August 11, 1919. No, that's not when I graduated from high school. It's the day Curly Lambeau and others started the Green Bay Packers.
January 29, 1959. Vince Lombardi is hired as the team's new head coach and “The Glory Days” follow.
December 31, 1967. “The Ice Bowl” happens at Lambeau Field. Green Bay wins a third straight NFL title in Lombardi's last game on the Frozen Tundra sidelines, signaling the start of two decades worth or “Gory Years.”
What then of November 1, 2015?
It may be the day it all started to unravel for the team, head coach Mike McCarthy and Hall of Fame QB in-waiting Aaron Rodgers. That's not something I figured out on my own–it's the take of longtime Packers beat writer Bob McGinn who says things were never quite the same after that autumn night in Denver. Both teams went into it undefeated, but it was Green Bay, McCarthy and Rodgers who went home 6-1 at the final gun. What followed, McGinn points out, is the fact they're 28-30-1 ever since, including Sunday's loss to the Cardinals at Lambeau that ended McCarthy's run.
28-30-1, from a team that before that was 110-57-1 on McCarthy's watch (playoffs included). They went 12-4 in 2014, best remembered (or forgotten) for the NFC championship game loss at Seattle. Clay Matthews was on the sideline for a crucial late defensive series that night, and we all remember what happened on the fateful onside kick. The coach, feeling he was too spread out, turned over his beloved play-calling to assistant Tom Clements as the '15 campaign began so McCarthy could spend more time on details. The result: the 6-0 start, featuring a revenge-securing 27-17 victory over the Seahawks.
Then Denver happened.
“Broncos Defense Gives NFL A Blueprint For Beating The Packers” the Washington Post's Neil Greenberg headlined the morning after the 29-10 shellacking. Denver came into the fray with a respected defense but it was Peyton Manning and the offense that proved to be the night's stars with the future Nationwide Insurance pitch-man good for 340 yards through the air and Broncos RB's gashing the Packers defense for 160 more. That vaunted Denver defense did its part, holding Rodgers to just 77 yards while harassing him all night long with an unrelenting pass rush that pressured him on 63% of his drop-backs. “To be fair,” Greenberg would write, “the Packers offense has become less and less intimidating since the start of the season. mostly because of their inability to counter man-to-man coverage.” One analyst quoted in his column suggested putting wide receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield to mess with the opposing defense. “The more ways they utilize Cobb,” he'd opine, “the more stress they put on the defense. And, in doing so, the more options they give themselves instead of relying solely on sandlot plays.” McGinn sums it up thusly: “The Packers began that season 6-0 before Aaron Rodgers went into a funk starting the next week in Denver. It's a funk that lasts today, one that helped doom McCarthy.”
Green Bay went 4-5 the rest of the way with McCarthy taking back play-calling duties late in the campaign. Their 10-6 mark got them into the NFC Wild Card round where they'd handle Washington 32-18 before losing in O-T to the Cardinals 26-20. Another 10-6 mark followed in 2016, ahead of the NFC title game thrashing meted out by the Falcons. Last year needs no revisiting, and this season speaks for itself.
Through each campaign there's been the under-riding concern that something was amiss between the coach and Q-B, never more so than this fall when Rodgers' passive-aggressive tendencies came unloosed after a 22-0 win over lowly Buffalo, the signal-caller indicting the offense for all manner of crimes against pigskin. His body language deteriorated game by game to the point where McCarthy got questioned about it following the Seattle loss, with the coach saying lamely that he hadn't noticed it.
Sunday's history-making loss came after S-I's Katlyn Kahler penned “How It All Went Wrong In Packerland,” a missive that spreads the blame all around: the Rodgers/McCarthy rift gets chronicled, as does Ted Thompson's reluctance to sign free agents and, down the stretch, draft players who could stay on the roster. Then there's what's deemed the “insane level of control” that has players questioning why things are done the way they are, not to mention the new front office alignment that puts CEO Mark Murphy in charge of, well, everything, even the hiring of a new coach, a situation few if any Packers fans thought the team would be pondering with 25% of this very disappointing season remaining.
November 1, 2015: what looked like one bad night in Denver could be a turning point in the history of the Packers and perhaps a renaissance that dates back to the early 90's. Did the rest of the NFL learn how to beat McCarthy's charges that night? Was Rodgers' superior play around a series of better rosters fending off a bigger slide, one that didn't manifest itself until now when the lack of talent/depth is more obvious? Did the Broncos hand the league a playbook revealing the Pack's offensive schematics? Did Green Bay fail to adjust?
It took a long time to get to this low ebb. Good times seldom end in a single moment but come to a nadir amid nicks and dents that accumulate over the course of time, because of things said and those not uttered out loud. McCarthy is abruptly shown the door not because he suddenly became a bad coach but because of an accumulation of issues, including the fact that a locker room that could've had his back as things grew tougher this season remained largely silent. To a state full of bar room general managers chirping for change, well, you got what you asked for. Hope you're ready for what may follow. Sure, the Packers may find the next Sean McVay. The could also kiss a frog or two first.
Pucker up. It's a smack on the lips–and punch in the mouth–that might've been three-plus years in the making.