Five Photos, Five Stories. Day Four: Badger Mom

I was recently nominated by my fellow Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger friend R.C., who writes at Going Dad, to participate in a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories, in which I post a photo and story (fiction or non-fiction) daily for five consecutive days. (Note: I had good intentions to do a post on five consecutive days but I chose time with my kids and sleep over blogging. And I’m okay with that.) It sounded like something that would be a fun to share with my loyal readers here on my blog. Today I nominate my friend and fellow SAHD Mike, who blogs at AtHomeDadMatters.

Day Four: Badger Mom

My mom is one of those cool moms who loves football. She’s also one of those smart moms who cheers for the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers. She’s obviously one of those amazing moms because she had me! (That was a joke. You’re supposed to be chuckling to yourself right now.) To cut (through) the cheese here, my mom is pretty awesome and I love her dearly. While she is pretty cool, smart and amazing, this story is about the first time that she returned to her Alma Mater to watch a football game since her days in college. Like me, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only a few years before me. Unlike me, after she finished her studies at the UW she moved away from Madison and never attended another Badgers game at historic Camp Randall Stadium. Until 2010. My lovely wife received a pair of tickets to a Badgers game and kindly gave them to me because she doesn’t care at all about silly stupid football sports but knew that I would love to take them off her hands. When she told me that she had the tickets she said they were for a game against Ohio State…”are they any good?”. Seriously. In October of 2010, the Ohio State Buckeyes were the #1 ranked team in all of college football. And they were coming to Madison for a Saturday night showdown against the Badgers on national television. It was being hyped as the game of the year in the Big Ten Conference. As I recall, the price of tickets for that game on the secondary market skyrocketed. Yet, as soon as I finished profusely thanking my wife for her amazing act of love (the tickets, remember?), I called my mom to invite her to the big game which was set to take place in five days. After thinking about it for about a tenth of a second, my mom excitedly accepted my invite and we talked about plans for her upcoming visit.

As the day of the game drew closer the fans in Madison grew more and more excited as the anticipation of the showdown for the conference title and inside track to the Rose Bowl reached a fever pitch. (I’ve read way too many sports articles in my time, can you tell?) Decked out in our Badger red we arrived to the stadium area early and grabbed a quick bit at the house of  friends who lived across from the stadium and had invited us to their pregame party. (I’m pretty sure I could eat brats for every meal and never grow weary of it.) As we walked up the steps into the stadium I could sense my mom’s anticipation and enthusiasm growing, much like a kid on Christmas morning. Only this present was going to be shared with over 75,000 loud and probably drunken fans, unlike our family Christmas experiences. Following my lead (it helps that I’m 6’8″) through the crowds we found our seats in the south end zone and watched the players finish their warm-ups before the famous Wisconsin Marching Band put on a spectacular pre-game show. If memory serves me right, there was a fly-over by some sort of military jets after the national anthem, which sent the crowd into another loud round of cheering. The game hadn’t even started and the atmosphere was completely electric. My mom’s face was one HUGE grin and she gave me a quick hug as the teams lined up for the opening kick.

Badgers fans know what happened next. The Wisconsin player (David Gilreath, and no, I didn’t have to look it up) caught the ball at the goal line and returned the opening kickoff all the way back for a touchdown. Right in front of us!

On Wisconsin!

On Wisconsin!

Since no one in the stands was yet seated we all erupted in even more cheers and high-fives and hugs as this was the most unbelievable start imaginable. The Badgers dominated the rest of the first half and withstood a rally by the Buckeyes in the second half to win one of the biggest and most memorable home games in recent memory. As the final seconds ticked away the fans rushed the field and began to dance and celebrate with the players. I love how this picture captures the joyful celebration on the field behind us and the fun moment and memory that we shared that night at Camp Randall. After watching the thousands of people on the field for a few minutes my mom and I eventually headed down there ourselves. It was pretty wild and crazy scene with a lot of people running all over the place and getting pictures and just soaking in the good feelings from a great win by our Wisconsin Badgers. We still reminisce about that great game from time to time, mostly whenever Wisconsin faces Ohio State in football. On Wisconsin!

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Fail Mary Was Called Correctly

Almost two years ago one of the most bizarre and controversial endings to a NFL game took place at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. The last game of Week 3 of the 2012 season featured a Monday Night Football showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers came back in the second half of the game to lead 12-7 with :08 left on the clock in the 4th quarter. Seattle had the ball, 4th & 10 from the Green Bay 24-yard line, needing a touchdown on the game’s final play to win. I was at the game with my daughter and we were among the thousands of Packers fans in attendance that evening who were loudly cheering and chanting “Go Pack, Go!” as the ball was snapped on that fateful play. Everyone in the building, player and fans alike, knew what play was going to be called and that the odds of Seattle completing a “Hail Mary” pass in that situation were very low but still, the play must be run. The day before a game had ended with a Hail Mary TD completion, so it could happen. The ball was snapped, Russell Wilson, the Seahawks QB ran away from some pressure while his receivers ran toward the end zone. From about 40 yards out Wilson tossed a beautiful spiral to the left corner of the end zone where two of his receivers and five Packers defenders were gathered. What happened next was crazy and seemed to defy logic.

