A Packer what-if

The three greatest quarterbacks in Packers history in the Super Bowl era are Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, arguably followed by Lynn Dickey.

After Dickey comes, or came, the abyss. Fans who suffered through the Gory Years after Vince Lombardi left and before Ron Wolf got to Green Bay can recite with varying degrees of exasperation the list of starting quarterbacks after Starr and before Favre, including Scott Hunter (who at least won a division title by handing off to John Brockington and MacArthur Lane), Jerry Tagge (a Green Bay native whose skills as Nebraska’s quarterback in more of a passing offense than the Cornhuskers eventually ran didn’t translate into the NFL), Jim Del Gaizo (because the third-string draft pick of the Super Bowl VII champion Miami Dolphins should be worth two second-round draft picks, right?), Jack Concannon (perhaps because he was on the early ’70s Cowboys practicd squad), John Hadl (more about him momentarily), Don Milan, Carlos Brown (later known as actor Alan Autry of “In the Heat of the Night”), Randy Johnson and David Whitehurst produced little success.

That’s the pre-Dickey’s-broken-leg list. After Dickey came Randy Wright (one of UW’s best quarterbacks, but see Tagge), Jim Zorn (previously in Seattle), Don Majkowski (Magik for 1989), Anthony Dilweg (despite being the grandson of a Packer alumnus), Mike Tomczak (who was less effective in Green Bay than he was in Chicago, and he was no Jim McMahon with Da Bears) and Blair Kiel (formerly of Notre Dame, about which more later).

The worst part of this tale of woe is Hadl, the object of possibly the most idiotic trade in NFL history. Somewhere between Del Gaizo and Milan GM/coach Dan Devine realized he had no NFL-level quarterbacks on his roster. And so Devine panicked and sent two first-round draft picks, a second-round pick and two third-round picks to the Rams for Hadl. Starr, who replaced Devine as GM and coach after Devine left for Notre Dame, then had to send two more draft picks and a player to Houston to get Dickey.

That long preamble leads us to Cliff Christl:

Over a span of seven years, from when the newly formed American Football League held its first draft on Nov. 22, 1959 until a merger agreement with the National Football League was reached in June 1966, the two leagues held separate college drafts and engaged in expensive bidding wars to sign their picks.

The Green Bay Packers lost only one of nine No. 1 choices during that period and it proved to be no loss. Wide receiver Larry Elkins, selected with the Packers’ second first-round pick and 10th choice overall in the 1965 draft, signed with the Houston Oilers and turned out to be a bust. He played two years and caught a total of 24 passes.

Still, the Packers lost a quarterback who could have become Bart Starr’s heir apparent and four solid offensive linemen. …

The AFL held its draft on Dec. 1, 1962, two days before the NFL, and the Buffalo Bills announced 13 days later they had signed Lamonica, their 24th round choice. “I’m going with the Bills because they gave me a better one-year offer,” explained Lamonica. “I don’t intend to play pro ball the rest of my young life. I have other things in mind.”

The quarterback who became known as “The Mad Bomber” as a pro struggled as a senior at Notre Dame under Joe Kuharich much like Joe Montana did later under Dan Devine. In fact, Kuharich considered Lamonica a better runner, but thought junior Frank Budka was the better passer because he threw a better deep ball. So he had them split time.

1963 wasn’t one of Notre Dame’s more memorable seasons and Lamonica was the subject of one of the better stories that circulated in South Bend. Apocryphal or not, it went like this. One day a priest encountered him on a golf course and asked why he wasn’t at practice. Lamonica responded, “I don’t have to practice. I know both of Kuharich’s plays.” So the priest, in need of a golf partner the next day, asked Lamonica to join him. “Can’t make it today,” said the quarterback. “I have to find out which play Joe wants to use Saturday.”

Following a 35-6 loss to Northwestern, Notre Dame was scheduled to play Navy next. That week, the Midshipmen’s chief scout Steve Belichick told the Baltimore Sun that Notre Dame’s biggest problem was quarterback because four players were sharing the position. But Belichick added that he liked what he saw of Lamonica, despite the lopsided score, when he got a chance to play in the second half against Northwestern. “He gave them the best passing they’ve had all year,” Belichick said. Sure enough, against Navy, Lamonica outplayed sophomore Roger Staubach and triggered a four-game winning streak for the Irish.

After signing with Buffalo, Lamonica spent four years backing up veteran Jack Kemp, but went 4-0 in his only starts. Traded to Oakland in 1967, Lamonica led the Raiders to a 13-1 regular-season record, the AFL championship and a matchup with Green Bay in Super Bowl II. He also was named the AFL’s Player of the Year.

The week before the Super Bowl, Green Bay native Red Smith, who would win a Pulitzer Prize nine years later, interviewed George Wilson, who had coached Detroit from 1957-64 and also had faced Lamonica three times as coach of the Miami Dolphins. Asked to compare the two teams, Wilson said he thought Lamonica would be the key to the game. “I believe the two hottest quarterbacks in professional football through the season were Sonny Jurgensen with the Redskins and Lamonica in our league,” said Wilson.

Although Starr outplayed Lamonica in the Super Bowl, the latter compiled a 62-16-6 record as Oakland’s starter before being replaced by future Hall of Famer Ken Stabler in 1973.

When the Raiders acquired Lamonica, Ron Wolf was a 29-year-old scout in his fifth year with the team. Wolf has no doubt Lamonica would have eventually played for the Packers.

“He threw 30 touchdown passes his first year, 34 another year,” said Wolf. “The team went 13-1 with him as a quarterback. He had a strong arm. He could make all the throws. Plus, he was agile enough to get out of trouble.”

In Wolf’s eyes, Lamonica might have been the second best quarterback in AFL history. “Of his era, there wasn’t anybody as good as Joe Namath,” said Wolf. “Joe Namath was a cut above everybody else. He’s in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle would be No. 2. (Len) Dawson is in the Hall of Fame, but I think Daryle was better than Dawson. (George) Blanda is in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle could make all the throws.”

No doubt, Lamonica was better than any Packers’ quarterback between Starr and Lynn Dickey, but he would have been 29 years old when Starr’s shoulder problems signaled the end was near in 1969.

Keep in mind as well that most of Lamonica’s career was in the wide-open AFL. (The same applies to Hadl.) Raiders owner Al Davis coached under Sid Gillman, one of the architects of the modern passing game, and Davis loved throwing deep. (Here’s a big what-if: Davis apparently once considered trading Stabler, perhaps the most accurate quarterback of the 1970s, to Pittsburgh for Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw.) Even though under Bengtson quarterback Don Horn once threw for 410 yards in a game, no NFL team threw as freely as the Raiders with Lamonica or the Chargers with Hadl.

One big problem every Packer quarterback between Starr and Favre faced (often from their backs) was poor-quality offensive lines. Christl’s piece also discusses four offensive linemen the Packers drafted but lost to AFL teams who arguably would have been better than the offensive linemen the Packers had once the Glory Days offensive line retired or were traded away (Forrest Gregg to Dallas).

And while we’re talking about problems of Packer quarterbacks, we might as well add the quality, or lack thereof, of targets for those quarterbacks. The 1972 NFC Central champion Packers were so ground-bound that Hunter averaged less than 100 passing yards per game. Carroll Dale, nearing the end of his career, led the Packers with 16 catches for 317 yards and one touchdown. Those aren’t even good high school numbers today. (In fact the 1972 Packers were just 11th in offensive points per game, but were fourth in points given up per game.)

Other Packer receivers, if you want to call them that, of this era included 1973 first-round pick Barry Smith, who lasted three seasons because he didn’t like to catch balls over the middle, and a group of guys you’ve never heard of. (Jack Clancy? Jon Staggers? Leland Glass? Ollie Smith?) After Dale’s and Boyd Dowler’s departures, not until the Packers drafted James Lofton first in 1978 did they have a quality receiver on the team. (Dale and Dowler were more like spread-out tight ends than fast receivers, which Lombardi never had.) Meanwhile, Hadl was throwing to a Hall of Fame receiver, Lance Alworth, and Lamonica was throwing to another Hall of Fame receiver, Fred Biletnikoff; two other above-average receivers, Warren Wells and tight end Raymond Chester; and several running backs who could also catch.


The view from the next opponent

The Washington Post’s D.C. Sports Bog:

This probably says nothing about how the Redskins will finish this season, but I think it’s safe to say there’s not one single player on the team’s roster you would pay good money to watch, if you weren’t a committed fan. (And maybe you wouldn’t even pay good money to watch all 53 of them, even if you were a committed fan, based on last week’s crowd.) The player who seemed most likely to achieve that status, almost incredibly, was a rookie running back, but then Derrius Guice got hurt, and so now the team’s most prominent star player is … Josh Norman? I guess? …

But there are still NFL players worth the price of admission by themselves, if you’re into that kind of thing, players you can’t keep your eyes off when they’re on the field. That’s  what Baker Mayfield was last night. That’s what Khalil Mack has been this season. (Here’s a great look at Mack, from Kent Babb.) That’s definitely what Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are, and what Odell Beckham Jr. is, and it’s what Aaron Rodgers is, on one or two legs, as a Super Bowl contender or with a non-playoff team, playing with a lead or coming from behind.

If I were to pay to go to Sunday’s Redskins game (hahahahaha! Ha!), Rodgers is certainly the player I’d be most eager to watch. (Good seats are still available, by the way.)

And the quotes in Les Carpenter’s story previewing the game definitely didn’t change my mind.

“He has all the tricks in the book,” Mason Foster said.

“Nobody else can make those throws,” London Fletcher said.

“You just see it, it’s a faster ball than anyone else,” D.J. Swearinger said.

“Some guys’ passes are like rocks,” Bruce Arians said. “Some are like marshmallows. He throws marshmallows but with a lot of speed.”

He throws marshmallows! Speedy marshmallows! Who doesn’t like speedy marshmallows! I’d pay to see that. Well, maybe.

The Post’s Les Carpenter elaborates:

The worst part about playing against Aaron Rodgers is the dread. Opponents forever wonder how the Green Bay Packers quarterback is going to beat them this time. Will it be a pass fired on the run? A lob over the linebacker’s head? A Hail Mary heaved high into the sky?

Redskins linebacker Mason Foster has a story. Back in 2011, his Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to Green Bay to play the Packers, who were 10-0 at the time. For three quarters, the Bucs held close, training only 21-19. They thought they might win.

“Then on one drive, [Rodgers] just picked up on something, went up-tempo and just went crazy for the rest of the game,” Foster says. “He just figured it out, was calling out the blitzes, calling out all the looks and just went up and down the field on us.”

