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Just Out of Reach ... Again

Packers’ collapse adds to list of painful losses for Wisco fans

Luc Anthony

Pictured: Not a Green Bay Packer
Pictured: Not a Green Bay Packer

There came a point when I knew it was over. The way the game had trended, the time remaining, and the likelihood of outcomes all told me one thing, a thing I had to audiate: The Packers are going to the Super Bowl. Even after leading by 16 points and playing the best team in football on the road, this became the moment that “Wow, this might really happen” changed to “Oh, wow, this is going to happen.” And then, it didn’t.

The heartbreak felt by Packers fans following the team’s collapse in the NFC Championship Game last month in Seattle is particularly cutting, considering the way the team lost. Depending on the media source you follow, you know that if just one of anywhere from five to 21 circumstances had changed, the Packers would have been in Super Bowl XLIX. Of course, the same reasoning can probably be applied to any game in which the outcome is even relatively close, but when the platform is as prominent as a conference championship, the plays take on added importance. At least, we perceive so with hindsight.

It is at this point that you look across the Wisconsin sports landscape and realize that painful losses have been trending in the Badger State.

It is at this point that you look across the Wisconsin sports landscape and realize that painful losses have been trending in the Badger State. Let’s start with the Badgers, finding themselves late in the Final Four with an actual lead over a hot Kentucky team, only to see a three pointer go flying from somewhere in the suite level into the hoop and putting Bucky down for good with just under six seconds to go.

Six seconds to a championship game – at least the Brewers avoided a catastrophic ninth inning collapse in the playoffs. They simply collapsed in slow motion throughout the regular season. Sure, they seemed to be playing above their heads in April and May of last year, but man, they kept holding their own in first place, and you started to wonder how this team could remain in the ballpark of having the best record in the National League. Of course we had to wonder: That feat was not possible once the Brewers embarked on two epic losing stretches in the summer, initially leaving first place after 150 calendar days, then dropping out of the playoff picture. The sputtering conclusion: finishing a game over .500 – only the fifth-best winning percentage for the Crew in their recent renaissance of the past eight seasons.

Look, this is not to say Wisconsin has suddenly become heartbreak city. I know where you’ll find that city – well, two of them, really, on opposite sides of the Mississippi about 90 miles west of Eau Claire. Minnesota knows its share of athletic devastation, especially in the world of football. Yet, as I watched in a state of stupor at the Seahawks’ rush to the lead and ultimately to the win, I could not help but think how Packers fans might get at least a little taste of what their purple-clad brethren seemingly feel every few years.

Thinking about that, one does realize that the Packers have had their share of crushing blows in the recent past. Brace yourself for the following phrases … ready? ... OK: Fourth and 26. Brett Favre’s last pass as a Packer in OT against the Giants. John Elway helicoptering in the red zone. The Facemask Fumble.

We’re safe, the paragraph’s over. If you did make it through, you know that, even with the Lombardi Trophy only five years old, Packers fans have had to endure a remarkable rate of sour, stomach-punch-level endings, probably more than most teams in the past couple of decades. Short of that double Super Bowl title salve in ’96 and ’10, this franchise might be a slightly more successful version of the Jets or Chiefs – teams with Lombardi droughts extending back before the NFL-AFL merger.

The toughest aspect of an excruciating playoff loss is the notion of having to start over the next season, with no guarantee of a better result. We hear players express such sentiments, but this applies to fans – after the Vikes and Favre crashed in the ’09 NFC Championship, I felt I could not go through this all again – yet in the end, we will for our teams. All we need is one play to go the right way.