My daughter and I at the Fail Mary game

My daughter and I at the Fail Mary game

Before I get too far into this post, I should disclose that I grew up in Neenah, Wisconsin, about 40 miles south of Green Bay. My parents were both Packers fans and I have been a cheesehead my whole life. Since I grew up in the 1970s and 80s I missed the glory days of the Lombardi championships that my dad told me about over and over. Nope. I got to watch Lynn Dickey get clobbered because he only ran fast when it was back to the sidelines after failing on 3rd down. For several years in the mid-80s the preseason papers declared “The Pack is Back” in vain. I had to endure 8-8 seasons and the hated Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl Shuffle and the Fridge on their way to the 1985 title. I was happy when Don “Majik Man” Majkowski became the QB, thrilled when Brett Favre led the Packers to sustained success (4th and 26 notwithstanding) and the 1996 Super Bowl title, and ecstatic when Aaron Rodgers took over and they won it all in 2010. I’m a die-hard Packers fan even though I now live deep in Seahawks country, about 40 miles south of Seattle near Tacoma, Washington. I was fortunate enough to be at that game nearly two years ago. If anything, the admission that I’m about to write should be more surprising since, as a Packers fan, I should feel like the replacement refs screwed the Packers on the last call of the game. But, I just can’t do it.

Pre-snap view of last play from my seat.

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Back to the game. The ball’s trajectory was perfect, heading toward Seattle’s WR, #81, Golden Tate, yet the Packers were in place to defend it. As the ball was nearing, Tate shoved the back of Packers CB, #37, Sam Shields, with two hands, forcing him to the ground. Shields would’ve been in perfect position to bat the ball down. Despite that obvious offensive pass interference (which wasn’t called; almost never would be called in a similar situation) another Packers defender, #43, M.D. Jennings, timed his leap perfectly and cradled the ball to his chest in mid-air among the other hands reaching for the ball. As Jennings fell through the air Tate reached around Jennings’s body and put his hands on the ball. Since Jennings had jumped the highest, he was also the last to come back down to the pile of players on the turf, both of his arms still cradling the ball. As the players reached the turf they continued their struggle for possession of the ball. The outcome of the game was hanging in the balance of this one decision by the referees. In case you had forgotten, the regular NFL referees had been locked out by the owners and commissioner so this was the third week of the season in which replacement refs were used. The players, coaches and fans were all upset by the poor quality of officiating since it wasn’t nearly the same quality or consistency as with the regular refs.

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With that as context, it wasn’t shocking to see the two refs in the area give conflicting arm signals. One indicated time-out (for an interception) and the other a touchdown (for a reception). Pandemonium ensued at the game, both on the field and in the stands. The Packers players argued with the ref that it was a pick. The Seahawks players jumped around joyously at their fantastic finish. Those of us in the stands stood bewildered, not knowing what we had just seen. The head referee announced that the play would be reviewed but had been ruled a TD on the field. There was no replay shown on the JumboTrons at the game. Just an uneasy feeling among the Packers fans that they had just been robbed of a hard-earned win. The MNF telecast on ESPN showed the replay several times, with commentators Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden sharing their feelings that it was an interception. They even consulted a retired ref, Jerry Austin, who confirmed that he felt it was an interception. “This is the most bizarre sequence you’ll ever see at the end of the game” said Tirico. Added Gruden, “For the life of me I don’t know how M.D. Jennings doesn’t have credit for the interception”.

After further review the call stood and Seattle won the game. After a brief delay the meaningless extra point was kicked and the fans left the stadium in shock. We still had not seen a replay like the TV audience had. I used the bathroom on the way out and a Seahawks fan told me that he was sorry. His friend had called him to tell him what he had seen on TV. A few of my friends texted me or posted on Facebook that they thought the refs had screwed up that last call. I listened to post-game talk-radio and heard dozens of people rail on the refs for that terrible call. It was all over the internet that night and in the weeks to follow. Some people even called for the NFL commissioner to reverse the call and give the win to Green Bay. Since I live in Washington state not too far from Seattle I was able to listen to the Seattle-based sports talk radio guys the next day. Every single one of them agreed that it was an interception and that Green Bay should have won the game. One of them went so far as to say that any Seahawks fans who seriously thought it was the right call should have their heads examined. They even laughed about it on air. I guess I was sold that this was a bad call. Packers should have won the game. Case closed. Move on.

Not so fast, though. A few days later I happened to see this picture from a different angle that made me reconsider.

