End of Summer Reflections

Due to traveling and other life pursuits, in the last several months I’ve had as little time to devote to these pages as at any point since they were launched [most probably a relief to those happy for a respite from long-winded Noise  😉 ].  As life is returning to a more normal routine for us, a few reflections as summer ends:

As you may be aware, the legal status in our country for many Afghans whom we evacuated in August 2021 – Afghans who aided our war effort, and whom we evacuated because of the severe retribution they would have faced from the Taliban if we left them behind – is not yet secure.  The Afghan Adjustment Act is a bipartisan bill (sponsored in the Senate by U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar and, of all people, U.S. SC Sen Lindsay Graham) that would, if passed, ensure that those Afghans who were brought to safety by the U.S. military may apply for lasting protection to stay in the U.S. long-term.  The bill is reportedly modeled after laws previously enacted to protect people from Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iraq.  Seemingly noncontroversial, the New York Times reported on September 22 that the bill has hit “snags” due to Republican objections that the people we evacuated were insufficiently vetted prior to withdrawal.  The Times quoted former Trump Administration official Stephen Miller (that’s a surprise) and U.S. IA Sen. Charles (“I was there when we nominated Abe Lincoln for President”) Grassley among those voicing objections for these predominately-Muslim evacuees.  Although this bill has the feel of one that will be passed in the lame duck session following the November elections, I will take the liberty of suggesting that in the near term you might encourage your Senators and Representative to vote for the legislation if they haven’t already indicated their support.

These pages’ last substantive observations regarding the Ukrainian conflict were published on April 22 – an amazing interval to this old retired blogger who professes a particular interest in foreign policy.  At that time, I offered that a primary challenge facing Mr. Biden related to the crisis was … time.  Since that note was posted – and while the world cannot forget the millions of Ukrainian lives forfeited or forever marred by the global ambitions of one man — the conflict has gone, from geopolitically-strategic and military perspectives, immeasurably better for Ukraine than the West could have then reasonably expected and devastatingly worse for Russia than Russian President Vladimir Putin could have then anticipated.  I agree with those that say that Mr. Putin’s recent mobilization of Russian reserves, orchestration of sham referenda in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories as a preface to their Russian annexation, and threatening allusions to Russia’s nuclear weaponry are indications of his desperation, and also with those that have opined that NATO forces should actively enter the conflict in aid of the Ukrainian army if he does deploy nuclear weaponry (I might go so far to include his use of chemical weaponry as sufficient provocation).  I most strongly disagree with those favoring negotiation with Russia at this point.  If one could now concoct some internationally-engineered settlement of the conflict, do you believe that Mr. Putin would thereafter cease in his attempts to disrupt democracy in Ukraine, the NATO nations that were once part of the USSR, the Nordic nations, western Europe, and the U.S.?  To ask the question is to answer it.  What, then, is the value in negotiating with Mr. Putin when he is at his weakest point? 

That said, I still fear that time is the Russian President’s ally.  I have quoted Fiona Hill’s and Clifford G. Gaddy’s study, Mr. Putin, extensively in these pages; the gist of their analysis is that once Mr. Putin commits to a fight, “he is prepared to fight to the end”; and “he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win.”  Without meaning to be facetious, The Godfather provides guidance here:  when the enemy seems the most disadvantaged, triple your precautions.  If advising Mr. Biden, I would ask whether we still have any measure available to materially press the West’s advantage that Mr. Putin might not be anticipating.  If so – short of nuclear weaponry – we should spring it now.  The only way this war ends is if Mr. Putin is deposed from the inside.  A protracted conflict, given an impending cold European winter without Russian-supplied energy and a global economic recession, will be more likely to adversely affect Western resolve than impact upon Mr. Putin’s designs.

In the short run, the Green Bay Packer offense may be able to get by on the strength of its running game complemented by sufficient production from its experienced (but physically limited) wide receivers.  In the long run, the Packers have no realistic Super Bowl prospects unless at least one of its rookie wide receivers blossoms.  I’m intrigued by Romeo Doubs.  Mr. Doubs certainly contributed to yesterday’s narrow win, but seemed to me to somewhat disappear in the second half; what I couldn’t tell was whether that was a result of an altered Tampa Bay defensive scheme or due to Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ well-known penchant for relying on veterans in tight situations.

