Tag Archives: Packers

Being a Blackhawks Fan in Wisconsin

2 Jun
Chicago Blackhawks

Photo Credit: picturepush.com

I’m not a Chicago fan. I’m a Blackhawks fan.

It wasn’t always this complicated.

Wisconsin born and raised, I didn’t grow up in a hockey family – I never skated. I never watched the games. When hockey highlights showed up on SportsCenter once in a blue moon, it was my cue to get off the couch and make myself a snack. It may as well have been a commercial break.

I honestly couldn’t care less about the sport. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to. I couldn’t comprehend why fully grown men were allowed to drop their gloves and attempt to beat each other to a pulp. What’s the point?

Boxing on ice, I called it.

I never would have foreseen myself becoming a hockey fan, let alone supporting a team from Chicago. I hated hockey without ever giving it a chance. But perhaps I hated Chicago more.

Much more.

When I departed for college, I wanted to make a concerted effort to broaden my horizons, try something new. And boy, did I ever get the opportunity to do so.

During my freshman year, I met a guy down the hall who eventually became one of my best friends. He was from Illinois – a Chicago Blackhawks fan.

Naturally, I was around hockey more and more as the year progressed. It was only fitting that my first experience viewing a full-length hockey game featured a fight between goaltenders, something that rarely happens. But how would I know? I was a novice. More boxing on ice, I thought.

Over time, I learned about the sport.

The NHL All-Star Break was approaching, and I took it upon myself to watch all the festivities, including the Fantasy Draft. One of the alternate captains was Patrick Kane from, you guessed it, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sure, I had heard of household names like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin as I scavenged through my house for food with SportsCenter in the background during yesteryear. But Kane was the first player I gravitated toward, the first player I knew. Whenever he played, I wanted to watch.

Initially, I felt out of place cheering for a team from Chicago, but I got over it relatively quickly. After all, I came to the realization that Wisconsin doesn’t have a professional hockey team. We have the Milwaukee Admirals – the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators.

Be that as it may, the more I seriously followed the Blackhawks, the more ridicule I received from family, friends and even acquaintances who, quite simply, didn’t understand my point of view. Most of them still don’t.

Coincidentally, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup the year before, in 2010. Not only was I a “traitor,” I was a “bandwagoner.”

I couldn’t decide which one was worse. It’s just how things worked out.

People know me for my sports prowess, my dedication and passion as a fan. When questioned about my fanhood, that’s not something I take lightly. Someone once asked how I can be a Packers fan and a Blackhawks fan, suggesting I should be ashamed. That nearly drove me over the edge.

Let me be clear: the Packers will always be atop my team totem pole. I don’t have a tattoo of the logo on my chest for nothing.

My support for the Blackhawks in no way reflects how I feel about other Chicago teams, notably the Bears and Cubs.

I find great solace in the fact that the Bears only have one Super Bowl and nine World Championships, as opposed to the Packers’ four and 13, respectively. And no part of me wants to see the “Lovable Losers” at Wrigley Field win their first World Series in more than a century. Thank you, Steve Bartman.

The Bears are to the Packers what the Cubs are to the Brewers.

But what about the Blackhawks?

There’s no hockey rivalry for folks from Wisconsin to get upset about. It’s only a Chicago thing to them.

Yes, I understand the Blackhawks reside in the Windy City, but please save your breath if you plan on telling me how close it is to Milwaukee and everything we hold dear as Wisconsinites. I don’t need a geography lesson.

Chicago is just a city. The Blackhawks are so much more than that.

I fell in love with hockey and the Blackhawks to the point where I wanted to share it with someone, the same way my friend did with me.

I force-fed my old man with more hockey than he could handle until he reluctantly began watching Blackhawks games with me on a regular basis. He was even more dead-set against being a hockey fan than I was at first. But just a few years later, we’re splitting a subscription to NHL GameCenter so we have access to every game.

He sarcastically tells me how he was perfectly happy with the way things were before I introduced him to hockey. He didn’t need the additional stress that comes along with being a Blackhawks fan: the Game 7s, the mad scrambles with an empty net. Yet he thanks me for bringing it all into his life.

Being a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin is unique – a fraternity of sorts. I’ve come across fellow Blackhawks fans a number of times, but conversations don’t usually take place. We smile, nod and continue on. We already know what it’s about: pride.

For 18 years, I wedged the door shut on something that has increasingly become a huge part of my life. I was close-minded and ignorant – oblivious to the possibilities that have since become a reality.

I’ve been to the Blackhawks Convention, several games, including Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and even a Stanley Cup victory parade with two million strong; none of them cared about my ties to the Packers or Brewers.