Tampa Bay lost, 35-26.

But here’s the thing about that game: Foster remembers the Bucs being up 21-0 at the moment Rodgers tore them apart. In fact, he is certain of it.

But who can blame Foster for thinking Rodgers had led the Packers back from three touchdowns down that day? Rodgers has led so many comebacks and crushed so many dreams they become a part of opponents’ memories, making players believe it has happened to them, too. Two weeks ago, he was knocked from the Packers’ opening game with a knee injury that required him to be carted to the locker room, only to hobble back in the second half with Green Bay down 20-3 and lead the Packers to a 24-23 victory. It was the 13th fourth-quarter comeback of his career.

On Sunday, the Redskins will face Rodgers and the Packers at FedEx Field. For a team that lost last week after giving up three 75-yard touchdown drives to the Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck, the thought of playing Rodgers can’t be a good one.

“He does so many things that are unscripted,” says former Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians, now an analyst for the NFL on CBS.

There is no real way to prepare for Rodgers. Meticulously designed schemes become useless because eventually he figures them out. Before each snap, he stands behind his line, scanning the defense for hints of what might be coming. Those who play against him have learned to reveal nothing about their intent, disguising formations for as long as they can, all in the desperate hope of somehow fooling him.

“If you show at the start that you are coming with the blitz, you are dead,” says former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who, like Arians, is an analyst for the NFL on CBS.

Even if Rodgers doesn’t recognize the defense, he can beat it with his voice. Opposing players say his cadence is impossible to judge. He might not wave his arms or shout “Omaha!” like Peyton Manning, but the small jerks of the head and strange vocal inflections are impossible to interpret.

Because most agree the best way to beat Rodgers is to send an aggressive pass rush up the middle, putting big hands in his face, pass rushers and defensive linemen are especially eager to jump at the snap of the ball. Rodgers plays to their impatience, changing the sound of his voice with what seems like each snap. Deciphering his hard count is close to impossible. Sooner or later, someone is going to jump.

“He’ll go, ‘Hut-hut!’ and it’s, ‘Oh, shoot,’ ” Fletcher says with a laugh.

The best thing to do when this happens, Fletcher says, is to keep coming and be absolutely sure to tackle him. There is nothing the Packers quarterback loves to do more than lure defenses offside, drawing a penalty and essentially earning a free play. Almost always, he will throw deep, realizing there is no loss in aiming for the end zone. If he completes the pass, Green Bay can decline the penalty. If it’s incomplete or intercepted, the Packers can take the call and keep moving.

“He has all the tricks in the book,” Foster says.

Once the ball is snapped, there’s no knowing what Rodgers might do. Arians says that even though Rodgers is not a runner, teams have to treat him like one because he is so elusive inside and outside the pocket. Such players are particularly challenging for defenses because they stymie pass rushes, making it harder to get sacks or force quarterbacks into frantic, hurried throws.

There has been a lot of talk this week about Rodgers’s injured knee, leading many commentators and Redskins fans to believe the quarterback who comes to FedEx Field will be somehow diminished, unable to move and vulnerable to Washington’s pass rush. Rodgers himself has fueled some of this speculation by wearing an enormous brace on his knee in last Sunday’s tie with the Minnesota Vikings and openly worrying that playing on the knee might make the injury worse.

Fletcher scoffs at the idea of a hobbled Rodgers, saying: “I’ve played on multiple [medial collateral ligament] sprains; the knee loosens up as the game goes on. He can just play with a wrap on his knee and be fine.”

Given the 281 yards for which Rodgers threw against the Vikings on Sunday, while moving robotically around the field, Fletcher’s sense is probably right. There’s no such thing as a diminished Rodgers. Not as long as he is able to throw.

“A cannon,” is what Washington safety D.J. Swearinger calls Rodgers’s arm.

In the end, teams probably fear Rodgers’s throwing ability more than anything else. Coaches like to talk about quarterbacks “making all the throws,” as in being able to complete passes to all levels of the field. Most NFL quarterbacks can “make all the throws” at some level, usually excelling at a few of those passes.

Rodgers, those who have played against him marvel, can make every throw.

Really. Every throw.

“The big thing is he makes them accurately,” Arians says.

“He squeezes it in there,” says Foster.

“Whether he’s on the run or he’s falling back or he’s throwing it downfield, throwing it short. It doesn’t matter,” Swearinger says, shaking his head. “He’s always accurate.”

Fletcher sighs. “Nobody else can make those throws,” he says.

Yet it’s not just that Rodgers can make all the throws, it’s that he throws his passes hard. Very hard.

“You just see it, it’s a faster ball than anyone else,” Swearinger says.

Fletcher has a Rodgers pass in his mind, one he saw the quarterback make in a game against the Redskins years ago. Evading a rush, Rodgers turned to his left and started running toward the sideline. Then, while still running, he fired a pass into a receiver’s arms at a velocity that still has Fletcher trying to figure out the physics of such a throw.

“Think about that — he’s right-handed, and he’s running to his left,” Fletcher says. “That’s a hard throw to make because you are running and you have to turn your shoulders to make the throw. But he doesn’t turn his shoulders, he just throws it.”

One would think that if Rodgers is throwing harder than any other quarterback in football while running from side-to-side or falling backward that his passes would be difficult to grab. But his 65 percent completion percentage is seventh-best in NFL history, and his 103.9 passer rating is the best ever, according to the statistics website Pro Football Reference.

“Some guys’ passes are like rocks,” Arians says. “Some are like marshmallows. He throws marshmallows but with a lot of speed.”

“It’s a zip, but it’s always a spiral,” Swearinger says.

Then, just in case Rodgers hasn’t already won by deciphering the defense, or drawing pass rushers offside, or throwing speedy marshmallows into his receivers’ hands, he has one last trick: the Hail Mary. Three times in the last three years, Rodgers has won or tied games with long, desperation heaves. Swearinger, who was part of a secondary victimized by the second — thrown at the end of regulation in a 2016 playoff game against Swearinger’s Cardinals, who went on to win the game in overtime — says Rodgers’ ability to make Hail Marys work is because he throws the ball higher than any other quarterback, allowing his wide receivers and tight ends to jump for the ball.

Arians, who was Swearinger’s coach that day, has another explanation.

“Luck,” he says.

“But I’ll tell you what,” Swearinger says, standing in the Redskins’ locker room late Wednesday afternoon, “I’m approaching this like it’s one of the biggest games of my career. You got the best quarterback or one of the best quarterbacks in football, and you got to approach it like a Super Bowl.”

Two of Swearinger’s teammates chuckle as he says this. Swearinger does not laugh back. This is Aaron Rodgers. “No. 12,” as he likes to say.

“There’s definitely only one of him,” Swearinger adds. “No. 12 is a different species.”

Which is enough for anyone to dread playing against.

Another selection for the Hall of Fame application

If you’re on Facebook, look up Kevin Hunt (former WTMJ-TV sportscaster) and watch this video, but make sure you visit the bathroom first:


Postgame schadenfreude, Da Bears Still Suck 2018 edition

Ever since the writer of this blog got this inspired idea, The Presteblog has brought its readers the perspective of big Packer wins from the perspective of the losing side.

I believe the tradition started with the National Football League’s oldest rivalry, meeting number 197 of which occurred Sunday night at Lambeau Field. I recall during the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI season enjoying reading Chicago media eviscerate Da Bears, even to the point of, in the Chicago Tribune’s case, assigning a sportswriter to cover the Packers the rest of the season.

Before we go on: I freely admit to watching the wrong half of Sunday night’s game. After Khalil Mack’s interception for a touchdown that gave Da Bears a 17–0 lead, I stopped watching given the fact that the season seemed lost not merely because of one half of one game, but because of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ left knee injury.

I was not the only one who thought the game was over. The Tribune’s Colleen Kane reports:

For a split-second, Kyle Fuller had the Bears’ season-opening victory in his hands Sunday night at Lambeau Field, but it bounced out of his grasp.

With the Bears holding a precarious six-point lead against the Packers with 2 minutes, 39 seconds to play, the Bears cornerback was in position to intercept quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He leaned forward to make the catch on a short pass attempt but dropped it.

In frustration, he flung the football and then sat on the field for a few seconds to absorb the missed opportunity.

“I’ve just got to make the play,” Fuller said afterward.

He’s hardly the only Bears defender who can say that.

Many Bears played a part in the massive collapse that allowed the Packers to score 24 second-half points on the way to a 24-23 victory. The 20-point comeback victory was the Packers’ second-largest ever at Lambeau Field, behind only a 21-point comeback against the Saints in 1989.

“The whole team got lazy,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “We got too complacent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We didn’t finish. We came out the first half swinging. The energy was there. The second half I felt like the energy was low. Everybody got complacent, and we lost focus that we still had a game to finish.”

Jackson was at the center of the Packers’ winning play, two plays after Fuller’s missed opportunity.

He was playing in the middle when Rodgers, with plenty of time to throw, found wide receiver Randall Cobb just behind him. Jackson dived toward the pass but was too far in front to make a tackle. Cobb ran free for the 75-yard, go-ahead touchdown, also leaving outside linebacker Leonard Floyd falling in his wake.

It was the last of three second-half touchdown passes from Rodgers, who left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury that he said afterward was “painful.”

He returned in the third quarter, and he found Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison for a 39-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Allison made a diving catch behind Fuller in the back right corner of the end zone to cut the Bears’ lead to 20-10.

Rodgers zeroed in on wide receiver Davante Adams on the next drive, connecting with him on passes of 51 and 6 yards before a 12-yard touchdown. Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara was in coverage on the first and last plays as the Packers pulled within 20-17.

Afterward, Amukamara took 30 seconds to collect his thoughts when asked about what happened to the defense after a first-half shutout in which the Bears sacked Rodgers and backup quarterback DeShone Kizer twice each and forced two turnovers.

He said he didn’t think the Bears were overly confident at halftime and they weren’t necessarily surprised Rodgers came back in.

“They started going up-tempo and stuff like that,” Amukamara said. “We just couldn’t stop the bleeding. Outside looking in, it looks like we pooped our pants. We just have to finish. Even coming in here, we were saying, ‘We had a good first half; we need to have a better second half.’ We were aware we needed to turn it up in the second half, but for whatever reason, our actions didn’t show up.”

Jackson said coach Matt Nagy’s message after the game was to not point fingers.

“This is on us as a team,” Jackson said. “We have to come back and get better from it. … We have to come out and finish like we’re capable of.”

The Tribune’s Brad Biggs adds:

Matt Nagy’s debut as Bears coach threw him right into the middle of the NFL’s longest-running rivalry.

