6am Sunday January 10th, I awake on my mom's couch after less than 3 hours sleep. The sun is already peaking through the blinds and I am already pumped up. In a matter of hours I will be in Arizona watching the Packers and Cardinals in the NFL playoffs. I asked via my Facebook page which jersey I should wear, my Greg Jennings away jersey or my Arrigo home jersey?
Thanks to a good family friend, Dave Wangerin, I decided, my Arrigo jersey in honor of my grandfather. I was ready to go, but I wanted the Jennings jersey there as well but how could I get it in? So I decided to ask my mom to wear it (since Jennings is one of her favorite players).
NOW I was ready to go.
We hit I-10 by 6:45am and I am trying to stay calm. The last time I watched the Packers was September 29th, 1991 when they played the Los Angeles Rams. The Packers were led by Sterling Sharpe. They lost 23-21. That is too long to go without seeing the team I have rooted for my entire life.
The drive there was filled with great talk and even better bonding between my mom and me. When I was a little boy my mom and I would just go to a game on a whim. This was the first time we were able to leave our own families and have some much-needed time together. We were both excited about the day and the Packers chances on advancing deep into the playoffs.
As we got on highway 101, I really got excited. Just minutes before I told her I was excited but it hadn't hit me yet, but that time was here. I thought about my grandfather who passed away November 4th, 2008 and how he took me to my first NFL game when the Packers played the Rams in L.A. during the mid 80's. I thought about seeing them play the Raiders in L.A. and also all my friends on all the Packers websites I write for and support my blogs.
It was 65 and overcast when we parked at 12:35 pm Arizona time. I looked at the University of Phoenix Stadium and thought to myself "I cannot believe I am right here, RIGHT NOW" and "I hope this ticket is legit" knowing that it was. As we approached the gate my mom said "let me take a picture of you before we go in". I stopped and she snapped..."CLICK"...
We got to our seats just as Mason Crosby came out for his warm-ups. We were in Section 137, row 30 seats 3 and 4 on the Packers sideline. We could see the whole field from our seats. I almost started to tear up. I had an arrange of emotions go through me, but I kept going back to my first NFL game with my Grandfather, Joe Arrigo. I wish he was there with us to share this special day.
My phone rang and another Packers fan and friend called from Green Bay to see how I was doing. I had text him a picture from my seat as he asked me to do. Randy said Anquan Boldin was out and that he was nervous. I was too. I told him earlier in the week that I though the Packers would win, but I also knew that as the game got closer I would get nervous. He wished me well and when I hung up the phone the Packers emerged from their locker room and huddled up to get some last words to pump them up from Nick Barnett.
But then we realized (thanks to some Cardinals fans) that we were 1 row over to far. Feeling REALLY stupid we went one row over and we quickly realized that we had BETTER seats than the ones we just left. After a good laugh I watched Aaron Rodgers get ready for his first playoff start as an NFL quarterback. There was less than 10 minutes before the start of the game and I was wishing I was on the field getting ready to do work right with them. Then it hit me, I was right were I was needed, to do work for the Packers in the stands. It was on! I watched Greg Jennings, catch for Rodgers as he warmed up with Jordy Nelson.
The thing that stood out to me was how well liked Jennings is amongst the Packers. James Jones, Nick Collins, Tramon Williams, Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley all came over to him and spoke. He seemed to say things that got them pumped as each of them slapped hands and went off to get loses.
Donald Driver was focused. He warmed up Matt Flynn as Jones caught for Flynn and seemed ready to go from the jump (see photo below).
I watched the receivers warm up (since that was the position I played) and thought to myself "what is going through their minds RIGHT NOW?" As the clock ticked down to the start of the kick off the Packers gathered and went back the locker room.
The stadium started to fill up as each second passed. More and more people wearing red came in, but there was still a lot of green and gold coming in as well. As the Packers emerged to a chorus of boo's from the Cardinals fans, and cheers from the Packers fans, and the Cardinals entered to the exact opposite I knew what time it was...time for the coin flip, in other words game time!
We all how they game started. The fans that sat a row in front of me were all about talking trash. I LOVED IT! I said to all around me that would (and wouldn't) listen that the Packers "WOULD COME BACK, THEY HAVE TO MUCH HEART"!!
As the game transformed into one of the best in NFL history, I was continuing to post on my Facebook account. By the time the Packers cut it to a 14 point game and just recovered the on-side kick, I posted "the Cards fans are SHOOK"! The guy (and his kids) in front of us was chanting "suck Pack suck" as Packers fans chanted "go Pack go". He looked directly at my mom and said it, so I replied "count the rings! How many do the Cards have and remind me who is the trophy named after?" All the people around us including guy to my right, Chris, was cool and a huge Cardinals fans, all said "ooh" as the fan in front turned around and shut his mouth the rest of the game, or shall I say he didn't turn around and get in anyones face (until the last play).
