Sunday's playoff game between the Packers and Giants at Lambeau Field evokes vivid memories of January 20, 2008 at the same venue when the same two teams played for the NFC Championship and the right to play the Patriots in the Super Bowl two weeks later. It was a game -- and state of frigidity -- that I will never forget.
Surprise, we're hosting!
The fact that we were hosting the game in Green Bay was a great surprise to begin with, something unexpected but certainly welcomed. After defeating the Seahawks the week before with thick, luscious snow flakes falling (we dubbed it the "Snow Globe game") we fully expected to be playing the NFL championship game in Dallas against the top-seeded Cowboys and were preparing to do so as the Giants started playing the Cowboys the day after our game. We were to stay in the same hotel with the same setup and transportation as we had two months prior when playing the Cowboys in late November --the game in which Aaron Rodgers received his first true NFL action.
Then, of course, the Giants continued their amazing road run through the playoffs and upset the heavily favored Cowboys meaning, yes, we would actually host the championship game!
Unlike this year, immediately the weather 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). As an aside, I have always found resistance to a cold weather Super Bowl to be curious considering the fact that the games immediately preceding the Super Bowl can be played in frigid conditions (as they were in 2008 in Foxboro and Green Bay).
Calls were coming in from all corners to attend the game. Richard Lovett -- president of Hollywood mega-firm CAA who is a Milwaukee native and diehard Packer fan -- and his group hung out in my office before the game, as excited as any fans could be. Comedian and actor Rob Schneider, another huge Packer fan, was also at the game and soaking up the atmosphere.
And then, early in the week, I was contacted by a friend in Washington, D.C. that another guest was coming: the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts (although a serious Bears fan, we allowed him to come anyway:).
"It's taken care of"
I was going to work hard 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 that I should step away.
When I asked the contact about whether there would be security needs while I gave the Chief Justice a tour of Lambeau Field, the answer back was simple and clear: "It's taken care of."
"How about if he wants to meet some players after the game?" "It's taken care of."
"What if he'd like to move around during the game?" "It's taken care of."
Translation: "Back off, football guy, you don't know what you're dealing with here."
The Chief Justice and his detail rolled up in a fleet of black Escalades a couple of hours before the game and we ushered them in. He loved the atmosphere and wandered through the crowd, surrounded at all times by security that blended into the Cheeseheads but had their eyes trained on Roberts the entire time. These guys were good. I soon found out what was meant when they said, "It's taken care of.
The swing of emotions
The game featured a whirlwind of emotions, now mostly a blur that is painful to remember.
I remember being truly impressed by Eli Manning, performing as he did in that weather. I remember thinking that Plaxico Burress was a tough cover. I remember the color of Tom Coughlin's face.
I remember the two missed kicks by Lawrence Tynes, especially the second one, as it gave us life again. I remember jumping up and down and hugging colleagues when those kicks were missed.
And 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. We all knew that Tynes was not going to miss another field goal. He made it. It was over; the Giants celebrated on the frozen tundra and then went on to upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl in Arizona.
So close yet so far
One of the more powerful emotions in working in the NFL is when your team is so close to the ultimate prize yet doesn't reach the goal. Usually you "know" you have the team with the talent to win it all and hope that the circumstances fall right; you never know if or when you'll be back.
The Giants come to Lambeau again Sunday and although the championship isn't on the line, advancing to that game is. And that means the chance to get to the ultimate prize will be there for the winner.
I know I'm biased, but I do think the Packers, unlike 2008, will win this one.
It should be a game to remember...once again.