One game in, suffice to say Nagy has an understanding of how warped this series has been for the Bears for quite some time.

It’s impossible to equate Sunday night’s 24-23 loss to the NFC championship game after the 2010 season, when the Packers thwarted the Bears’ Super Bowl bid. And it’s not quite the gut punch the Bears got in the 2013 regular-season finale, when a loss at home kept them out of the playoffs and propelled the Packers to the postseason.

But this one stings, and Nagy and fans who were worked into a frenzy for the start of a new era will not forget it anytime soon. They shouldn’t, either, after Randall Cobb scored on a 75-yard touchdown catch and run with 2:13 remaining and the Bears found a new and unusual way to lose to Aaron Rodgers.

The Bears had complete control at Lambeau Field in Nagy’s nationally televised debut. They were throttling the Packers even before Rodgers went to the locker room on a cart during the second quarter with a left knee injury that clearly hobbled him after he returned.

The crowd of 78,282 was lustily booing as the Packers headed to the locker room at halftime. That’s because the Bears led 17-0, their largest halftime lead over the Packers in any game — home or away — since Dec. 7, 1980, when the Bears won 61-7 at Soldier Field, the most lopsided game in the rivalry’s history.

Think about that for a moment. As dominant as the Bears were in the mid-’80s when the Packers weren’t particularly good, they never had a better start to a game against their rivals, at least not on the scoreboard. As well as the Bears did under Lovie Smith for a brief period against the Packers, they never controlled a game so thoroughly from the outset.

The Bears haven’t coughed up a lead and choked away a game like this in an awfully long time either. There’s no other way to describe what happened after they went from leading 20-0 late in the third quarter to falling on their face.

Not even second life provided by a boneheaded roughing-the-passer penalty on Clay Matthews could save the Bears, who lost the season opener for the fifth straight year after Nick Perry sacked Mitch Trubisky on fourth down with 58 seconds to play.

Rodgers, even slowed, was deadly as he finished 20 of 29 for 286 yards with three touchdowns. That’s what happens when one side has a future Hall of Famer and the other a young quarterback learning a system. Trubisky looked rattled in the fourth quarter, trying throws back across the field and missing high on a throw to Tarik Cohen in the flat.

The meltdown — and both sides of the ball were to blame — spoiled a magnificent debut by new outside linebacker Khalil Mack. If you watched only the first half, you’d think the only person having a worse night than Rodgers might have been Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

Mack was dominant from the first time he came in the game on the fourth snap, lining up on the left side over Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga. It was Mack’s pressure from the outside that forced Rodgers up in the pocket when he was sacked by Roy Robertson-Harris and injured. Rodgers spent an entire series for the Bears offense in the blue medical tent before being taken by cart to the locker room.

DeShone Kizer relieved him at quarterback on the next series, which Mack ended when he stripped Kizer and had the ball in his lap before landing on the ground. Later, when Robertson-Harris whipped center Corey Linsley to blow up a screen pass, Mack intercepted the attempt and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. It was also Mack’s pressure that created a sack for first-round draft pick Roquan Smith when he briefly spelled Danny Trevathan.

The Bears added one player who has made an immediate ripple effect on the defense, allowing them to rotate a wave of players on the line. Defensive end Akiem Hicks had a sack and forced fumble as the Bears pummeled Rodgers early. Robertson-Harris led the unit with three quarterback hurries.

The Bears have closed the gap on the Packers. No doubt about that. But the thing the Packers still have going for them is Rodgers, who’s now 17-4 against the Bears and 1-0 versus Nagy — who saw right away what kind of wild and crazy this series contains.

The Chicago Sun–Times’ Rick Morrissey:

Aaron Rodgers was taken off the field on a cart in the second quarter Sunday night. He has always done the improbable, so when he was listed as questionable for the second half, it was reasonable to expect him to toss aside crutches, take a joyride on a gurney back into Lambeau Field and declare himself healed.

No, it was more than that. It was a given.

How did the Bears respond to the sight of Rodgers’ return? By going red-state conservative with a big lead in the second half. So the way the game ended up playing out, while dramatic, was hardly shocking. Rodgers did what he usually does, this time finding a receiver for a 75-yard touchdown play in the closing minutes.

And the Bears’ offense, under new coach Matt Nagy, reverted to the 2017 vintage under stodgy John Fox. The result was a 24-23 Packers’ victory that will stick with the Bears for a long time.

They led 17-0 at halftime and 20-0 in the third quarter. Mitch Trubisky looked good. If you came into Sunday’s game with doubts about the young quarterback, they should have evaporated quickly as he moved his team confidently in the first half.

But that wasn’t the prevailing feeling as the Bears trudged off the field at the end of the game. It was that they let one get away by shying away on offense in the second half. Did Nagy take his foot off the gas? So much so that you suspected the gas pedal came with an electric shock.

“No, not at all,’’ he said. “We were running the ball pretty well. We were getting some good yards. We had a couple third-and-ones where we ended up getting a five-yard gain and a four-yard gain and had a third-and-one and didn’t get it. There would have been some times there where it would have been nice to get that first down.

“… If you stay aggressive, (you’re asked), ‘Why aren’t you running the ball?’ Right?’’

But some of the pass plays Nagy called were maddening. After the Packers had cut the lead to 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, the Bears badly needed to convert on a third-and-one at their own 34. Trubisky threw a pass to tight end Dion Sims that arrived short of the first-down marker. Tackle. Punt.

“If we get the right look, then it’s wide open, we look like geniuses,’’ Trubisky said

“We needed to chew up some yards to get some first downs, which we didn’t do,’’ Nagy said. “And then before you know it, they’re right back in it.’’

That part earlier where Nagy said he didn’t take his foot off the gas? Just to review: He took his foot off the gas.

It wasn’t the greatest debut for a new head coach, but the unfortunate part of it is that it should have been so much more. The Bears looked so good in the first half. Trubisky completed 11 of 14 passes for 109 yards, with a passer rating of 99.1 in the first 30 minutes. The Bears’ first drive was 10 plays and 86 yards, and it ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Trubisky.

But it never got better than that the rest of the night. Trubisky threw for 62 yards in the second half. …

The ending was beyond unfortunate. For a half, Trubisky surely brought a tear to the eye of Chicagoans who have been on a quarterback quest the past 30 years. Is this the one they have been seeking? Perhaps, but we’ll need more than a half to tell.

But there were good signs. Trubisky’s ability as a runner was obvious last season, but he showed a real ability to escape a pass rush Sunday. It’d be silly to compare him to Rodgers, who gets out of more trouble than a principal’s son, but he was Rodgers-esque at times. He had a nice run on third-and-one to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter.

But by that time, the Packers were doing what the Packers usually do to the Bears.

“When we got the ball back with 2:30 left, I was pretty confident we were going to win the game,’’ Rodgers said.

One 75-yard pass play to Randall Cobb, and that was that. Too bad. It shouldn’t have ended that way.

The Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom continues the fine Chicago sports media tradition of kicking the local team when it’s down:

Before Matt Nagy ended up looking and sounding bad and stupid at the end of Sunday night, it was all there for the rookie coach and the Bears, and all of it was on national TV for Football Nation to witness and fear.

The Bears walked into Lambeau Field and stuffed Aaron Rodgers on the first drive and then rolled over the bully Packers for a touchdown. Next series, a field goal raised the lead to 10-0.

While Rodgers looked like he was using last year’s Bears offense, Mitch Trubiskylooked like Rodgers back there — accurate, making the right reads, putting the ball where only his target could grab it, chewing up yardage, scoring points. It was a thing.

Meanwhile, there was Khalil Mack, the Bears revelation of an attack unit acquired from the Raiders on Sept. 1, registering a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a TD, and that was just in the first half, an NFL first. SEAL Team 52 was reporting for duty, sir.

After the first drive of the third quarter, the Bears were up 20-0 against their evil, dreaded rival with Rodgers hobbled on a bad knee. Yes, it was all there for Nagy and the Bears.

And then they proceeded to choke away every bit of that lead because, imagine, they couldn’t stop a guy who had to be carted off the field in the first half.

Packers, 24-23.

How epic was this gag job? The Packers were 0-111 when entering the fourth quarter trailing by 17 points or more, according to ESPN.

That’s the kind of soul-crushing loss that gets Bears coaches fired.

Nice start, son.

Nagy was outcoached when he wasn’t trying to out-cute himself, and was particularly awful when it came to managing the clock and the ball late in the game.

With the Bears’ 20-point lead down to three in the final three minutes and the Packers out of timeouts, the Bears faced third-and-2 at the Packers’ 14. Jordan Howard had run for 27 yards on his two carries on the drive. On third down, the Bears passed. Incomplete. The clock stopped. What the …?

Instead of running the ball on fourth down to gain a new series that could’ve ended the game, and even if it didn’t, it certainly wouldn’t have left Rodgers so much time, the Bears kicked a field goal that didn’t put them up by a TD.

You have to give the ball to Howard there. You have to be able to get 2 yards. You have to be able to win the line of scrimmage. There was no need to try to get cute. Just play football. Why risk stopping the clock? The Bears didn’t look like a team with 2,000 snaps since organized team activities. They didn’t execute like a team that could afford to skip live game action in the preseason.

Earlier in the second half, Nagy called a pass play after Howard had gained 9 yards on first and second down, and on that critical third down pass across the field, Dion Sims couldn’t figure out he needed to get past the sticks to make any of it work. Was that covered in any of those 2,000 snaps since OTAs?

But wait. This is where stupid meets bad. Nagy’s postgame explanation included the point that Bears starters didn’t get a lot of snaps in the preseason.

Yes, and who’s decision was that, Coach Nagy?

Galling. His team wasn’t fit enough to compete, and he dares to bring up preseason snaps. Embarrassing.

It wasn’t all Nagy. He could’ve used some help. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio never found a way to beat the hobbled Rodgers’ use of the no-huddle offense. Bears defensive linemen were fatigued and weak and unable to get off the field for a sub. Rodgers couldn’t move, but he could carve up supposedly healthy Bears. Maybe they weren’t in game shape because Nagy didn’t let them play tackle football games in the preseason.

Nagy’s players face-planted like Marc Trestman or John Fox was still here. Prince Amukamara got destroyed on one series. Kyle Fuller absolutely gagged what would’ve been a game-deciding interception two plays before Randall Cobb scored on a 75-yard reception that in fact did decide the game. Mack didn’t make the kind of play in the second half that the highest-paid defensive player is expected to make. Trubisky too often looked like his quarterback coach was Tyler Chatwood.

