From the perspective of Packer and Badger football fans, it’s hard to imagine this weekend going any better than it did.
(Not to mention Ripon College men’s basketball fans, whose team upset 17th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan for coach Bob Gillespie’s 499th career win.)
On Thanksgiving, the Packers beat Detroit 27–15, proving my point of last week that it’s not the yards, it’s the points. The Lions outgained the Packers 409–349, but negated their yardage advantage by committing 11 penalties (four of which resulted in Packer first downs) for 82 yards while throwing three interceptions.
The most notable of those penalties was on defensive end Ndamukong Suh …
… who may get suspended for more than just the three-head-butt one-kick performance that ended his day, as OnMilwaukee.com’s Doug Russell says:
Suh began by saying that he only would “apologize to my teammates, my coaches, and my true fans for allowing the refs to have the opportunity to take me out of this game.”
From that defiance grew absurdity.
“My intentions were not to kick anybody, as I did not,” Suh continued, remarkably with a straight face. “As you can see, I’m walking away from the situation.”
“I was on top of a guy being pulled down,” according to Suh. “I was trying to get up off the ground. You see me pushing his helmet down because I was trying to remove myself from the situation. As I’m getting up, I’m being pushed, so I’m getting myself in balance and getting away from the situation. I know what I did and the man upstairs knows what I did. Not by any means did I mean to step on him.”
It is possible that Suh lives in an alternate universe where everyone is to believe everything another says, as nonsensical as it may be.
“I don’t do bad things,” Suh opined, apparently forgetting the $42,500 in fines he has racked up so far this season with certainly more to come after Thursday’s events. “If I want to hurt him (Dietrich-Smith) I’m going to hit his quarterback, as I did throughout the game.”
One other thing that can be labeled as ‘ugly’ has to be the NFL’s record keeping. Because my official box score shows Suh had exactly one tackle, with zero quarterback hurries, sacks, or hits.
The strongest comments about the Suh Stomp may have come from Fox Sports’ Mike Pereira, the former head of NFL officiating:
Suh’s not dirty, he’s filthy.
This guy has a history. An ugly one at that. Just look at the facts:
- Since coming into the league in 2010, Suh has committed nine personal fouls, more than any other player in the NFL.
- Before the Packers game, Suh had already been fined more than $42,000 for three personal fouls this season. With his total now up to four, he’ll probably be suspended without pay.
A personal foul is one thing, but what Suh did Thursday was as a non-football act. When a player hits another player with a late hit or commits a helmet-to-helmet hit, those are considered football plays. Stomping on somebody or spitting on someone — those are considered premeditated acts. …
Suh met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently to discuss his on-field play and afterward said he had a better understanding of how to play the game within the rules.
I would say he needs another lesson — or two. Maybe three.
The Suh Stomp stood out instead of another fine performance from Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, about which Russell has a nice anecdote:
On Tuesday, Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun won the National League MVP Award. After calling his family and his agent, his next call was to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whom Braun described as someone who “has become one of my best friends.”
Braun also said that he fully expected Rodgers to return the favor when he wins the NFL MVP Award. After Thursday’s performance, Rodgers is another step closer to that honor.
One reason is what fans don’t see during games, as identified by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Lori Nickel:
Donald Driver was getting dressed for the game at St. Louis two years ago when Aaron Rodgers came over and handed him the game program.
“Read this,” Rodgers said.
The article referred to Green Bay’s veteran receiver being past his prime and too old to make any impact.
Driver, who has made a 13-year NFL career out of proving his detractors wrong, felt his blood boil. And then he caught four passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. …
The Packers’ elite quarterback is familiar with the power of motivation.
From the kids on the high school bus who said he’d never make it to the colleges and their rejection letters to the teams that passed on draft day to the boo-birds on Family Night. People said he couldn’t run, was made of glass, couldn’t rally in the fourth quarter and couldn’t live up to the legacy of you-know-who.
He’s used every one.
And now he finds ways to motivate his teammates.
With a look, or a word or a simple show of support, Rodgers prods his teammates to give more. There is no one formula for reaching 52 other guys. And that’s the secret. Rodgers studies his teammates to come up with the best method to push them.
“That’s why he has so much success,” backup quarterback Graham Harrell said. “It’s not just how well he plays but how he can get other guys to play around him.”
Helping the Packers further was San Francisco’s 16–6 loss to Baltimore Thursday night, which means the Packers now have a two-game lead in the battle for the NFC’s number one seed, and Chicago’s 25–20 loss to Oakland, which means the Packers lead the NFC North by four games over the Lions and the Bears with five games remaining.
The path to 16–0 is far from simple, given that the Packers have four games left against teams fighting for their own playoff spots — at the Giants Sunday, Oakland Dec. 11, Chicago on Christmas night and Detroit on New Year’s Day. But you have to love the confidence of coach Mike McCarthy, who said after the game, “I don’t feel any pressure, this is a good place to be. Who doesn’t want to be 11–0?”
The Packers’ win and Bears loss sandwiched the Badgers’ come-from-behind (really) 45–7 win over Penn State that clinched 0ne Big Ten division title and moved the Badgers to the first Big Ten football championship game against Michigan State, the other division winner, in Indianapolis Saturday night. (Interestingly, Lucas Oil Stadium also hosts Super Bowl XLVI.)
This seemed unlikely for a team with two Big Ten losses, even though the Badgers had two losses on just two plays:
But coach Bret Bielema’s one-game-at-a-time approach paid off. The Badgers didn’t stop playing, and Penn State’s loss to Nebraska opened up Saturday’s opportunity.
The biggest reason this season has turned out as it has is because of UW’s one-year-wonder quarterback, Russell Wilson, as the Wisconsin State Journal’s Tom Oates notes:
“This,” he said, “is definitely one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
Right back at you, Russell.
Wilson, the transfer from North Carolina State, never stepped foot on the UW campus until July 1, but his arrival is one of the best things that ever happened to the Badgers. He supplied the program with a jolt of energy early in the season and was one of a tough-minded group of senior leaders who helped rally it after two devastating losses near midseason.
In a winner-take-all game with Penn State on Saturday, UW made history, getting to double-digit wins for a program-record third consecutive season, claiming the first Leaders Division title and earning a spot in the inaugural conference championship game next week at Indianapolis. Wilson isn’t solely responsible for that, but it’s fair to say none of it would have happened without him.
As Wilson played for the last time in front of a crowd that, much like his teammates and coaches, has come to admire him for his character as well as his talent, it seemed like he had been here five years instead of five months. He has certainly made more great memories in one season than most players make in five.
The result is the first in-season rematch in the history of Wisconsin, Michigan State and the Big Ten, as well as a chance to avenge the aforementioned first-loss finish. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jeff Potrykus supplies this anecdote:
UW coach Bret Bielema still reviews the play in his head, over and over and over.
The topic came up recently when Bielema went on his weekly Thursday walk with athletic director Barry Alvarez.
“We had been walking maybe a couple minutes, and nobody had said anything,” Bielema said. “I just said to him: ‘When do you stop thinking about it?’
Alvarez, who endured his share of painful endings in his 16 seasons as UW’s head coach, didn’t have to ask for an explanation. He knew that Bielema was referring to the final play at Michigan State.
His response: Never.
“It’s not like its running through my mind 24 hours a day,” Bielema said. “But it was a great highlight on ESPN for about three weeks there. I swear it was on every commercial.
“I think if you take things personally, you are going to remember things like that your entire life. It’s what motivates us as coaches. … It’s always there.”
Given how things used to be (as in a combined five wins for the Badgers and Packers in 1988), Wisconsin football fans should be thankful for what we’re enjoying now.