Being a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin isn’t as sacrilegious as it seems. Open your mind. Give it a chance. There’s no better time than the present.

I never used to have a hockey team. Now I do.

And it’s not a Chicago thing.

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Colin Kaepernick’s big-money deal is good news for Packers

5 Jun
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick celebrates with his signature bicep kiss.
Credit: csmonitor.com

Most Packers fans recognize Colin Kaepernick as the guy who ended the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes the past two seasons. Kaepernick tore up a feeble Packers defense, running his way to berths in the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship game, and ultimately a lucrative contract extension. Now, he’s the sixth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL, and he’s just getting started.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers signed their impressive young quarterback to a six-year contract extension worth up to $126 million, with $61 million guaranteed. That is the most guaranteed money for a player in NFL history. The deal features a signing bonus of $12 million, and averages around $19 million per year but could reach $21 million with playoff and Super Bowl incentives.

While the $61 million in guarantees are on a year-to-year basis, the 49ers must be careful when spending money moving forward. Their situation is similar to the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, who signed cornerback Richard Sherman to a four-year extension worth $57.4 million, including $40 million guaranteed. This was shortly after they signed safety Earl Thomas to a four-year extension of his own, worth $40 million with $27.75 million guaranteed.

Two of the Packers’ primary contenders aren’t being shy about spending their money, and, until this point, the 49ers and Seahawks have benefited from several of their star players participating under their rookie contracts, resulting in continued success. But what happens when these players realize their value and their rookie contracts expire?

They want to get paid.

After next season, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson also will ink a new contract, which is expected to exceed $20 million per year, similar to Kaepernick’s extension.

There may not be any initial consequences following the 49ers’ and Seahawks’ big-money transactions, but these deals may eventually force the two teams to part ways with core players. This is necessary to clear enough cap space to accommodate the contracts of their top-tier talent in the coming years.

Let’s not forget, the NFL is a business.

Where do the Packers fit into all this contract talk? The Packers do indeed have an advantage over the 49ers and Seahawks, considering their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a majority of integral players on the roster are signed for the long term. Those who aren’t will most likely be retained.

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson stands by his players with his draft-and-develop philosophy, which is a primary reason why the Packers are a competitive franchise year-in and year-out.

The Packers’ two premier receivers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, are set to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2014 campaign. They are both due for a healthy paycheck. With an estimated $14 million in cap space, signing the star wide outs shouldn’t be a problem for Thompson and the Packers front office. The organization already has acknowledged Nelson’s contract is a “priority.”

With a core of veterans under contract, complemented by a deep group of cheap, young talent and a substantial amount of cap space, I expect the Packers to be a contender yet again in 2014 and beyond.

We’ll find out in Week One, when the Packers face off against the Seahawks to open the 2014 NFL season.

Jennings signs with rival Vikings

16 Mar
Wide Receiver Greg Jennings

Former Packers receiver Greg Jennings signed with the Vikings Friday. Jennings spent seven seasons with the Packers. Credit: common.wikimedia.org

Packers fans can stop holding their breath. The Greg Jennings sweepstakes is over, although it didn’t have the result Packers nation was hoping for. The former Packers wide receiver has signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

Jennings hit the free agent market as one of the most coveted receivers available. He was hoping to sign a lucrative deal worth upwards of $10 million a year, but, in reality, the market was softer than Jennings had anticipated. The first day of free agency saw former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace sign a 5-year, $60 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. No surprise there.

Jennings was looking for Wallace-type money, but no offers hit the table. He was forced to lower his asking price, which allowed the Packers and Vikings to enter the conversation.

How fitting? Even when they’re not playing against each other on the football field, the Packers and Vikings find a way to keep their rivalry going.

This isn’t the first time the Vikings have taken advantage of the opportunity to get their hands on some of the Packers’ sloppy seconds, so to speak. Ryan Longwell, Robert Ferguson, Darren Sharper and some guy named Brett Favre found their way to Minnesota after their respective careers in Green Bay. Will the Favre haters please stand up? Now sit down. It was four years ago; time to get over it.

The Vikings had no depth at receiver before signing Jennings, especially after shipping Percy Harvin, their playmaker in the passing game, to the Seattle Seahawks. The move to trade Harvin left Jerome Simpson as the team’s potential No. 1 receiver. Yeah, he’s the guy who flipped over a defender on his way into the end zone as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals just over a year ago. What has Simpson done since then? Good question. The Vikings were desperate for a possession receiver. Hello, Jennings.

The Vikings met with Jennings for two days, starting on Thursday. He went out to dinner with Head Coach Leslie Frazier, General Manager Rick Spielman, Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, Assistant General Manager George Paton and defensive end Jared Allen. No deal appeared imminent. They most likely spent their time watching Jennings “Put the team on his back” on YouTube (picturing him in a Vikings jersey, of course) while sharing a few laughs and a beer. All jokes aside, there had to be something brewing for Jennings to spend the night in Minnesota.

Friday, Jennings reached an agreement with the Vikings on a five-year deal worth $47.5 million, with $18.5 million guaranteed. Jennings was Minnesota’s best remaining option at receiver. They couldn’t let him get away, and they didn’t. That being said, spending a sizeable chunk of change on a 29-year-old receiver with an injury history isn’t necessarily what I would consider a bargain, especially after a season in which Jennings only played eight games.

Jennings will get plenty of touches in Minnesota. He’ll score some touchdowns, too. But when his name shows up on the Vikings’ injury report for the first time, forgive me if I greet Vikings fans with “I told you so.”

With many explosive weapons on the Packers’ offense – Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, to name a few – Green Bay was not prepared to engage in a bidding war with Minnesota. It wasn’t realistic to expect the Packers to spend a lot of money on a guy, who, in all honesty, would be the Packers’ third- or fourth-best receiver on the roster.

Jennings was the guy in Green Bay for many years. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s healthy, but there comes a time when a player and organization have to part ways for the best of both parties. That time was now for Jennings. Don’t be surprised if the Packers are better off without him.

Jennings said the quarterback would be a major factor in determining which team he would sign with. That tells us one thing: money talks. Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback than Christian Ponder, no questions asked. The Vikings signed former Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel to a one-year, $4 million deal.

That makes the Vikings better at quarterback, right? Not at all. It’s a waste of money.

The only thing it does for Minnesota is encourages a quarterback competition, during which Jennings will be forced to work on his chemistry with two quarterbacks, instead of arguably the best one in the NFL.

Jennings is in a better financial position now, but I don’t see him being in the position to win a Super Bowl during his next five years in Minnesota. There’s simply too much firepower in the NFC for the Vikings to compete.

After all, Jennings already has a ring. Why not strive for a bigger pay day?

The Vikings can keep winning the Packers’ free agents. The Packers will stick to what they do best: winning football games.

It’ll be difficult to hate a role model like Jennings, which is why I won’t. Fourteen games of the season I won’t be disappointed if Jennings succeeds. But when he plays against the Packers twice each year, I’ll be wearing my Donald Driver jersey, knowing that’s what Jennings could have been.

How do you think Jennings will do in Minnesota?

Steven Jackson to the Packers?

11 Mar
Running back Steven Jackson

Steven Jackson is a free-agent running back who could be a great addition to the Packers backfield. Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

A great deal of speculation is taking place about the future of former Rams running back Steven Jackson. The Giants, Falcons and Broncos are considered potential teams to land the 29-year-old when free agency kicks in Tuesday. But what about the Packers? They, too, are a favorite to sign Jackson.

Jackson wants to be signed by a contender. In that case, is there a better destination than Green Bay? Maybe not, but given Packers General Manager Ted Thompson’s history of rarely signing free agents, I’m not too sure the Packers will sign Jackson, although there are many reasons to do so.

Every educated Packers fan knows the team’s current running back by committee system hasn’t been particularly successful.

Cedric Benson

The Packers signed Benson in free agency last year, but he ultimately missed most of the season after suffering a left foot injury in week five against the Colts. He is currently a free agent.

James Starks

Following the Packers’ impressive Super Bowl run in 2010, many people thought Starks would be the Packers’ running back of the future. Those expectations were short-lived. Starks has proven to be unreliable, and injuries have cost him a number of games.

Alex Green

Green, who was drafted by the Packers in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, has been given his fair share of opportunities but hasn’t necessarily been the player the Packers were hoping for when they selected him 96th overall.

DuJuan Harris

The Packers signed Harris late last season, and he was perhaps the most successful running back on the roster, considering his first game was in week 14. That’s not too bad for a guy who was working at Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram Arlington in Jacksonville, Fla., when the Packers signed him. He’s a competitor and runs awfully hard for a back who stands at 5 feet, 7 inches tall. That being said, I’m sure the Packers would prefer to feature a better option in their backfield than a former car salesman. Jackson could provide just that.

Steven Jackson

Jackson turns 30 years old in July, a dreaded age for most running backs, but he said, “I still have a lot left in my tank. I still have a lot left to offer to a team.” He would be an ideal addition to the Packers’ injury prone, unreliable backfield. A two or three-year deal would give the Packers more time to find their future running back. Jackson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his last eight seasons. The Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Ryan Grant in 2009.

