ICONWhite left a lasting presence.
First, a note of remembrance for Reggie White, who passed away six years ago this morning due to sleep apnea complications. His loss hit all of us with the Packers at that time very hard, as well as the Eagles, Panthers and all of the NFL. His funeral was a testament to a great man and wonderful father and friend to all.
My last conversation with Reggie was hearing him bemoan the agent business, which he dabbled in briefly. When he couldn't even get former first-round pick John Henderson, from White's alma mater Tennessee, to meet with him, he said enough of that.
That was Henderson's loss. White touched so many lives at so many levels, in and out of football. I'll never forget that raspy and robust voice. RIP Reggie White.
The big game today between the Packers and Giants brings back vivid memories of January 20, 2008, the last time these two storied teams played at Lambeau Field. Although today’s game is important in determining a playoff berth, it does not have the magnitude of the NFC Championship that day.
Surprise, we’re hosting!
The fact we were hosting the game in Green Bay was a wonderful surprise. After defeating the Seahawks the week before in a snow storm with thick, luscious flakes falling, (we dubbed it the “Snow Globe game"), we fully expected to be playing the championship game in Dallas against the top-seeded Cowboys and were preparing the trip. Then the Giants continued their amazing road run through the playoffs and knocked off the favored Cowboys meaning, yes, we would actually host the championship game!
The forecast became the story: bitter subzero temperatures for a game to be played at night in late January in northeastern Wisconsin (actual temperature at kickoff was -1 degree Fahrenheit). It always amazed me the resistance to a cold weather Super Bowl when the games immediately preceding the Super Bowl could be played in the most brutal of conditions (as they were in 2008 in Boston and Green Bay).
Despite the conditions, calls were coming in from all corners to attend. Richard Lovett, a longtime friend and president of Hollywood mega-firm CAA (and huge Packer fan) could hardly contain his excitement at being there. Comedian and actor Rob Schneider, another huge Packer fan, was there and loving it. And another guest was coming: the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts (although a Bears fan, we allowed him to come).
"It’s taken care of"
I went into motion to try to accommodate the Chief Justice as much as possible. However, I soon realized that I was in a league far beyond my pay grade and should just step away. When I asked the Secret Service contact about the tour of Lambeau I was giving and the security needs, the answer back was simple and clear: “It’s taken care of.”
How about meeting some players after the game? “It’s taken care of.”
Any other requests from the Chief Justice? “Taken care of.”
In other words, they were saying: "Back off, football guy, you don’t know what you’re dealing with here.”
Roberts, who loved the atmosphere, was surrounded at all times by security who blended into the freezing crowd but had their eyes trained on Roberts the whole time. I truly understood what was meant when I was told, “It’s taken care of.”
The swing of emotions of the game
As for the game, there was a whirlwind of emotions, now mostly a blur that is painful to remember. I do remember the two missed kicks by Lawrence Tynes. I remember jumping up and down and hugging colleagues John Schneider and Reggie McKenzie when those kicks missed (in the next booth, Ted Thompson sat stoically). I remember the Packers having the ball and driving for the Super Bowl berth in overtime. And I remember the interception by Corey Webster.
Time stood still after that play. I knew, as all of Packer nation knew, that Tynes wouldn’t miss again. The run was over. Tynes made the kick; the Giants celebrated on the frozen tundra and then went on to upset the Patriots.
So close yet so far
My nine years with the Packers ended two weeks later. A much more well-known employee, Brett Favre, retired a month later, only to want to return that summer and told his services were no longer needed. And we know the rest of the story there. The Giants game and the Webster interception would be his last game and play as a Packer.
One of the most powerful emotions in working in the NFL is that when your team is so close to the ultimate prize yet doesn’t reach the goal. It is painful to have the team with the talent to win it all and the circumstances to be at the doorstep of the championship; you never know if or when you’ll be back.
At the Packers, in my nine years there, I thought we had three teams poised to win it all: the 2002 team that lost at home in the playoffs to the electric Michael Vick and the Falcons, the 2003 team that lost to the Eagles in the “4th and 26” game; and the 2007 Packers that lost in the Arctic conditions to the Giants at Lambeau (I think Tom Coughlin’s face is still thawing out from that game).
The Giants come to Lambeau again today and although the championship isn’t on the line, the playoffs are. And that means the chance to get to the ultimate prize will be there for the winner.
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