EDITOR'S NOTE: Please welcome Brendan Kennedy to the Acme Packing Company writing staff. Brendan has managed his own blog, Sideline Gunner, and you may have seen his work in the FanPost section of APC recently. You can follow Brendan on Twitter at @swingkennedy. I hope you will join me in welcoming Brendan to the team as he makes his APC debut with a fascinating parallel between this year's Packer team and another high-profile NFL team from a few years back.
Think about your greatest sports memories for a second. Not just football. Hell, not even your team. Just the most, "I remember where I was when..." sports moments of your lifetime. Most likely, those moments were simply microcosms of a bigger story. Brett Favre's ‘Raiders Game' was special not because of his statistical achievements that night (he had plenty of those by that point in his career), but rather, the circumstances in which they occurred under. Other than that, it was just Brett Favre being the best version of Brett Favre - heaving balls up for grabs, improvising, and when needed, uncorking his fastball into windows most quarterbacks wouldn't -- and in most cases, probably shouldn't.
Other sports are no different. Even after Mike Tyson was well past his prime, boxing fans still watched because his past performances told us that at any one moment, one punch could dismantle his opponent in ways that we had never seen before.
As we know, both Favre and Tyson had plenty of flaws, but it's their legacies that endure. Even with all the annual retirement tap-dancing, the conniving, the Jenn Sterger text messaging incident, and the overall frustration he caused in his final playing years, Favre the gunslinger will far outlive Favre the dongslinger or Favre the Viking. Likewise, Tyson the one-man wrecking ball will last well beyond Tyson the coke addict or Tyson the pigeon whisperer.*
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Tyson's most serious outside-the-ring incident was his rape conviction in 1992, an event that should not go unmentioned. It is a terribly unpleasant thought that he will likely be remembered better for boxing or for The Hangover than he will for this horrible crime. We are in no way trying to compare Favre's actions to Tyson's - merely observing the way that great athletic careers tend to be remembered first instead of off-the-field issues.
Likewise, the early 2000's Patriots had a relatively similar run of excellence, and yet their legacy is defined as much by the "Spygate" scandal as it is by the genius of their coach. So last week, when talking to friend about what this era's Packers team will be remembered for, we thought of a legacy that had some striking - and rather frightening similarities to this point:
The 2000's Colts.
If I may once again cross sports, the Peyton Manning-led Colts were expected by many to be the San Antonio Spurs equivalent of the NFL. Overshadowed at times by the media attention and concentrated dominance of larger market teams (Patriots/Lakers), the Colts looked like a team that, by the end of its run, would be owners of several Super Bowl rings despite the lack of flash or headline-generating drama.
Then Manning's whole neck thingy happened and before we knew it, the Colts' era was done. They had two Super Bowl appearances, one ring, and a run of consistency that most GM's would be happily willing to sell their first born for to show for it. But still, the legacy of the 2000's Colts is one that's always felt a little, I don't know - underwhelming.
Obviously, the legacy of the Aaron Rodgers era Packers is still being written. But it doesn't take a pregame show of talking heads making ‘bold predictions' to see how this could play out.
High-powered offense? Check. Demi-god quarterback? Check. Perennial playoff appearances? Yup.
But there are other parallels between the two teams that aren't as flattering. For one, the defense, even with 2010's turnover feast, has consistently been the team's squeaky wheel in what has otherwise been a well-oiled machine. Likewise, the Colts defense during their run survived almost solely on the talents of Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and for an abbreviated time, Bob Sanders. While teams like the Patriots, Steelers and Ravens continued to roll out great defenses, the Colts seemed content with letting their duo of edge rushers do most the work.
The other area that doesn't look so hot is the lack of playmakers that hindered the mid-2000's Colts and threaten the Packers' success as well. By and large, Ted Thompson has done a commendable job at building the Packers into a team capable of at least contending on a yearly basis. But where plenty of teams succeed by surrounding their stars with serviceable players found in the later rounds of the draft, the Packers are essentially built on them.
A quick look at Pro Football Reference shows that since Aaron Rodgers took over the starting quarterback job in 2008, the Packers have just four players other than Rodgers who have made multiple Pro Bowl appearances. Three of those players (Collins, Woodson, and Jennings) are now gone. By comparison, the Patriots have had 7 in that same time frame.
Granted, a collective unit of 22 players won't be as impacted by a Pro Bowler as much as say, inserting an All-Star into the starting five of a basketball team, but picture for a second the Packers pass rush without Clay Matthews, or the Jets last season without Darrelle Revis. Not all Pro Bowl players are created equally, but they can - and often do - make a huge difference. Basically, the Packers, much like the Colts with Peyton Manning, have relied on Aaron Rodgers' brilliance just a bit too much.
There are other areas in which the Packers and 2000's Colts occupy the same space. Neither has had a real dominant running game (with the Packers, you could even say merely adequate), putting an even greater onus on their quarterbacks. Both teams, regardless of my issue with the term, got the ‘not a tough, physical team' label. And at least for now, both teams have one Super Bowl from their respective era.
There's no doubt that plenty can change in a year's time. And with Aaron Rodgers just 29-years old, the Packers have plenty of time to change the course of their legacy. But if the Packers truly are doppelgangers of Manning's Colts, I suppose there's one thing we can look forward to. Manning won his first Super Bowl in 2006 and reached his second just three years later in 2009. This will be the third year since the Packers won in 2010.
Should the Packers get back, hopefully the outcome of that second championship game is where the similarities end.