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What I saw was two players who were both fighting for the ball. Tate’s arms were not wrapped around Jennings. And guess what else? Tate has two feet on the ground with two hands on the ball. Jennings has no feet on the ground yet. And then my mind began to question what my eyes and ears had been telling me. Q: When is a player given credit for a reception? A: When he has control of the ball and two feet in bounds. Q: Who has possession of the ball first in this photo? A: Tate! I was mortified. No way. No how. I’m a Packers fan. This cannot be. While my eyes were done my brain wasn’t. Q: What is simultaneous possession? A: When two players gain control of the ball at the same time. Q: If Tate had possession of the ball first, even if partial, does that make it simultaneous? A: Yes. UGH! In the NFL, a simultaneous catch goes to the offensive player. So, in my mind, I believe that the decision to call the Fail Mary pass a touchdown was the correct call. I have shocked many Seahawks and Packers fans over the last two years with this explanation. I have yet to hear a rebuttal that isn’t based on emotions or what the guys on ESPN said during the game. If you have one, I’d love to hear it.

Before you tell me I’m an idiot (and maybe I am, but that’s not for this discussion, please) and don’t know anything about football let me share some more observations about this game with you. Since I’m a Stay At Home Dad I have the “luxury” of spending a lot of quality time cleaning the kitchen and folding the laundry, usually at night when everyone else in my family is asleep. This has afforded me the opportunity to not only obsess over think about this game too much but to also watch the game replay on www.nfl.com multiple times. I’ve come to the conclusion that the refs were horrible the entire game and made a couple of significantly awful calls that cost the Packers the victory prior to the Fail Mary play. In fact, had the calls been made properly earlier in the game, the Fail Mary play probably wouldn’t have happened. The first such play happened on Seattle’s first play right after the Packers had scored their only TD to take their first lead of the game. With 8:44 left in the 4th quarter, on 1st & 10 from their own 20, Wilson took a play-action fake and was flushed back and to his right by #93, Erich Walden. As Walden dove at him, Wilson threw the ball slightly behind his receiver, who tipped the pass up into the air, where it was snatched by as Packers player. Interception. Packers take over just outside of the red zone with a chance to put the game away. Nope. The referee decided that it was a penalty on Walden. Roughing the passer. 15 yard penalty against Green Bay. It was Seattle’s first first-down of the second half. Both Gruden and Tirico question the call, particularly because Wilson was out of the pocket and had already shown his ability to extend and create plays with his running ability.

The second play happened just two and a half minutes later, with 6:10 left in the game. After consecutive offensive holding penalties Seattle faced a seemingly insurmountable 1st & 30. Wilson tossed a pass toward his tall WR, #18, Sidney Rice, who is running a go-route down the left sideline. Only he is matched step for step by Sam Shields, Green Bay’s CB. The two of them made some contact as they ran, with Rice clearly grabbing and pushing Shields in his back while they run and then going over and through his back as the ball dropped from the sky to them. As the pass fell incomplete to the ground the referee tossed his flag at their feet. Before the call is announced, Gruden stated, “It’s on Rice. I don’t even believe they’re going to call this on Sam Shields.” So, of course, it’s on Sam Shields, defensive pass interference. A 32-yard penalty that gives Seattle the ball at the Green Bay 35. Referring to the botched calls, Tirico added, “It’s making it hard to watch every game.”

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Gruden concurred, “I’m about to jump out of the press box here.” While it’s possible that Seattle could have still gotten a first down on that drive, it probably wouldn’t have happened if there had been no penalty or if it had been ruled offensive pass interference. And I won’t even go into any debate about the blatant offensive pass interference on Tate on the Fail Mary play. Both Gruden and Tirico referenced it during the final minutes of the ESPN telecast.

All in all, the game was a microcosm of what the league was experiencing with the replacement refs. Complete frustration with the poor quality and terribly inconsistent (and sometimes incorrect) enforcement of the rules. Because of the bizarre finish to the MNF game and comments made by many players, specifically those by Packers MVP QB Aaron Rodgers the day after the game, the regular refs were reinstated for the games in Week 4. Despite the poor officiating and the questionable outcome of the game, both the Packers and Seahawks made the playoffs that season. If the outcome had been reversed, the Seahawks would still have been the #6 seed in the NFC, but the Packers would have been the #2 seed and had a bye week instead of being the #3 seed. While it would be easy to blame that on the Fail Mary game, the reality is that the Packers lost several close games that season (at Indianapolis two weeks later and at Minnesota in Week 17) that would have also secured the #2 seed. The improbable come-from-behind win for the Seahawks was the first 4th quarter comeback for their rookie QB Russell Wilson and helped to boost his popularity among fans as some of them had been grumbling about the offense’s lackluster play over the first few weeks of the season. Obviously, things worked out pretty well for Seattle with Wilson as quarterback over the following 16 months. Just ask the fans of the San Francisco 49ers or Denver Broncos.