It was all there for Nagy and the Bears. A 20-point lead. A big road win against the biggest of rivals. A piece of first place in the division. A nationally televised coming-out party. Validation of the change of coaches and the new, dynamic plan.

But no. Didn’t happen. New coach, same pantsing.

Dan Bernstein of 670 The Score:

If Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller holds on, we have an entirely different narrative.

If Fuller makes that interception, the Matt Nagy regime is off and rolling, writing its early history with an offense of stretch plays and efficiency, starting us down a road of runaway optimism fueled by weeks of trust that still may not be deserved. We’ll see.

It wasn’t to be for the moment, undone by undoing and not doing and not being what has to be, at least yet. Yet could have been now and should’ve been. And what ended up kinda sucks after all that.

The Bears’ 20-0 lead over the Packers in the third quarter Sunday evening isn’t the memory Nagy wants, anymore. The Bears blew it in an eventual 24-23 loss, even with Khalil Mack living up to absolutely everything possible, setting a record with his single-half sack, touchdown, interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery, home run, power-play goal, Olympic biathlon record and hole-in-one.

This was brutally painful for the Bears fans who might remember Randall Cobb putting his hand up just as Chris Conte bit on the fake that he was coached to expect, now again seeing Cobb carve away again at the flesh of belief.

This hurt.

Aaron Rodgers was down an out until he was up and celebratory, because he and his coaches learned to neutralize Mack by getting the ball out and away, wide and wider, and the Bears failed to tackle in the middle of the field. A long-held NFL lesson is to not give Rodgers extra lives, but the Bears kept pumping quarters into that old arcade game and let him keep hitting the fire button.

Second-year Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky didnt’ rise to the stage. That’s on him and Nagy and all of what we were told was being honed so finely in practice. Get better at getting yards when you have to get them. That was the point of all of this.

Kyle Fuller could’ve caught that ball. He didn’t, and for the Bears, that’s really too bad.

Pro Football Weekly’s Hub Arkush:

I originally wrote this lead to read that it was impossible to tell which side of the ball for the Bears was more impressive Sunday night at Green Bay, the offense or the defense.

But that was at halftime of the Bears 24-23 loss to the Packers and by the end of the game it certainly wasn’t true.

The offense was versatile, explosive, exciting and productive as Matt Nagy took his bag of tricks he’d been hiding throughout the preseason and dumped it out all over Lambeau Field.

But once most of Nagy’s best moves were visible in plain sight, Green Bay’s new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine began to make adjustments and quarterback Mitch Trubisky was forced to focus more on avoiding big mistakes than setting off huge explosions.

After running 19 plays for 146 yards in the first quarter, the Bears managed just 6 yards on 10 plays in the second quarter.

They did come out of the locker room at halftime and open the third period with a 12-play, 60-yard drive that netted 3 points, but their only other third-period possession was three-and-out for eight 8 yards, and they opened the fourth period with a three-and-out for just 9 yards. …

The defense was clearly the better unit for the Bears, dominating the entire first half and sending Aaron Rodgers to the locker room on a cart with 9:05 to play in the first half.

Akiem Hicks appeared to be taking on the Packers all by himself early as Packers guard Justin McCray was helpless in his efforts to stop him while the Packer were using any help they might have otherwise given McCray to try to stop the newest member of that Bears’ defense, Khalil Mack.

But Mack was not to be denied, getting a strip sack and recovery off backup DeShone Kizer.

After the Bears offered one of those three-and-outs following the fumble, Mack left nothing to doubt, intercepting Kizer thanks to a huge rush from Roy Robertson-Harris and taking it to the end zone for a 17-0 lead.

With Mack well on his way to his second NFL Defensive MVP Award before he’d completed his first half as a Bear, Hicks, Robertson-Harris, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and rookie Roquan Smith all chipped in plays to show how special this Bears defense is eventually going to be.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the after-party.

The Packers came out of the locker room with Rodgers back under center, went to their no-huddle offense and quickly began to wear out the Bears’ pass rush.

Was it Mack’s lack of a preseason that stole a quarter step from him late in the game? Was it the lack of the entire team’s preparation in the exhibition slate that allowed the Packers to dominate the second half, storming back from a 20-0 deficit to lead 24-23 with three minutes to play?

Again, a different conversation for a different time.

The bottom line is after one of the best halves of football the Bears have played in decades, the Packers were able to reduce the offense to nothing but Jordan Howard in the second half, and the defense simply wore out.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 11

We begin with a non-musical anniversary, though we can certainly add music:

On Aug. 11, 1919, Green Bay Press–Gazette sports editor George Calhoun and Indian Packing Co. employee Earl “Curly” Lambeau, a former Notre Dame football player, organized a pro football team that would be called the Green Bay Packers:

(Clearly the photo was not taken on this day in 1919. Measurable snow has never fallen in Wisconsin in August … so far.)

Today in 1964, the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” opened in New York:

Two years later, the Beatles opened their last American concert tour on the same day that John Lennon apologized for saying that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus. … Look, I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than God or Jesus, I said ‘Beatles’ because it’s easy for me to talk about The Beatles. I could have said ‘TV’ or ‘Cinema’, ‘Motorcars’ or anything popular and would have got away with it…”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 11”

Moore for the Packer Hall of Fame

Readers know that Ted Moore was the radio voice of the Glory Days Packers.

Moore’s son, Richard, is now trying to get his father inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame. If Ray Scott, who covered the Glory Years Packers for CBS-TV, belongs in the Packer Hall of Fame (and he does and is a member), and if Jim Irwin, who replaced Moore in the booth (first working with Gary Bender, then as the play-by-play guy), belongs (and he does and is also a member), then Moore absolutely belongs. (Also in the Packer Hall of Fame is Russ Winnie, who was the announcer when WTMJ radio started carrying Packer games in 1929.)

The case for Moore, who is a member of the Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame

… is, to quote our Founding Fathers, self-evident. Until 1973 the NFL prohibited games from being telecasted in the home team’s TV market, which is the Packers’ case is Green Bay and Milwaukee, due to concerns about not being able to sell out the stadium. (As if that would ever have been a worry with Lambeau Field.)

So if you lived in the eastern third of the state and you didn’t have tickets to the game at Lambeau or Milwaukee County Stadium (where fans probably should have brought a radio thanks to the fact that County Stadium was a rotten place for football due to where the seats were), you had to listen to Moore, who worked every minute of every game, preseason, regular-season and postseason (two more years than Scott did, though that was CBS’ doing by ending the team announcer arrangement, which should be brought back for TV) — and mostly by himself, as you can hear from the Ice Bowl game — including six NFL championship games (the 1962 game for NBC-TV), three other NFL playoff games, the first two Super Bowls and, for what it’s worth, two Playoff Bowls, featuring the runners-up of the NFL’s two conferences, a game infamously called by Vince Lombardi “a game for losers, played by losers.”

I don’t remember Moore doing Packer games. Bob Fox does:

I grew up in that era. It was the golden age for Packer Nation, as Lombardi’s Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. The team also won an unprecedented three NFL championships in a row, a feat that has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL going back to 1933. …

Scott was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2001. So were a couple of other legendary Green Bay newspaper reporters who covered the Packers back then, as both Art Daley (1993) and Lee Remmel (1996) have been enshrined as well. So was the team photographer during that time, Vernon Biever (2002).

Basically everyone who covered the Packers during the Lombardi era is in the Packers Hall of Fame. All except Moore.

Ted Moore and Vince Lombardi

Now there have been two Packer radio announcers who have been inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. They are Russ Winnie (2016) and Jim Irwin (2003).

I expect them to be joined at some point by Moore and current radio play-by-play man, Wayne Larrivee.

I got to know Irwin pretty well at WTMJ in 1980 and 1981 when I worked there, first as an intern and then as a freelance reporter. In fact, I got to know Irwin so well, that he was the No. 1 reference listed on my résumé while I was looking for broadcasting and journalism work out of college.

Now longevity in covering the Packers does play a part in getting into the Hall of Fame for the team. Daley (68 years), Remmel (62 years) and Biever (61 years) each covered the Packers for over six decades.

Scott (10 years), Winnie (17 years) and Irwin (29 years) all covered the team for at least a decade and in Irwin’s case, almost three decades.

Moore spent 12 years broadcasting games for the Packers. And it was he who first hired Irwin.

Like I mentioned in my most recent story, the quarterback sneak by Bart Starr in the 1967 NFL title game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, was one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.

And it has to be the greatest play in the history of the Packers. It was Moore who provided the play-by-play on that legendary moment in Green Bay lore.

“Third down and inches to go to pay dirt. 17-14, Cowboys out in front. Starr begins the count and he takes the quarterback sneak and he’s in for the touchdown and the Packers are out in front. The Green Bay Packers are going to be world champions,” Moore yelled out, as the 50,000-plus frozen faithful in the Lambeau Field stands went delirious.

The thing about Moore that is different from nearly every play-by-play announcer (including myself) today is his voice. In the days when radio voice quality mattered more than it seems to matter today (however you feel about that), Moore had a more modulated, deeper, richer voice than you generally hear today. CBS-TV’s Verne Lundquist and late NBC-TV announcer Charlie Jones don’t and didn’t sound like Moore, but those two are probably as close today voice-wise as you’d find to Moore.

The other thing about Moore is that, like announcers of that day, he came across as perhaps more booster than reporter, which again was common in those days and isn’t necessarily uncommon today. (Though it seems more obnoxious today.) It’s certainly not as if current Packer radio announcer Wayne Larrivee doesn’t want the Packers to win, but Larrivee will be critical if the Packers aren’t playing well. I gather that Moore didn’t go out of his way to be critical, though he announced bad plays if they were bad plays. That’s the way things were in those days.

Moore had the good fortune to get hired to do Baltimore Colts games in time for Super Bowl V, which was one of the worst (11 turnovers), yet closest, Super Bowls in history.

Moore also announced UW football, partnering with former Milwaukee Braves announcer Earl Gillespie, and also for a while announced Badger basketball on TV. That gave him the chance to call Magic Johnson’s last college basketball loss, when UW beat Michigan State on a buzzer-beating half-court shot by Wes Matthews. (I have that on tape somewhere.)

Moore was as much a part of the Glory Days as Scott was, and if for only that reason certainly belongs in the Packer Hall of Fame.

For those wondering about a birthday present for me …

How can one story combine two of my favorite things, the Packers (of which I am an owner) and Corvettes (of which I am not)?

