AL HAMNIK: Packers no longer the runaway NFC North favorite

2013-01-14T17:45:00Z 2013-01-15T21:53:05Z AL HAMNIK: Packers no longer the runaway NFC North favoriteAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
January 14, 2013 5:45 pm  • 

Surprisingly, there is no purple bunting stretching across Green Bay like a giant spider web.

There were no 911 distress calls Saturday night coming from the hundreds of taverns, pubs and sports bars in the area.

Fans of the Green Bay Packers, among the most rabid and loyal, also are quite smart according to Frank Rigas, former Griffith resident turned Cheesehead expert.

"One thing about the people up in Green Bay," Rigas said. "If they get beat, they don't sulk about it.

"I could see the fans in Denver getting upset."

Sure, but that's another story.

"That was no surprise," Rigas said of the 45-31 beating administered by the 49ers. "Their defense is still kinda weak. They've got a few holes they've got to fill, and they still don't have that great runner."

Rigas, wife Kathy and their grown sons Frank and Chris live in Sheboygan, 45 miles south of Green Bay.

Sheboygan also loves its Packers. Steve said taverns and sports bars in his city are often filled to capacity for each game.

"As long as they have the quarterback (Aaron Rodgers), they feel they'll be in the playoffs," Rigas added. "They're not saying much. They've been through this before. It happened last year.

"They still have faith in (general manager) Ted Thompson. They won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and they're satisfied for now."

Steve and Kathy worked in the Griffith school system for years. They moved to Sheyboygan in 2008 and it didn't take long to learn the Packer Way.

"There's 32 NFL teams in 32 different cities and in all those cities, but one, football is a six-month deal," Steve once told me, "but here in Wisconsin, 12 months out of the year, it's Packers."

The loss to San Francisco was probably good in that it revealed areas which the Packers must shore up, and quickly.

Much like the NFC North rival Bears, Green Bay is getting old and creaky at key positions.

Receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have become expendable. Tight end Jermichael Finley has been mercurial in his production. Defensive back Charles Woodson, 36, has twice broken his collarbone.

Woodson, Finley and linebacker A.J. Hawk are all due big raises next year. Linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and receiver James Jones become free agents after next season.

Rigas said Packers' media has been reserved despite the team's early playoff exit. The skiing and sledding business up north is more worrisome and unsettled.

"(Local media) said there were a lot of shortcomings on the team," Rigas said. "The people who know football up here know it was no surprise."

It was believed throughout the NFL, prior to the playoffs, that the Packers would rule their division for seasons to come. Obviously, this wasn't true.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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