In a pass-first offense featuring one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, Jackson most likely wouldn’t have 1,000 rushing yards for a ninth straight season, but he would be a formidable runner to close out games for the Packers. They haven’t been able to do that lately. Jackson can run, catch and block effectively, something that characterizes an elite running back. I’m sure Rodgers would be thrilled to have a player with that much versatility in the backfield. After all, the Packers need to do something to keep their franchise quarterback upright. Addressing the running back position is one way to take some pressure off of Rodgers and keep opposing defenses honest. The Packers abandoned the run far too many times last season.

Money Problems

The price must be right if the Packers intend to sign Jackson. With $21 million in salary cap room this year, the Packers have options, but future blockbuster contracts with Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman B.J. Raji could be hurdles for the Packers in free agency. Rodgers’ contract will likely top Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s 6-year deal, worth $120.6 million. Matthews might average around $12 million per year, with Raji not too far behind.

Keep or Cut?

The Packers have additional decisions to make regarding a couple of their highest paid players, linebacker A.J. Hawk and tight end Jermichael Finley. Hawk is slated to make $5.45 million this season. Finley’s contract will pay him $8.25 million. Finley made it clear a week ago that he is not open to taking a pay cut to remain with the Packers, but a few days ago, his agent, Blake Baratz, said Finley hasn’t ruled it out completely. With the almost certain departure of wide receiver Greg Jennings looming, the Packers may be reluctant to part ways with Finley, even if he isn’t willing to take less money to remain in Green Bay. If the Packers choose to cut both players or manage to restructure their contracts, that may give the team enough money to make a deal for Jackson, while also securing the future of their core players.

Thompson’s free agent acquisions have come few and far between. His signing of Charles Woodson is the most notable in recent – or not so recent – memory, back in 2006. Thompson is all about building the team through the draft, and it has worked out rather well over the years. The Packers remain a perennial Super Bowl contender, and Jackson might be the missing piece to winning another Lombardi Trophy.

Would you like to see Steven Jackson wearing a Packers uniform next season?

Packers, Woodson part ways

16 Feb
Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson was released by the Packers today. Credit: jerseyal.com

Ted Thompson has never been one to make sentimental decisions during his time with the Packers. Just over a week since Donald Driver’s retirement party, the Packers have cut ties with another one of the franchise’s most beloved players, Defensive Back Charles Woodson.

Thompson signed Woodson as a free agent in 2006. After Woodson was cut from the Oakland Raiders, his character was in question. Despite the criticism, Thompson decided to give Woodson a chance. It paid off.

During his seven seasons with the Packers, Woodson was one of the team’s leaders. He was named to the Pro Bowl four consecutive seasons, from 2008 through 2011, and was named AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, joining Reggie White as the only Packer to receive the honor.

Woodson holds the franchise record for most defensive touchdowns with 10 and is fourth in franchise history with 38 interceptions. He’s one of those players that quarterbacks around the league have to be aware of.

Jay Cutler knows what I’m talking about.

Woodson was arguably the best free agent acquisition in Packers history. Yes, even more than White. Don’t be surprised to see his name in the Packers Ring of Honor someday. Not only that, Woodson is sure to end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Perhaps more impressive than his statistics was Woodson’s ability to inspire those around him and lead by example.

Who can forget Woodson’s legendary speech after the 2010 NFC Championship Game? Woodson made a promise to the president that the Packers would be making travel plans to see him at the White House after they won Super Bowl XLV. He kept his promise. He was an integral part in the Packers Super Bowl run that season.

The list of accolades goes on, but let’s not get caught up in the sentiment of this decision. After all, there’s still a business side of things. Cutting Woodson provides the Packers with an additional $10 million in salary cap space, giving them more flexibility to prepare for future contracts with core players, including Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. Tough decisions must be made. But now is the time to do so.

Woodson can still play. There’s no doubt about it. He has plenty of gas left in the tank, and I have no doubts that he will be a great asset on another team for at least a couple more years. He may even win another Super Bowl before he hangs up the cleats. With a plethora of young talent on the rise in the Packers secondary – Sam Shields, Davon House, Casey Hayward, and M.D. Jennings – letting go of Woodson to clear cap space was the right decision. Simply put, the Packers aren’t the best fit for an aging defensive back, especially for $10 million.

Woodson found a home in Green Bay, and I’m sure I speak for Packers fans everywhere when I thank him for all he’s done for the organization, on and off the field. Thompson says Woodson will “always be a member of the Packers family.” But it’s time to move on.

So, once you see Woodson suited up in another team’s colors, try not to get too attached to the sentiment. It’s just good business.