I was getting texts from all kinds of family and friends including one of my closest friends, R&B artist and avid sports fan TQ, about how the Cards were "unstoppable" and how this game was "like Madden" (I can't share the rest because I want to keep this blog "G-rated").
When the Packers tied the game I went CRAZY! All the Packers fans, and Cards for that matter, in my area were high fiving me and saying "you called it" as I yelled out "too much heart...to much heart...quick is not in their will...", it was unbelievable. In the moments between the packers tieing the score and the kick off, I asked Chris to take a picture of me and my mom, the person I was sharing this day with, the person that I used to share these moments with every weekend as a child.
I got a text from TQ saying, "this game is like a game of Madden!" Even with all the trash that TQ talks, I know it is in good fun. I do it to him, but there is one difference, he can only do it every so often to me because I can always just ask him how his Raiders are doing?!
We all know how the game ended, but it didn't bother me like I had thought it would. I was disappointed that they lost, but I was not as heart-broken as I normally am. Was it because I was there and witnessed one of the greatest games in the history of the NFL in person? Was it because of the way the Packers played after being down by 17 in the first? Was it because I watched Aaron Rodgers put the NFL on notice as one of the top 4 quarterbacks in the NFL in his first playoff start?
All of the above!
As we walked up the stadium stairs Cardinals fans were high fiving us saying "great game" and other positive things. They are some of the classicist fans in the NFL. I would say 85-90% of the fans we walked by (from our seats to the car) we outstanding.
I digress back to the Packers. I am excited about the future of the Packers. Ted Thompson has done a really good job of setting them up for the future. I think this loss will spring-board them to the next level in the NFL. Led by Rodgers, Charles Woodson, Jennings, Nick Collins, Tramon Williams, Finley, Clay Matthews III and Ryan Grant they should be good for a long time. Are there things that need to be address (like contract situations), yes, but I have faith they will get done.
Mike McCarthy has the belief of his players. They buy into what he is selling, and so am I. Watching him go back and forth on the sideline, coaching his guys up was a sight. Does McCarthy have his negatives, yes, but so does every other NFL head coach. I believe he is the right man for job and as long as he keeps the key members of his staff together, the Packers could be good for a long time.
I thank all the people who made the day one that I will never forget. The people around me, people texting me and replying on Facebook, the players & coaches and most importantly my mom.
We got back to California around 11:30pm after we stopped to eat and reliving the game. As I went to bed I had that thought come back to me, I wished my grandfather was with us. Then it hit me, he was there the whole time, in my heart and watching the game cheering just as hard as me. I can just hear him..."Everytime I watch them they lose!" and "JoJo, you know they'll get them next year. They are just ready to bring the Lombardi trophy back home!"
My playoff experience will be one I will never forget, and not just because of the game, but the day as a whole!
I was not sure whether I would do the O.T.S. (On The Sidelines) rumors this year. While I love to do them, I do not sure I want to deal with the drama that comes with them. I decided late tonight that I will post a link on all sites to come here for them, except on http://packerchatters.com/4ums/. Larry and the staff over at "PC" were the first place that allowed me to write them for their site and I am a loyal person, especially to them. The other sites (http://www.packerhq.net/forum/index.php, http://packersnews.net, http://packersplanet.com and others)don't have any problem with me just posting a link there for my normal blogs, so I will continue to post them like that.
Greg Jennings had two of the best catches I have ever seen in person. First the one-handed touchdown in the corner of the end zone. The second on the drive that tied up the game that went for 25 yards which included a toe tap and over the shoulder catch. Jennings is a big time player and I look for him to take that next step into super stardom in 2010.
Good luck to Pete Carroll and the staff he takes from USC to Seattle. Pete gave us Trojans fans 10 years of excellence, 8 BCS games, 3 Heisman winners, 2 National titles. He rebuilt one of the proudest programs in college football history. I hope Mike Garrett has some ice packs for his seat, because it is gonna get hot! But back to Carroll, what he did not only for then USC football program (and school for that matter) is nothing compared to his charity work in and around Los Angeles. L.A. lost its prince Monday.
I expect USC to hire Jack Del Rio or Steve Sarkisian as Carroll's replacement. I fully expect Norm Chow to be back as offensive coordinator who either Del Rio or "Sark", as well as Ed Ogeron as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Both would be key to keeping the program going strong.
The internet radio is on pace to be up by Super Bowl weekend (at least that's what we are shooting for). More info coming in the upcoming weeks.
One last picture from Arizona...the Packers on the drive that tied up the game during a time out: