If I learned anything when I was in college it is the fact that, if you gamble, you will eventually lose. You may find yourself on a hot streak but, if you keep playing, the house will eventually come out ahead.
In the case of the Green Bay Packers, they took a lot of gambles.
They gambled on the arm of a 38-year-old quarterback that seemed to be on the downside of his career and two aging cornerbacks who are among the best in the league but play in a system that could easily get them hurt.
They gambled when they let running back Ahman Green leave and made little effort to replace him. And, they made no effort to improve the offensive line.
They gambled when they opted not to trade for receiver Randy Moss and do almost nothing in free agency; which, in itself, was a gamble that the team’s overall talent would trump its lack of experience. And, for the most part, the gambling paid off with a 13-3 record and a first round bye in the playoffs. Quarterback Brett Favre had one of his best years ever, their offensive line held together and they found a running back by mid-season.
But, as is the case with gambling, luck has a lot to do with it.
The Packers started their season 4-1 but could just as easily have been 0-5 if it weren’t for good fortune. They were absolutely dominated by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 but won because of two muffed punts. When they faced the Giants, they were facing a beat-up Eli Manning. The Chargers team they faced was still trying to find its identity and the Minnesota Vikings were still trying to decide on a quarterback. It was just like playing a poker online for them for the first time as the vibe was so tense.
A 57-yard fumble return lifted them to a win over the Washington Redskins, bringing their record to 6-1 and they needed a huge play in overtime to lift themselves over the Denver Broncos. And, the Detroit Lions, their only serious competition in the division, managed a late-season slide.
In fact, you could even say their good luck continued into the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks were absolutely punch less when the two teams met in the divisional round and a couple key drops by their receivers kept the game from being close. The Packers also got additional help when the Dallas Cowboys, a team Brett Favre has never beaten on the road, were eliminated. And, in some ways that luck even continued into the NFC title game; with the New York Giants missing two field goals late and dropping a pass inches from the goal line; keeping the Packers in it until the very end.
But, lucky teams are not elite teams. That was proven by the Packers’ losses to the Cowboys and Chicago Bears in the regular season and their eventual overtime loss Sunday night.
Some will point out Mike McCarthy holds his practices indoors and will accuse the Packers of being ill-prepared for the weather on Sunday. I don’t think that was the case simply because I’ve lived in Wisconsin 28 of my 32 years and can tell you for a fact that nothing can prepare you for a -24 wind-chill.
However, I do think the team was out coached. Tom Coughlin, a veteran of many playoff games, stuck with his running game even when it wasn’t working and eventually wore down the Packers defense while controlling the clock. The Packers, on the other hand, only ran the ball about a dozen times; allowing the Giants defense to concentrate on pass coverage. And, even though cornerback Al Harris was being schooled by receiver Plaxico Burress, the Packers were reluctant to give him help until it was too late. Numerous penalties, caused in part by emotion and inexperience also didn’t help the Packers.
In the end, the Packers’ luck didn’t necessarily run out. But, that luck was trumped by experience and superior play. And, that’s why they will be spending this Super Bowl at home rather than in Arizona. Like I said, if you gamble, you will eventually lose.