President Joe Biden’s recent assertion that the COVID pandemic “is over” has been assailed as making it more difficult for public health authorities to combat a disease that is still taking hundreds of American lives a day (although the President did qualify his comment at the time with the indication that COVID remained “a problem”).  We can never forget the millions of lives lost to the disease worldwide, including the one million American lives lost (some significant percentage of the latter and of those we lose in the future, I would venture, being the fault of former President Donald Trump).  Even so, I would submit that the President is right in the larger sense.  We just got back from a trip across the globe.  We saw few masks.  As a retiree, I am now rarely out in morning rush hour on the route I took to work for decades; last week I was; it was the first time since March, 2020, that the volume and pace of traffic at that hour was virtually what it had been before the COVID shutdown.  As I’ve previously suggested here, the shutdown affected different dispositions differently:  some were sorely impacted by the sudden and enforced isolation; others who adjusted more readily to the solitude have perhaps needed more time to acclimate to pre-pandemic levels of social interaction.  I sense an awakening coming at a time of year that, at least in the Midwest, one customarily starts to hunker down.  That said:  Medicare authorities advised last week that updated COVID vaccines are available for increased protection against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants to any Medicare recipient receiving his/her last vaccination/booster earlier than July 22.  That includes TLOML and me.  We intend to get the new booster.  I suggest that if you’re eligible, you should do so as well.

An Aging Packer Fan’s Guilty Pleasure

I indicated in a post last January – after the Packers suffered an embarrassing playoff defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in Green Bay due to a woeful special teams effort – that given the current dangers we face to American democracy, the Russian-Ukrainian hostilities, Climate Change, etc., etc., etc., the disappointment at the adverse fortunes of one’s pro football team didn’t even count as small potatoes.  At the same time, I confess to being pleased that Aaron Rodgers decided this off season to stay with the Green and Gold.

Since Brett Favre stepped on to Lambeau Field in September, 1992 – for the last 30 years, with this season beginning a fourth decade — the Packers have not played a game which either Mr. Favre or Mr. Rodgers was starting that any sports commentator would have entirely discounted the Packers’ chances to win.  I’m pretty sure that no other NFL team can make that claim.  The fact that only two Super Bowl trophies have been claimed during that stretch is regrettable, but the team has provided weekly autumn and early winter sustenance to its faithful for decades.

No matter what cares of a personal or larger nature may then be occupying my mind, the weekly rite of Green Bay football generally provides me a few hours’ welcome distraction.  While I don’t particularly like what I know of Mr. Rodgers personally, his skill is awesome.  I see that many analysts still consider him, at age 38, the second-best quarterback in the game, behind only 45-year-old Tom Brady and ahead of former League MVP Patrick Mahomes. (Some of the quarterbacks listed in the League’s Top Ten don’t seem, to these old eyes spoiled by Messrs. Favre and Rodgers, to even be that good.)  In the quarterback-friendly NFL, as long as Mr. Rodgers continues – and even if his skills diminish 10 – 20% — he will generally still be the best QB on the field in most Green Bay contests and the Packers will remain competitive.  There will be a day when Mr. Rodgers is succeeded by another, and on that day, it is much more likely than not that the Green and Gold carriage will turn into a pumpkin; but we’ll worry about that then.

Let’s go.

On the Passing of Vin Scully

As all who care are aware, Vin Scully, who was the voice of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers for over 60 years, passed away yesterday at age 94.  Since Mr. Scully also broadcast nationally for many years, he was well-known by sports fans nationwide.  He had the classiest, smoothest delivery of any sports announcer I have ever heard.  The most dramatic baseball moment I have ever witnessed as it happened was the gimpy Kirk Gibson’s 9th inning homerun off Hall of Fame Closer Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 World Series (it was Mr. Gibson’s only at bat in a series ultimately won by the underdog Dodgers over the Oakland A’s), and Mr. Scully’s call of the moment – in which he said little, and then let the crowd tell the story – by itself ranks as a classic in sports broadcasting.

My mother was from Brooklyn, raised five blocks from Ebbets Field, and could recall Mr. Scully’s start as second chair to Red Barber (a legend in his own right in Brooklyn).  Both of my parents were big baseball fans (my father was as rabid a Yankee fan as my mother was an avid Dodger backer, which both later agreed made for interesting Octobers in the late ‘40’s through the mid-‘50’s).  Throughout Mr. Scully’s career, he maintained the even-handed style of baseball announcing in which he was trained in New York (and upon which my parents grew up).  When we moved to the Midwest in 1959, both of my parents were appalled by the Chicago broadcasters’ “root, root, root for the home team” announcing style.  To their mind, Mr. Scully’s delivery was the way it should be done.  I came to share their view.

Hear in your head one more time that rich voice, as you would if he were discussing another: 

“His reporting brought respite from daily cares to millions of Americans over scores of years.  May he rest in peace.”

A Stupid Way to Lose a Football Game

With age comes experience [hopefully seasoned with a smattering of wisdom 😉 ].  Given the clear current danger to American democracy arising from illiberal officials and the significant segment of our polity consciously choosing to ignore or deny truth, the Russians massing at the Ukraine border, the evident and accelerating consequences of Climate Change, the continuing health and economic effects of COVID, human beings suffering from persecution and deprivation across the globe, etc., etc., etc., my pleasure at the triumphs and disappointment at the travails of the professional teams I root for has become pretty tempered.  Many of the pro athletes shown blinking back tears in the closing moments of losing playoff efforts will make more money in their short careers (some, in one season) than a significant percentage of our citizens will earn during their entire working lives.  Therefore, I note more in exasperation than despair that the Packer kicking game miscues last Saturday night were, truly, a stupid way to lose a football game, but symbolic of three decades of dominance that should perhaps have yielded four or five Lombardi Trophies and brought only two. We Packer fans nonetheless have every reason to be grateful for the wonderful distraction from life’s cares that the team has provided.

