I was born in August of 1970 into a family of rabid Packer fans. It was NOT the best era to grow up a Packer fan, but growing up in that era really helps put things like losses in the divisional round of the playoffs into perspective.
I was born on August 20th. On September 3rd, the great Vince Lombardi died, and so did the Packers’ era of dominance.
In 1975, I spent a lot of time playing football in the living room. I was five years old, and at that age a balloon is great entertainment. I used mine to throw passes to myself. I’d drop back in the pocket, throw the balloon as hard as I could, and race to catch it. I scored a lot of touchdowns in 1975. Unfortunately, the Packers did not. They ended the season 4-10. There was a lot of angry shouting at the television that year.
In 1976 the Packers improved… to 5-9. *Sigh* It seemed like they had decided to fight to see who could maintain the bottom of the central division.
In 1977, I got my own real football. I spent halftime in the backyard playing catch with my brother. By now I was getting old enough to really appreciate the game and would run back to the house before the second half would begin. Lynn Dickey and David Whitehurst would trade time at QB and lead the team to a glorious 4-10 record. They combined to throw 21 interceptions and just *gulp* 6 touchdowns all season long.
By the time the 1978 season arrived, we had very little hope the Packers would ever do anything again. We donned our Packers paraphernalia and trashed talked the Vikings fans in our school like good Packer fans, but we really didn’t have any hope that they were going to make the playoffs. They might be able to stay out of the basement of the division, but the playoffs? It wasn’t happening.
But something marvelous did happen that season. The Packers began the season 6-1. With each win we sat closer to the edge of our seats. As the season neared it’s close the Packers sat at 8-5-1 and had a chance to win the division. Then, they lost their last two games, ended the season in a tie for the lead in the division, lost the tie-breaker, and missed the playoffs. *Sigh… again*.
The excitement of the ’78 season was followed by a 5-11 season in 1979 and a 5-10-1 season in 1980.
In 1981, we had another one of those “Please, God just get us into the playoffs” moments where the Packers had scraped their way to 8-8. The Jets humiliated them in the final game and sent them home early.
By 1982, my brother and I were no longer playing catch in the backyard. We were now running routes. Cousins would come over and we’d play two-on-two games using the trees and driveway as the boundaries. It was the season that I learned that even football players strike sometimes.
The Packers started out the season in promising fashion going 2-0 in their first two games. Then the strike happened. When they returned the Pack went back to playing .500 football as they had done the season before, but this time the 2-0 start and the shortened season were enough to be third best in the NFC and we reached the playoffs for the first time since I could remember. We were ecstatic! Even better, we won the first game of the playoffs! We lost to Dallas in the next game, but the Pack had returned to the playoffs and that was awesome.
In 1983, I donned my first set of pads and played my first organized tackle football game (well organized by adults anyway). The highlight of that first season… when the coach forgot to send in the play so I called my own. We’d been running sweeps successfully all game so I called a fake sweep. I faked the pitch and turn to run only to see the entire defense bite on the fake and flow toward the running back. I nearly laughed out loud on the field.
That season the Packers released Bart Starr as their coach and began a string of three consecutive seasons that ended 8-8. Each had just enough wins to think we might make it to the playoffs again and just enough losses to think things would never change.
But things did change… for the worse.
In 1986 I joined the varsity football team and we watched the Packers post a disappointing 4-12 record.
1987 wasn’t much better. It was another strike year. This time the teams hired replacements. For three games we watched some pretty sloppy football, but the “scabs” posted a 2-1 record. The Packers ended that season with a 5-9-1 record.
The utter despair of another 4-12 season in 1988 only wore off when my basketball team went to the state quarter-finals for the first time in 30 years. And then, something Majikal happened.
In 1989, Don Majikowski led the Packers to several come from behind wins. We all started referring to the team as the Cardiac Pack and the label fit nicely. I’m not sure my 42 year old heart could handle what my 19 year old heart got pumped about back then. Of course, the highlight of that season was a 14-13 come from behind win against the Chicago Bears. The win was outstanding, and listening to my friends who were Bears fans gripe about how they were ripped off was almost as satisfying. The Pack finished the season 10-6. Unfortunately, they missed the playoffs that season, but Packers fans just knew the Majik had returned to Lambeau Field.
As it turns out, it was more of an optical illusion than real magic. In 1990 the Packers started out the season in disappointing fashion going 3-5 in the first half of the season. From there, they improved to 6-5 and Packer nation began to rumble with the possibility that they might make a run to the playoffs. The season ended with a 6-10 record and no playoffs.
In 1991 Majikowski was benched in favor of Mike Tomczak and the team again went 4-12. However, that year was also the year Ron Wolfe was hired. Wolfe fired Linde Infante, hired Mike Holmgren, and traded for Brett Favre.
And thus began the era of dominance most Packer fans are used to today.
We have high hopes for our team and are disappointed when they don’t meet our expectations, but at least we have confidence that the Packers have the pieces in place to bring the Lombardi trophy back to Lambeau Field where it belongs.
It’s something many of us Packer fans didn’t have the luxury of hoping for decades.