drifted to Chmura’s old drinking buddy, Brett Favre. If Chmura provides us a (somewhat dated) reference of how the team might handle a player dealing with sexual assault allegations, Favre provides us a (somewhat dated) reference on how the team might handle a quarterback going through numerous off-field issues.
So many people, especially the idiots at ESPN, like to gloss over Favre’s checkered past now, but we all remember how he used to be. An admitted alcoholic and drug addict – with a wife who almost left him on at least one occassion – Favre was very much a PG-13 version of what Roethlisberger is now. We know more about Roethlisberger’s non-sexual assault-related bad behavior than we do Favre’s, true. But that’s likely because of today’s 24-hour news cycle and the fact that, as I’ve always said, a lot of the Packers get their incidents swept under the rug due to Green Bay being a smaller city and more protective of its football team.
And it was when I thought about Favre that I came to this ultimate conclusion: We would, as sad as it might sound to some, tolerate Roethlisberger if he were on the Packers.
(I’ll give you a moment to calm down. Okay. We good?)
At numerous points during Favre’s struggles, the organization and fans stuck by him. A lot of that had to do with Favre genuinely seemingly like a good person (came up snake eyes on that roll, huh?). Again, Roethlisberger wouldn’t have that going for him if he were in Green Bay because he seems like an utter prick.
He’d have this though: Two Super Bowl championships (for the purposes of this discussion, I’m assuming Roethlisberger has been a Packer his entire career and done everything in Green Bay that he’s done in Pittsburgh.)
We stuck by Favre because, even then, he was a larger-than-life figure, yet someone whom we felt we knew. But let’s not kid ourselves, either – we also stuck by him because he was a winner, a three-time MVP who brought us our first Super Bowl title in nearly 30 years. If Favre had been mediocre or even simply average, it’s unlikely the organization and fans would have stuck by him as vigorously as we did. Remember, Roethlisberger and Favre play the most important position not just in football, but in all of sports. That goes a long way in making such decisions.
It’s even harder today to both win games and find good quarterbacking than it was 15 years ago, something that only furthers my case. And, really, that’s what we as Packers fans care about more than anything – winning. We are as passionate a fan base as you will find in sports, professional or collegiate, and we need Green Bay to be good, to win. We want our players to be good people; we need them to be winners. There’s a huge difference, whether some of us are willing to admit that or not.
(Example: The Packers had a great run in the 1990s. We got a title of out it. The Dallas Cowboys got three in that decade. If you could switch players, meaning all the guys who played for Dallas would have played for Green Bay and vice versa, and the success was exactly the same – meaning we’d have won three titles – would you do it? Believe me, it’s not as easy an answer as you might expect.)
Don’t get me wrong, though. We’d be every bit as furious at Roethlisberger as Steelers fans are. Some of us would turn our backs on him, as of now. We’d refuse to wear his No. 7 jersey, we’d curse him while out with friends and we’d talk a big game about how the organization should do everything in its power to get rid of him.
The key words in that last paragraph: as of now. Come July – and especially come September – we’d want him back on that field playing for our squad, because he’s an elite quarterback and, more often than not, he’ll lead the team we care about to victory. Remember, as Herm Edwards famously said, you play to win the games. You don’t just play to play.
With someone like Roethlisberger, we’d know we were playing to win. Is that a sad commentary on us as fans? Perhaps.
To tolerate such a player, would we be selling off a tiny piece of our souls? Again, maybe.
But if you want to win, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. That’s just the way it is.