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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

The Green Bay Packers couldn't stop the Vikings' Adrian Peterson on Sunday. (PHOTO: Jim Biever/Green Bay Packers)

What kind of bravado will the Packers bring to the playoffs?


Bravado is a quality that can be both helpful and dangerous in the world of professional football.

Genuine bravado speaks to confidence and the ability to both apply and withstand pressures.

False bravado speaks to uncertainty and susceptibility to pressures.

We are about to find out what kind of bravado infects Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers football team. The answer will come Saturday.

I have seen up close how damaging false bravado can be in professional sports. Perhaps the greatest example I've seen has been Bart Starr, who was as bad a coach as he was great as a player.

During his awful eight-year tenure as coach of

the Packers he was invariably positive and always looking at the sunny side of life. It was kind of like the captain of the Titanic announcing that the menu for the evening dinner was something Lobster Thermidor, even though it would be served under water.

And one of the things that I think happened was the Starr never believed that many of his players were very smart men. They knew that what their coach was saying wasn't true. They knew in their hearts that there were some problems with the team and like most problems, it's better to have them out in the open than to ignore them and pretend they don't exist.

One of the things we'll all learn during the week is whether Mike McCarthy is up to the task of really restoring some sense of confidence in a team that suffered a terrible loss in a game that carried significant importance.

It was clear that the Vikings were more ready for the game last Sunday than the Packers. It seemed to take Green Bay forever to get untracked and make a game of things. That they were able to is one more piece of evidence that the talent on the Packers is almost certainly greater than the talent on the Vikings.

But it takes more than just talent to win in the National Football League. It takes planning and execution for 60 minutes. For a while last Sunday it looked like the Vikings were going to run the Packers out of town.

After the game the conversation from the Packers was how sorry the effort was to stop Adrian Peterson. The harsh reality is that no team has been able to stop Peterson. By designing a plan to throw everything but the kitchen sink at one of the best running backs ever, the Packers turned the worst quarterback in their division, Christian Ponder, into a star for a day.

McCarthy talked after the game about moving on. He talked about not crying over the spilled milk of missing out on a bye in the first week of the playoffs. He talked about putting this one out of mind and getting on with the rest of their lives. The players talked about stepping up and about how "53 guys in that locker room are anxious and ready to go."

Those are good words. But the reality is that football players have bumps and bruises both physically and mentally. They remember a missed block, an arm tackle that gave up a first down. They remember holding on to the ball too long ni a crucial situation and taking a sack. They remember the pass that slid through their fingertips.

The task of a coach is not to erase those memories with talk of moving on. You can't build a "We'll be just fine" house of cards and expect it to stand up to a harsh Minnesota wind. The task of a coach is to allow his team to suffer, briefly, and grow from their failures. Everybody makes mistakes. Just don't make the same mistake, over and over.

Now is the time for McCarthy and his staff to be honest - with fans and with players. Let the world know that you hurt and you suffer a little bit. It's that kind of honesty that spawns true and genuine confidence, the kind that can carry you a long, long way.


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