The answer comes from Motor Authority:

On January 15, 1967, Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception as the Packers rolled over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first AFL-NFL World Championship game (which would later become known as Super Bowl I). For his efforts, Starr was named the game’s MVP and was awarded a shiny new 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray convertible. That Corvette is now going up for auction.

The car is documented with a tank sticker that says “Courtesy Delivery – B. Starr.” It presents with its original and patinated Goodwood Green paint, which was chosen to match the Packers’ home jerseys and is only slightly touched up. Just 48,000 miles show on the odometer and the listing says they are believed to be original.

According to the listing, Starr owned the car until the 1980s, and eventually it came into the hands of a woman in Wausau, Wisconsin, in a divorce settlement. In 1994, she sold it to Michael Anderson, owner of Thunder Valley Classic Cars of St. Joseph, Minnesota, which specializes in Corvettes. Anderson has several Bloomington Gold restorations under his belt, but instead of restoring the car, which had been in storage for years, he decided to take the body off the frame and clean and recondition the underside.

Anderson replaced the body mounts, rubber suspension components, U-joints, seals, and bearings. He also installed a new Dewitts radiator, though the original is also included with the auction, overhauled the brake system, and upgraded the calipers with stainless-steel piston sleeves.

The rest he left as time had treated it.

Under the hood sits a 300-horsepower, 327-cubic-inch V-8 hooked to a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission. Anderson says the car runs and drives well, and the numbers-matching engine has never been out of the car and retains its original gaskets and paint.

The Corvette rides on bias-ply Redline tires mounted on Rally wheels, and those tires should be able to lay down two black stripes on the pavement thanks to a 3.36:1 positraction differential.

The car also features the original black interior, black soft top, and Soft Ray-tinted windshield. Inside, it has a telescoping steering column and an AM/FM radio.

Head to Indianapolis for the Mecum Auction May 15-20 for your chance to buy this piece of automotive and NFL history.

This is like the Holy Grail for the Packer/Corvette fan. Starr was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, the last two of his five NFL titles as the Packers’ quarterback. That places him in Joe Montana/Tom Brady territory in the conversation about the best NFL quarterbacks of all time, because of the only metric that actually counts in the NFL — winning.

This Corvette isn’t that powerful, with the base V-8, but it has the correct transmission for any Corvette. I like green Corvettes, and it’s the right color anyway for a Packer player or fan. This doesn’t say whether it has power steering or brakes. I’ve driven both a Corvette and a similar car without power brakes, and I can live with that. I’ve also driven a Corvette without power steering and other vehicles that were supposed to have power steering but didn’t. (They’re easier to drive when moving; turns from a stop or slow speed are the hardest.) Driving this is likely to be easier than driving, say, a Corvette with a big block but without power steering.

In those days the late Sport magazine awarded cars to the Super Bowl MVP. SI.com reports that Starr donated his second MVP Corvette …

… to be auctioned off for funds to start Rawhide Boys Ranch near New London.

I was not aware that Starr actually owned a Corvette, which puts him the company of other famous Corvette owners. The story was that Starr had requested a station wagon instead of the Corvette, but that is evidently incorrect. (The wagon substitution request came from Roger Staubach, and the wagon replaced a Dodge Charger, because, he said, “We had three kids. What was I going to do with a Dodge Charger?” The Charger had seating for four, but on the other hand the Corvette had seating for two, two fewer than the number of kids in the Starr household.)

Starr tends to get a bit underrated for his contribution to the Glory Days Packers perhaps because he didn’t throw for a bazillion yards in the days where the game was considerably different from now. But remember that Starr called all the plays in those days, including the improvised quarterback sneak that won the Ice Bowl. Starr was the 1966 NFL MVP. Starr was 9–1 as a starting quarterback in the postseason and had the best postseason passer rating in NFL history. Not even Montana or Brady can say that.

(Aaron Rodgers, by the way, got a Chevy Camaro for being the Super Bowl XLV MVP.)

The Packers’ two Super Bowl teams were the last two Glory Days champions, and the Packers were not as run-dominated as they did in the early Glory Days, because by the Super Bowls running backs Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung were at the end of their careers. No Starr, no Super Bowls.

Starr was also the general manager/coach of the Packers. That didn’t go so well, although he did get them into as many playoff berths as his predecessor, Dan “Lawrence Welk Trade” Devine, and more than his successors, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante (zero each). I’ve written before here about the mess he inherited and how he really shouldn’t have been GM/coach because no one should be GM/coach anymore. Packer fans clearly look at Starr more as the great quarterback he was than as the coach he became.

If I somehow got this car, I would do three things with it — (1) replace the bias-ply tires with radials (and find someone who manufactures red-stripe radials), (2) get it to wherever Starr now lives to meet him (I was 2 years old when the Packers won Super Bowl II, so by the time I knew the Packers they were quite bad, which made the Glory Days seem unlikely to have occurred) and show off the car, and then (3) drive it.

Let’s see. Mega Millions is $45 million tonight, and Powerball is $257 million Saturday night …

As Titletown Turns

It turns out that Packer fans didn’t have to wait long to find out who the new general manager is. The Packers announced today:

The Green Bay Packers have named Brian Gutekunst general manager and Russ Ball executive vice president/director of football operations. The promotions were announced Monday by President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Murphy.

“We could not be more excited to elevate Brian to the position of general manager,” said Murphy. “He has earned this opportunity throughout his 19 years with the Packers, proving to not only be a skilled talent evaluator, but a trusted and collaborative leader. His time under the direction of former Packers general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson will undoubtedly serve him well as we work toward our next Super Bowl championship. I am confident that he is the man that will help get us there.”

“First, I’d like to thank my mentor, Ted Thompson, for his friendship, and I am happy that we will continue to have the chance to work together,” Gutekunst said. “I want to thank Ron Wolf for giving me my first opportunity with the Packers, and of course Mark Murphy for the faith and trust he has placed in me moving forward. And finally, I must thank my wife, Jen, and our children for their constant sacrifice and unwavering support despite all of the time I have spent on the road and away from home. I look forward to getting to work with the rest of our talented personnel department and using every avenue available to build the Packers into a championship team again.”

Gutekunst (GOO-tuh-kunst), the 10th person to hold the title of general manager for the Packers, will have complete control over all roster decisions, including the NFL draft and free agency, while leading Green Bay’s scouting department. Ball will continue to manage the Packers’ salary cap and serve as the chief contract negotiator while continuing to oversee several areas in football operations.

“Since joining the Packers in 2008, Russ has proven to be invaluable,” said Murphy. “His salary-cap management and negotiating abilities are well known, but he has also provided tremendous leadership throughout football operations and served as a valuable liaison between the football and business sides of the organization. His diverse skills will remain important to our success moving forward, and I look forward to working with him even more closely in his new role.”

Additionally, Murphy announced a change in the Packers’ organizational structure as Gutekunst, Ball and Head Coach Mike McCarthy will all report directly to Murphy.

“The process of identifying our next general manager gave us the opportunity to analyze our entire football operation,” said Murphy. “While we have enjoyed a lot of success, we need to improve. With that in mind, the head coach, general manager and executive vice president/director of football operations will report to me moving forward. While I understand this is a departure from the Packers’ current structure, it will serve to increase the breadth and frequency of communication and collaboration. Ultimately, it will make the Packers better.”

Gutekunst, who is entering his 20th season with the organization, has spent the past two seasons as the director of player personnel after serving as the director of college scouting for four years. He previously worked 11 seasons as a college scout in the Southeast region. Prior to that, Gutekunst served as a scout for the East Coast region from 1999-2000. Before joining the Packers full-time, he was a scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1998, a scouting intern for Green Bay in the summer of 1997 and assisted the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff in training camp in 1995.

Gutekunst played football for two years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and served as an assistant coach during his final two years at the school (1995-96) after a shoulder injury cut short his playing career. In 1995, he coached the linebackers as the Eagles finished 14-0 and won the Division III national championship.

Ball enters his 30th season in the NFL and 11th season in Green Bay. Since joining the Packers in 2008, he has worked in the role of the vice president of football administration/player finance. Prior to coming to Green Bay, Ball spent six seasons (2002-07) with the New Orleans Saints, serving as senior football administrator for four seasons and as vice president of football administration for the final two years. In 2001, he was the director of football administration for the Washington Redskins. From 1999-2000, Ball served as senior football administrator for the Minnesota Vikings. He began working in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he spent 10 seasons (1989-98), the final two in football operations as administrative assistant to then-head coach Marty Schottenheimer. He began his career with the Chiefs as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

A 1981 graduate of Central Missouri State, Ball was a four-year letterman at center for the Mules. He served as head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Missouri from 1982-89 and earned his master’s degree from Missouri in 1990.

(Side note that will interest only me, but since this is my blog I’m going to tell you about it anyway: It turns out that Ball and I were in the same building once. During his aforementioned term as Missouri’s head strength and conditioning coach, Missouri played Wisconsin twice, my freshman and sophomore years. The first game, the second I ever marched in the UW Marching Band, was won by the Badgers 21–20 thanks to a muffed punt that turned into a touchdown pass from Randy Wright to Al Toooooooooon, and a fumbled kickoff recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by center Dan Turk. One year later, the Badgers, wearing red pants for the first time since the 1950s, came from behind — a comeback started by a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown by Bobby Taylor — to beat the Tigers in Columbia 35–34. Flashback over.)

What does this mean? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

It deviates from how the Packers have been structured for almost three decades. Since Ron Wolf arrived in Green Bay in 1991, the general manager has directly reported to the team president, which acts as the Packers’ owner. All other employees in the team’s football operation have reported directly to the general manager, not the president. …

A byproduct of the new structure will be removing the GM’s power to fire a head coach. While Gutekunst will be able to recommend coaching changes — and presumably those recommendations will carry much weight, if not being outright followed — the decision will now be Murphy’s to make.

Gutekunst will have final say on all roster matters, the same authority Thompson wielded in personnel decisions. Ball will remain as the Packers’ chief contract negotiator.

Thompson will also remain with the organization as Gutekunst’s senior adviser. …

The Packers are hardly setting an NFL precedent with their new structure. Several teams around the league have the same structure, including perennial contenders Seattle and Pittsburgh.

That is, however, an interesting change given this past weekend’s reported friction between Ball and McCarthy. One could look at this and suggest that Ball is being groomed to replace Murphy as president (which, as I wrote Friday, would make some sense).

Total Packers adds:

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has known director of player finance Russ Ball since 1993. In years past, McCarthy has praised Ball and talked about what a great general manager he would make.

Things have apparently soured in that relationship. Former Packers beat writer Bob McGinn wrote a lengthy piece on Friday detailing the relationship. In it, he suggests that if Ball is hired as the Packers’ general manager, McCarthy may consider leaving the Packers.

