Wild card round at Philadelphia: The maturation of a team – and a person « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Wild card round at Philadelphia: The maturation of a team – and a person

Think back to a year ago. The date doesn’t really matter, since you likely remember the day.

The Green Bay Packers - the “most dangerous team in the playoffs,” according to some – had just suffered yet another crushing, instant classic-style playoff loss. The highest scoring game in playoff history failed to go their way, leaving us with a long, cold offseason to ponder what might’ve been.

For this writer, the defeat could not have come at a worse time. Stuck in a dead-end job. Recently dumped. Not handling any of it particularly well. 

In more ways than one, questions of when my time would come filled my worldview.

Then the 2010 season rolled around. Things started looking up. The Packers appeared ready for a monster campaign, one that many saw ending in Dallas in early February. It coincided with a new, much-improved job for the writer. Reasons to believe were all around.

Not long after the season began, however, doubt crept in. The injuries mounted. Aaron Rodgers was regressing. The wins were still coming, for the most part, but not at the rate any of us would’ve liked. Dang, shouldn’t there have been more?

Once again, the Packers’ showing seemed to mirror that of my life. I was much better than I’d been, yes – but something was missing. After awhile, I began to think things were just as good as they’d ever be. Perhaps that was how the chips would fall for me and I’d have to just accept it. An early December embarassment in Detroit led me to write that Green Bay had leveled off. A 10-6 record and a first-round playoff exit was all this team would ever be. Truthfully, that’s how I felt about myself, as well.

A loss the next week at New England didn’t help matters much for the team, but by then things had begun to turn my way. I met someone and, man, did she seem special. There was a connection unlike any I’d felt before. Hope had worked itself back into the picture for me, personally, even if I had little left for my beloved Packers. That allowed me to stand back and re-examine my approach to the team.

Yes, these games matter. A lot. And, yes, I was hoping the Pack could turn it around over the final two weeks to reach the postseason. But, really, even if that didn’t happen, it was not going to be the end of the world. She made me feel so incredibly amazing and lucky that asking for anything more, particularly from a football team, just seemed, well, sort of greedy.

And, it was at that moment, that time, that the Packers began to save their season. A home drubbing of the Giants. A close, gutty win over the “all-in” Bears. Postseason, here we come. Funny how things work out.

Then came Sunday. The Packers, staring down a stadium-sized lot of ghosts, went into Philadelphia and exorcised damn near every one of them. No more 4th and 26. No more Vick. No more heartwrenching, instant-classic road losses (well, at least for one week). A 21-16 win, keyed by the heart this team has shown at every single instance of adversity. Do not point to the offense, defense or Mike McCarthy when you want to determine why this happened. Point to the heart. That’s where this one came from.

As great as it felt to rid ourselves of the ghosts that had dogged us for the longest time, the biggest reason I’m smiling from ear-to-ear as I write this is because of what next week means. A chance to get back to the NFC Championship Game? Well, not exactly.

It means I get a chance to watch the game with the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. Win or lose, it’s a moment we can share, ’cause, see, that’s what I’ve learned over the past year or so. These games, this team, they do matter. But they can only take you so far. It’s the people in your life – the ones that come along and change you for the better, for the best – that mean everything.

See you soon, kiddo. I’m counting down the minutes.

And, oh yeah – bring on the Falcons.

-Chris Lempesis

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