The point of contention seems to be that McCarthy believes Ball has stood in the way — and will continue to do so — of the Packers’ player acquisition efforts. That like Ted Thompson, Ball is adverse to free agency and McCarthy feels he hasn’t been given the right players to succeed.

Yet, everything we hear points toward Ball replacing Ted Thompson as the Packers’ general manager.

Now, we are going to take this with a grain of salt. McGinn is angry at the Packers for not giving him media credentials. Like us, McGinn now operates a strictly online news outlet. And like us, when we asked for media credentials, McGinn was told the Packers do not accredit online outlets. Only TV, radio and newspapers. So like us, McGinn will say whatever the hell he wants about the Packers because he doesn’t have to massage any egos.

(If I had the ability, I’d hire McGinn in a second, by the way. Letting McGinn go was the second stupidest thing Journal Communications did, next to getting rid of Marketplace Magazine.)

The lack of mention of director of football operations Eliot Wolf , arguably the fans’ choice to replace Thompson, in all that might suggest the term “former” is about to be added to that title. And how does Eliot’s father feel about that? NBC Sports reports:

By hiring in-house candidate Brian Gutekunst to replace Ted Thompson, the Packers may have lost another one, as director of football operations Eliot Wolf was passed over for the job.

Wolf’s father, Hall of Fame G.M. Ron Wolf, suggested as much to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

“At least he had the opportunity to interview for it,” Ron Wolf said. “Obviously the people up there don’t think he’s worthy or they would’ve hired him. End of discussion.”

It leaves a big question hanging out there for the Packers, as they rebuild their front office after a rare change. …

The Packers have already lost another long-time personnel man, as Alonzo Highsmith just left to go to Cleveland with John Dorsey. Demovsky reports that Dorsey has interest in the younger Wolf as well.

Wolf has interviewed for G.M. jobs in the past, but he’s still under contract to the Packers.

Bob McGinn, who covered the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and who now operates his own media outlet, suggests that the final configuration in the new front office will consist of Russ Ball as General Manager, and Brian Gutekunst as executive V.P. of football operations. Then, per McGinn, McCarthy will have to decide whether he wants to stay.

Putting it a different way (i.e., the way we’ve heard it), Ball and McCarthy don’t have a good relationship. It’s a topic that was addressed on Thursday’s PFT PM podcast, as I tried to digest and understand McCarthy’s remarks.

“It has to fit,” McCarthy said Thursday. “I have the best job in pro football, and no disrespect to the other 31 clubs. I love it here, I want to be here, but it has to fit for me, too. I’ve done this job long enough, I wouldn’t want the G.M. to hire me or partner with me if we don’t fit together. Because you’re on a path for, in the short term and long term, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get to where you’re going to go. It has to be a partnership.” …

Murphy is smart enough to know the consequences of giving Ball the G.M. job. And the consequences quite likely will include the Packers needing a new head coach, either this year or next year.

One wonders if maybe Murphy changed his mind from what McGinn reported and flipped Ball’s and Gutekunst’s jobs. How many seconds do you think it would have taken the Lions to name McCarthy their head coach?

Instead, Florio later reported:

Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn’t want Russ Ball to be the team’s next G.M. Quarterback Aaron Rodgersalso reportedly wasn’t a fan of the franchise’s V.P. of football administration getting the ultimate in-house promotion.

They win.

With Brian Gutekunst securing the job, only five days after it officially was open, Ball’s candidacy has collapsed. Many believed he was the frontrunner for the job, based in part on a close relationship with CEO Mark Murphy.

The prospect of losing Gutekunst to the Texans apparently provided the nudge to hire him. Some had suggested that, if Ball had gotten the G.M. gig, Gutekunst would have received a title like “executive V.P. of player personnel.” …

Chances are that someone (perhaps Bob McGinn) will have a detailed story regarding things done behind the scenes to help Gutekunst get the job, and things that will happen behind the scenes now that the Packers have a new football boss.

This was more interesting to watch than the selection of the next pope, wasn’t it?

The next Packer era

As expected, the Packers fired defensive coordinator Dom Capers following their season finale loss to Detroit Sunday.

Less expected was Monday’s news from Packers.com:

Green Bay Packers Executive Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson will transition to a role as senior advisor to football operations, team President/CEO Mark Murphy announced Tuesday.

“I want to thank Ted for his tireless efforts as the general manager of the Green Bay Packers for these past 13 seasons. Under his guidance, the Packers enjoyed a remarkable run of success, one that included our 13th world championship, four NFC Championship appearances and eight consecutive postseason berths,” said Murphy. “The organization, our fans and our community were fortunate to have had one of the NFL’s all-time great general managers leading our football operations. On a personal note, Ted’s work ethic, humility and loyalty are nearly unparalleled, and it has been one of the great honors of my life to work beside him. Fortunately, Ted will remain involved in our personnel department as we work to win another championship. We will begin an immediate search for the next general manager of the Green Bay Packers.” …

Thompson, who just finished his 13th season as the leader of the team’s football operations, built the Packers into one of the NFL’s strongest and most consistent teams. His tenure was highlighted by a victory in Super Bowl XLV and six NFC North titles, including a franchise-record four consecutive division titles from 2011-14. The Packers’ four appearances in the NFC Championship since 2005, including two since 2014, lead the NFC.

Since taking over as general manager in 2005, Green Bay made nine playoff appearances, including a run of eight in a row (2009-16) that set a franchise record. The stretch of eight postseason berths is tied for the fourth-longest streak in NFL history behind three teams with nine (Dallas, 1975-83; Indianapolis, 2002-10; New England, 2009-17). The Packers’ nine appearances in the postseason since ’05 are tied with Seattle for the most in the NFC over that span and with Indianapolis and Pittsburgh for the second most in the NFL behind New England (12).

During Thompson’s tenure, Green Bay finished with a winning record nine times and won at least 10 games eight times. In 2011, the Packers set a franchise record with 15 regular-season wins. Since 2005, Green Bay has a regular-season record of 125-82-1 (.603), ranking No. 1 in the NFC and No. 4 in the NFL in wins and winning percentage over that time span. Of the five best single-season win totals in team history, two came under Thompson’s leadership (13 in 2007).

The Packers are tied with Pittsburgh for the third-most postseason games played (18) since 2005, trailing New England (25) and Seattle (21). Dating back to 2005, Green Bay’s 10 postseason victories are tied with Baltimore for No. 4 in the NFL (New England, 16; Seattle, 13; Pittsburgh, 12).

Thompson was named NFL Executive of the Year two times (2007, 2011) by Sporting News in a vote of his peers. Of the 53 players on Green Bay’s Super Bowl XLV championship roster, 49 were acquired by Thompson. Highlighting Thompson’s acquisitions over the years are two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers, 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, six-time Pro Bowler and franchise sack leader Clay Matthews, and Jordy Nelson, who ranks in the top five in franchise history in receptions, receiving yards, touchdown receptions and 100-yard receiving games. Since 2005, the Packers have drafted 14 players who have made at least one Pro Bowl appearance.

The fact is that Thompson is responsible for Capers’ defense, because schemes do not win games; players win or lose games. Thompson is responsible as well for the Packers’ offense, which will have a new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach after the departures of Edgar Bennett (who reportedly may be reassigned) and Alex Van Pelt (whose contract wasn’t renewed).

24/7 Sports adds:

Ted Thompson isn’t the only member of the Green Bay Packers’ front office who is taking a new role. According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the Packers will restructure of the entire front office. Team president and CEO Mark Murphy will define the new roles shortly and some of the front office members who could be in line for new roles are Russ Ball (VP of football administration), Brian Gutenkunst (player personnel director) and Eliot Wolf (director of football operations).

Whatever that means, those expecting a radically different approach to getting players are likely to be disappointed. The three obvious choices to replace Thompson all worked for Thompson. It’s not really clear that Murphy believes that the front office needs to be blown up, or that, for that matter, the front office needs to be blown up.

Ball seems to be the front-runner if reports are accurate. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

Ball, 57, is among the most intriguing figures in the Packers organization simply because the general public knows nothing about a man with immense influence. He is lauded as the team’s lead contract negotiator and salary-cap guru, but his responsibilities are said to extend much further. His talents are viewed as indispensable.

He has been described by Murphy as the “unsung hero of our Super Bowl” and by coach Mike McCarthy as “the best I’ve ever been around.” He is devoutly loyal to the organization and the epitome of a company man. He will not discuss business dealings with his family. He cuts off contact with his brother during the draft and free agency each year. (Randy Ball, a former collegiate head coach, is a pro scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs.)

Around the league, Ball’s peers view him as a legitimate candidate for general manager jobs and wonder why he doesn’t have one already. In Green Bay, Ball is the dark horse to take over whenever the 64-year-old Thompson retires.

“He likes what he does now,” said Russ’ oldest brother, Rick Ball, “but he would love the opportunity to be a general manager.”

Obscurity lingers because Ball has been barred from speaking to the media since his arrival from New Orleans in 2008. The Packers declined multiple requests to interview Ball for this article, citing the longstanding team policy. Even Thompson would not discuss the specifics of Ball’s responsibilities during an interview with the Journal Sentinel last week. (The media guide says his daily supervision includes the following departments: athletic training, equipment, video, corporate travel, player development, family programs and public relations.)

Instead, the story of Russ Ball is told through interviews with those around him, and more than 30 agents, team executives, current and former coaches, family members, owners and college teammates offered a window into a man whose talents extend far beyond the nebulous titles he has held. …

Ball graduated from Central Missouri in 1981 and immediately pursued strength and conditioning, the latest fad in sports. He spent eight years as the head strength coach at Missouri while earning a master’s degree in human performance. By 1989, he’d latched on with the Kansas City Chiefs and first-year coach Marty Schottenheimer.

As the assistant strength and conditioning coach, Ball worked alongside Dave Redding, better known as Redman. They were part of a staff that included future head coaches Bruce Arians, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy. In the next three years, Herm Edwards and Mike McCarthy would arrive as well.

Redding and Ball brought opposite personalities to the weight room. In Redding the Chiefs had their bellowing taskmaster whose ferocity matched the sport itself. In Ball they uncovered a keen thinker and tireless worker whose skills were universal.

As a balancing act, it worked.

“Redman was the energy bunny, and Russ was the calming force,” said Edwards, who coached defensive backs. “Redman knew how to get them to the mountain, but you needed a plan to get them to the (top). Russ would always plan out the strategy.”

Fellow coaches said it was obvious Ball’s ambition stretched beyond the strength and conditioning program. His role expanded as Schottenheimer recognized new applications for his talents.

Schottenheimer trusted Ball with everything from player attitude problems to disputes between assistant coaches, and every successful task led to three or four more. Ball became known as a fixer who never turned down a job. His jack-of-all-trades reputation still applies today.

“That boy had his hands in more pies than anybody I’ve ever seen,” offensive line coach Alex Gibbs said. “ … It didn’t matter to him what it was, how bad it was, what he had to do. He was going to do it and he would do it better than everybody else.

“Guys like Russ save head coaches. I mean, they just save them.”

Ball started his days early and ended his nights late. He arrived at the facility long before practice began to interact with players and learn more about their lives. He spent his evenings holed up watching film. Sometimes he watched alone; sometimes he shadowed scouts or assistant coaches to see how their jobs were done.

“He was always pushing that envelope of trying to learn more to try and develop players,” Edwards said. “ … He gets a lot of respect from the players and agents alone because of what he’s done to get there. He wasn’t given the job (in Green Bay). He actually had to work for it. He ain’t part of the family that owns the team and guess what, ‘Wanna learn how to be a scout? OK, you can go over there and learn.’ No, no, no, no, no. He had to earn it. He was on the back end of it. He was in the weight room.”

Ball stayed in the weight room for eight years before crossing over to the front office in 1997, escaping before his body broke down. He spent two seasons as Schottenheimer’s administrative assistant to lay the groundwork for the remainder of his career: two years as a senior football administrator for the Minnesota Vikings; one year in Washington as director of football administration; six years and multiple job titles with the New Orleans Saints; and the last nine years with the Packers.

The constants of Ball’s administrative path have been salary-cap management and contract negotiations, which are among his chief responsibilities in Green Bay. He honed those skills in Minnesota under-then director of football administration Rob Brezezinski. He was described by former Vikings President Gary Woods as having an IQ “far above that of a strength coach.”

“He’s a mathematician,” Woods said, “and one has to be a mathematician to deal with salary cap. Many teams have PhDs dealing with salary-cap issues.”

In 2002, Ball interviewed with New Orleans on the strength of a recommendation from McCarthy, who had become the offensive coordinator of the Saints. And just as he did everywhere else, Ball made a sterling first impression on owner Tom Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Jim Haslett.

The Saints, who declined all interview requests for this story, hired Ball as senior football administrator.

“You fall in love with everything that he did,” said Haslett, now the linebackers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. “You see the way he works, the way he interacts with people, the way he interacts with players and agents and everybody else in the building. He’s a tireless worker; he’s a great family man; he’s a great person to deal with.”

Ball’s experience with different facets of an organization allowed for a complete understanding of the Saints’ franchise, according to Doug Marrone, who took over as offensive coordinator in 2006 and is now the head coach in Jacksonville. Ball knew the game well enough to hold his own in football discussions with players and coaches. He also flashed the requisite business savvy to run the financial arm of a professional team. …

After nine years in Green Bay and two decades of prior experience, Ball sits at an interesting point in his career. He’s proved himself at every job he’s ever had, and the only positions above him are general manager and team president — Thompson and Murphy.

The idea of Ball as a general manager is one that surfaced repeatedly during the reporting of this story. A number of former coaches believed he has earned the opportunity, and roughly 80% of the agents interviewed by the Journal Sentinel agreed. …

“We’ve talked about it,” Ball’s oldest brother Rick said. “The only thing that’s ever knocked him and he’s been underestimated on is his ability to recognize talent. He’s even concentrated more on talent the last probably five or six years, just so that he does know that (it) isn’t a hindrance to him.”

Ball’s heightened emphasis on talent evaluation has included more time observing practice, more attention to the on-field portion of the NFL scouting combine and more direct contact with players, his brother said, “even though that’s not his job.” He often works until 9 or 10 p.m. regardless of the time of year.

Those efforts align with Thompson’s yearly assertion that Ball is involved in personnel and draft meetings to absorb as much information as he can. But it’s clear Ball is proactively seeking more knowledge on his own, just as he has done throughout his career.

“He doesn’t want to have that as a reason for not being able to assume the position,” Rick Ball said.

If Ball is picked, I’m not sure if Packer fans are going to like that. Putting a financial guy on top of your football operation might give the impression the Packers care about their finances more than anything else. (Maybe Ball should replace not Thompson, but Murphy, though at 62 Murphy is probably not looking at retirement, and given the Packers’ financial performance shouldn’t be shown the door.) Since Ball doesn’t talk to the media we have no idea of how he would deal with the media (which means fans), but he sounds similar to Thompson, who said next to nothing and gave the impression to fans of not doing anything when something appeared to need to be done. That was in stark contrast to Ron Wolf, who was delightfully blunt and could never be accused of sitting on his hands, whether or not he made the right decisions.


For, let’s see, about the 18th year and the 11th consecutive year, it’s time for That Was the Year That Was 2017, patterned on …

In contrast to the ’60s British TV series “That Was the Week That Was,” rarely has been a year of so many things that defied rational description. Some of them had nothing to do with America’s First Tweeter, either.

Let’s start with the worst trend of 2017, a continuation of the last few years — tribalism and people’s stubborn refusal to judge things on their merits. That includes unthinking praise of everything Donald Trump does, and knee-jerk criticism of anything Donald Trump does.

Worst trend number 1B is also a continuation of the last few years — hypersensitivity and, on the left, unthinking accusations of racism, sexism, misogyny and every other -ism they hate, and on the right, unthinking accusations of disloyalty, particularly when confronted by ideas they don’t agree with but cannot say why or what’s wrong with those ideas.

I saw an example of that Sunday — the latest Star Wars movie, which some conservatives have been complaining about because of what they claim to be too much diversity. As if normal viewers should care one way or another about that.

I’m certainly fine with the self-demolition of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, etc., whose past bad acts ended their careers this year. Due process was completely ignored, of course, which will make for interesting days depending on which liberal icon is next claimed to be a sexual harasser like Bill Clinton. (Who skated, as did Hillary, because of their positions on abortion rights.)

How did The Donald do? Rob Saker posted this list …

… I expected Jeff Sessions to be beyond horrible. I think I am on the record as saying I believe him to be an authoritarian religious zealot who isn’t very bright. To date, I can’t think of anything he has done that I disagree with (Any suggestions on how to prepare crow would be appreciated).

My list of great accomplishments…

1. Signed an Executive Order demanding that two regulations be killed for every new one creates. He cut 16 regulations for every one created, saving $8.1 billion.

2. Gorsuch on the SCOTUS.

3. Tax cut bill.

4. Jerusalem announcement, ending a game of delaying tactics and signaling our firm support for Israel (after they were attacked by Obama’s administration).

5. Revoking the EPA’s navigable waters interpretation, which was an egregious seizure of property rights.

6. Nominated 73 federal judges. Trump is filling up lower courts with lifetime appointees.

7. Recognized opioids as a national epidemic and putting resources against it. This is possibly Obama’s greatest failure.

8. Removed the gloves on the fight with ISIS. What was believed a year ago to be a war that would last years is now in its last stages.

9. Eliminating the Obamacare individual mandate.

10. Generating such confidence in the economy that a mature market saw record gains (Yes, Obama saw large gains but on an artificially low market thanks to the crash).

11. Respect for law making process. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice will cease the practice initiated by President Obama of issuing “guidance memos” to enact new regulations that sometimes have had the effect of changing federal laws.

12. Diversity of opinions. EPA Director Scott Pruitt placed 66 new experts on three different EPA scientific committees who espouse more conservative views than their predecessors.

13. Manufacturing. During Trump’s first six months, the manufacturing index was the highest it had been since 1983 under President Reagan. Michigan’s ISM reported its June barometer of manufacturing rose to 57.8, the fastest pace in three years (50 is flat).

14. Withdrawal from a Paris climate treaty that would have required huge sums on the US with no appreciable beneficial impact on the climate.

15. Rescinded Title IX “dear colleague” letter that led to kangaroo courts and the denial of due process. There are numerous general benefits such as VA reform, reducing waste in government spending, and a healthy uptick in government job attrition.

… to which was added:

Arctic wildlife drilling, keystone pipeline, UN budget cut
Hiring freeze at State.
Placing a Secretary of HUD who has lived in public housing.
With respect to policy toward North Korea, no longer kicking the can down the road.

How did the stock market do?

Based on admittedly a small sample size, Trump could be said to be the most pro-business president in the nation’s history. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained one-third in the 14 months since Trump was elected president.

As someone who did not vote for Trump but has vowed to praise Trump when praise is due and condemn Trump when condemnation is due (see previous comment about tribalism), I find that to be a pretty good list of accomplishments, whether Trump actually accomplished them or regular old Republicans did. Trump’s various idiotic tweets and public statements make some people forget those actual accomplishments, while other question, with some validity, who deserves credit — Trump or “establishment” Republicans — for those accomplishments.

Meanwhile, how was Gov. Scott Walker’s year?

The project at the top made Kevin Binversie comment:

You know who I feel sorry for sometimes? The children of deeply-committed Scott Walker haters who due to their parents’ obsessions will never own either an iPhone, Nintendo Switch or 3DS.

All three products are assembled by Foxconn.

The MacIver Institute assembled its own top 10 list, which included:

#10 – WISDOT Audit

It was a bad sign when Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb resigned just weeks before the Legislative Audit Bureau was set to release a report on the State Highway Program. When the report came out in January, it was in a word – devastating.

The auditors found the DOT regularly breaks state law in budgeting, negotiating, communicating, and managing contracts. Among these statutory violations: the department does not always solicit bids from more than one vendor, it does not spread out solicitations throughout the year, it does not post required information on its website, its cost estimates to the governor are incomplete, and it skips steps in the evaluation process for selecting projects. These practices manifest themselves through an inescapable reality: the cost of major projects tends to double after the DOT gets approval from the governor and Legislature to proceed. The auditors looked at 16 current highway projects and found they are over-budget by $3.1 billion.

Some public officials tried to spin the report, claiming it indicated the state is not spending enough on transportation. That didn’t fly. Instead the audit became an insurmountable obstacle for those seeking to raise the gas tax. It also sparked a series of reforms that aimed to make the DOT more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

#8 – UW Regents Protect Free Speech

As protests and demonstrations gripped campuses across the country, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents took a stand for free expression this year. In October, the Regents voted to allow any UW campus to expel students who repeatedly disrupt speakers or stifle speech.

The sole dissenting vote was that of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who is running for governor.

Jose Delgado, a UW Regent who came to America from his native Cuba in 1961 at the age of 13, spoke to MacIver about his yes vote. Delgado’s family fled the oppressive Castro regime, which brutally struck down dissenting speech. Delgado said that back then, the Cuban government would simply arrest and murder anyone who disagreed with it. For that reason, the 70-year-old said, he has always been passionate about his freedom of speech as an American. He’s been deeply troubled by the decline of peaceful dialogue, especially on university campuses.

Summing up his reason for the vote, Delgado said “I cannot make you listen, but I can certainly prevent others from preventing you from listening. You have the right to listen.”

#7 – Gas Tax Battle Heats Up

Predictably, the forces behind a push to increase the state gas tax, vehicle registration fee, or other source of revenue for transportation saddled up in 2017.

Gov. Walker – insistent he would not sign a budget that raised the gas tax or registration fees – made the first move when he appointed Dave Ross to be secretary of the Department of Transportation after the resignation of Mark Gottlieb. Since he took over in January, Ross has been steadfast in insisting the department doesn’t need new revenue, it needs to find savings in the multibillion dollar budget it already has.

Members of the Legislature spent the summer sparring over the issue. A protracted public relations battle raged across the state – possibly manifesting itself in a series of phony letters to the editor that appeared in newspapers from Janesville to Rice Lake begging lawmakers to increase taxes. All along, MacIver was suspicious that more revenue was truly needed – and we found plenty of examples to back us up.

Proponents of an increased gas tax have advocated putting more money into a department with a record of wasting it. We, at MacIver, refuse to just go along with this ‘increase taxes first, ask questions later’ mentality. We’ve suggested instead that Secretary Ross should have the opportunity to scour the department for savings before Madison lawmakers foist a permanent tax increase on Wisconsinites.

#6 – Russia, Russia, Russia!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no human contact throughout all of 2017, you’ve likely heard the words “Russia” and “collusion” on a near-daily basis.

Ever since President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, liberals – still in shock that they lost – have been charging that the Trump campaign was working with Russian agents behind the scenes to hack the election, propagate fake news, and swing the election. Throughout 2017, a special investigation being run by former FBI Director Robert Mueller has produced nonstop daily headlines that might sound nefarious to the casual observer. But other than nabbing Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI (never do that, by the way) the probe has so far come up mostly empty-handed.

We saw the birth of this story all the way back in December 2016, when members of Wisconsin’s electoral college cast their ballots for Donald Trump at the state Capitol – the first time Wisconsin Republicans did so since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide. While they voted, they were serenaded by protesters screaming about selling out the country to Russia and Putin and ushering in fascism. …

#4 – Foxconn

At the beginning of 2017, it’s likely the vast majority of Wisconsinites had never heard of Foxconn, but most had likely used their products.

Then earlier this year, President Trump hinted that the state would soon get good economic news when visiting a Snap-on plant in Kenosha in April. The mystery soon was lifted, and a months-long saga of negotiations, deal-making, and legislative action ended in a contract signing between the electronics manufacturing giant and the State of Wisconsin.

The deal that was inked is the largest development agreement of its kind in American history, offering Foxconn up to $3 billion in tax incentives if the company invests $10 billion in a massive manufacturing campus and creates 13,000 jobs. Foxconn’s Wisconsin operation — now on track to begin construction in 2018 — won’t just be a plant, it will be a small city unto itself in southern Racine County.

Emerging over the course of a few months in 2017, the Foxconn deal will surely be a transformational project for the entire state of Wisconsin. The company’s leaders have signaled their goal is to establish a high-tech manufacturing hub right here in Wisconsin to rival (and supply hardware to) Silicon Valley.

From groundbreaking ceremonies to other new announcements related to the massive new development, we expect 2018 to bring lots more news about Foxconn.

#3 – Wisconsin State Budget: Entire Taxes Eliminated, No Tax Increase

What would a list of the top stories of the year be without talking about the state budget? It might’ve crossed the finish line months late, but the 2017-19 budget included some historic reforms, including completely eliminating two taxes.

Under the new budget, the state Forestry Mill Tax and Alternative Minimum tax are both deleted from the books. The budget also holds the line on income taxes and continues the push to reduce the property tax burden, while increasing spending in classrooms.

It’s easy to forget the old days when Jim Doyle and the Democrats were raising every tax imaginable and increasing spending by leaps and bounds. It’s also easy to take today’s momentum for reducing taxes for granted.

It’s for exactly that reason that here at MacIver, we work hard to celebrate these conservative wins. It’s certainly not every day that entire taxes are eliminated, and it’s certainly not every state that is determined to walk down a path of lowering taxes and shrinking government. On, Wisconsin.

#2 – John Doe Returns

In last year’s annual roundups, we had hoped that 2017 would bring a new era of toleration for ideas from all sides of the debate, including for the victims of the John Doe probes. With the Supreme Court officially declaring the efforts illegal and ordering that they be shut down immediately, we hoped that those victims would see some justice.

After all, those individuals had their private information illegally seized, their homes searched in pre-dawn raids, their rights to free speech trampled, and their names dragged through the mud, all while an unsympathetic media continued to cover the story with an eye on Gov. Walker.

Unfortunately, in 2017, that new era did not come. Rather, we learned that government employees had continued their unconstitutional search through private records. The very watchdog meant to uphold the government’s standard of ethics seized even more personal records – including private text messages between a Senator and her daughter – and put them in a file labeled “opposition research.”

This all came to light after the state’s Department of Justice looked into leaks, suspecting that private records had been illegally handed off by members of the Ethics Commission – the old Government Accountability Board. In the end, the DOJ declined to press charges in the leak, saying that the wrongdoing was so widespread and the data so mishandled that they couldn’t determine who exactly was the source of the leak.

In many ways, John Doe returned to headlines this year…but in reality, we found out that it never went away at all. In its report, the DOJ itself refers to the new probe as “John Doe 3.” Just before Christmas, the Senate Committee on Organization voted to authorize the DOJ to dig deeper into the wrongdoing. While we hoped that the saga would come to an end, we now know that the last chapter of this story has not yet been written.

Without further adieu, the biggest story of 2017…

#1 – Time to Cut Taxes – the federal government’s first go at significant tax reform since ‘86

The last time they did this, Top Gun was the highest-grossing movie in America, the world met Ferris Bueller, and Whitney Houston’s self-titled album was at the top of the charts. That’s right — it was 1986 the last time the federal government took on tax reform. Boy, has the world changed.

This year, congress made good on its promise to pass a tax reform bill and get it signed into law by Christmas. Among many (many) other things, the bill cuts both individual and corporate rates, cleans the tax code, and nearly doubles the standard deduction. According to the Department of Revenue, the average Wisconsin family will see a tax cut of more than $2,500. That’s more than $200 every month that hard-working families won’t have to turn over to the IRS.

Not only will individuals be able to file their taxes on a form the size of a postcard, our economy will take notice, too. By lowering the tax burden on everyday Americans and unlocking the secret to economic success, the plan is undeniably pro-growth.

Sean Davis has a list of the top 10 undercovered stories, including …

2. The economy roared

The U.S. economy came roaring back in 2017. GDP growth is strong and steady, and the unemployment rate now approaches lows not seen since the early 2000s. The economy has added over 1.9 million payroll jobs this year. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. The 2017 economic recovery is nonetheless a major story widely ignored by the political press. …

4. Islamic State was crushed in Raqqah and Mosul

A year ago, the Islamic State wasn’t just on the rise in the Middle East, it was firmly in charge, with wide swaths of the region under its control. But in October, U.S.-backed forces completed the total liberation of Raqqah, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital. That followed the liberation of Mosul, a major Iraqi city captured by the Islamic State in 2014. In less than a year, Trump and his national security team accomplished what the previous administration suggested was impossible.

5. Thanks to James Comey, the FBI’s reputation is in tatters

This year we learned that the FBI’s top ranks were infested with political actors eager to use the agency to settle scores. Not only did former Director James Comey abscond with confidential documents, he leaked them to his friends and the press, then refused to give those documents to Congress. In addition, his top deputies — those responsible for investigating both Hillary Clinton and Trump — were sharing text messages about how important it was to defeat Trump. One of these Comey deputies even mused about deploying a secret “insurance policy” to keep Trump out of the White House. Comey’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t equitable enforcement of the law; it was the corrupt politicization of the agency’s leadership ranks and the destruction of its reputation.

6. We still know nothing about what motivated the Vegas shooter

Months after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, we don’t know why the gunman fired on a crowd of innocent concertgoers. If law enforcement authorities have any leads or theories, they’re not sharing them with citizens eager for answers. Perhaps the feds don’t have a clue, either. Either way, it’s shocking that, months later, the country is still in the dark about what happened.

7. The Iran deal’s facade collapsed

Despite the Obama administration’s assurances that Iran would be a reliable partner for peace, the opposite has proved true. By deliberately funding and fomenting terror against the U.S. and its allies in the region, Iran has shown that it cannot be trusted, and the Obama administration’s claims about the peaceful intentions of the top terror sponsor on Earth had no basis in reality.

8. Persecution of religious minorities continues across the globe

In the U.K., Jews were targeted in record numbers in 2017. Just weeks ago, a synagogue in Sweden was firebombed. Throughout India, Christians continue to be targeted by violent religious extremists. In North Korea and China, totalitarian atheist governments regularly imprison and torture those who openly worship and proselytize. And in the Middle East, Muslims remain the No. 1 target of radical jihadists hell-bent on purging from the Earth anyone who rejects the authority of the Islamic State’s caliphate. …

10. Due process and rule of law were restored to college campuses

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos finally restored the rule of law to college campuses and put an end to disastrous campus courts. Prior to her much-needed rule change, campuses across the country declared that secret proceedings, bereft of due process, were the best way to handle sexual assault allegations. That kangaroo system, justifiably gutted by DeVos, resulted in predators who were allowed to avoid law enforcement, victims who never received justice, and innocent people who were denied basic rights such as jury trials and access to attorneys.

As far as football was concerned, to quote Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of recent times. The Badgers had their best season that didn’t include a Rose Bowl berth, winning a record 13 games and their first Orange Bowl. With a young team, this season might not be the best season of the decade.

The Badgers’ season was particularly good because the Packers’ season was quite bad, thanks to the second broken collarbone of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career, which served to expose all the holes the Packers have on both offense (including backup quarterback) and defense (for which defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be sacrificed). Every football problem today can be traced back to the players, but the person responsible for getting those players, general manager Ted Thompson, hasn’t shown signs of departure, voluntarily (he could retire) or not.

As always, may your 2018 be better than your 2017. It can’t be stranger … can it?