P.S.  After this was scheduled to run, a late postscript:  Reports have started to circulate that Tampa Bay Buccaneer and former New England Patriot Quarterback Tom Brady is considering retirement after an unmatched illustrious career in which he won Super Bowls with both teams.  I’m taking the liberty of suggesting this before at least I have seen anybody else do so:  What are the prospects that if Mr. Brady does indeed retire, next year Tampa Bay will have a different extremely-accomplished starting quarterback wearing its No. 12 jersey?

Scaling a Dam of Doubt

With a 12 – 3 record, the Green Bay Packers continue to cling to the No. 1 seed in the NFL’s NFC, the position which entitles the team that secures it to both a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the Conference’s playoffs.  As Green Bay squares off against the Minnesota Vikings in Lambeau Field this evening, a few impressions emerge:

Say what you will of his personal idiosyncrasies — and there is plenty that can be said 😉 — Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers seems, at 38, to be as good as he has ever been and is obviously the difference between the team’s current standing and, I would suggest, around a .500 record.  I don’t know whether a 3- or 4-year deal with record money will hold him in Green Bay after this year, but if it will, I’d pay him.  It is not a large stretch to suggest that the team would fare better next season fielding Mr. Rodgers and the Little Sisters of the Poor than it will by playing Backup Quarterback Jordan Love with the rest of the current team.

Although I thought the team performed well enough overall on December 12 – despite atrocious special teams play – against a weak Bears team, the team has regressed over the last two weeks:

Much has been made of Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh’s decision to go for a 2-point conversion and the win on December 19 — an attempt which failed, providing Green Bay the 31 – 30 victory.  I haven’t seen as much said about Mr. Harbaugh’s decision, at the culmination of Baltimore’s first drive of the game, to forego a certain 3-point field goal to try for a touchdown – an effort which also failed.  If Mr. Harbaugh had taken the chip-shot 3 points (which I would have in his place; I’m an advocate of setting strategy by the game situation rather than by statistics), and all things being equal, Baltimore’s late touchdown would have won the game.  Green Bay was in large part lucky not to have been beaten by a team fielding a second-string quarterback and a fourth-string secondary.

On Christmas Day, as much as I credit Cornerback Rasul Douglas’ contributions to Green Bay’s defense over the last half of the season, it was obvious that Mr. Douglas was guilty of pass interference on his last interception that sealed the 24 – 22 victory.  If instead of letting that last interception stand, an official had made the correct call against Mr. Douglas, the Browns would have had a first down on the Green Bay 40 yard line with over 40 seconds left – seemingly providing Cleveland ample time to set up a victory-clinching field goal.  Green Bay could well have lost despite intercepting Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield three times prior to the last drive.  Arguably, the Packers were, again, more lucky than good.

Of course, in an NFL game, “all things” are never “equal.”  If the Ravens had taken the field goal early in the December 19 game, it might have affected game strategy and altered outcomes throughout the contest for both sides; and a final Browns field goal cannot be taken for granted, given Mr. Mayfield’s uneven performance and the number of field goals that have been missed across the NFL this season.  Even so, as the Packers enter the last two weeks of the season they hardly seem the juggernaut that their record would imply. 

May we Packer fans see championship-worthy performances against the Vikings tonight and on the road against the Detroit Lions next weekend.  Wall Street has a term, “Climbing the Wall of Worry,” to describe financial markets’ sometime tendency to keep rising in spite of negative indicators; until we see more dominant play from the Green and Gold, I would submit that optimism about Green Bay’s prospects of winning a Super Bowl is tantamount to Scaling a Dam of Doubt. 

Green Bay at the Bye

As all who care are aware, the Green Bay Packers enjoy their scheduled bye this weekend after a tough victory over the formidable Los Angeles Rams last Sunday.  They are currently well positioned in the NFC playoff seeding, trailing only the Arizona Cardinals (whom they have already beaten) by a game in the loss column and maintaining a one game lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  While a higher playoff seed is clearly relatively better than a lower seed, a team’s playoff fortunes are sometimes not all that much a product of its seeding; as the Packer faithful are aware, there have been years in the Favre-Rodgers Eras in which the Green and Gold have enjoyed high seeds and faltered in Lambeau Field, while the team’s last Super Bowl victory, Aaron Rodgers’ only championship, occurred when the team barely squeezed into the playoffs and then rode what had become an outstanding defense through a series of road playoff victories.

What might provide the Green Bay Nation with reason for optimism is the possibility, as noted by former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback and Fox Sports Color Analyst Troy Aikman at the end of the Packer-Ram game, that the Packers, despite their enviable standing, aren’t yet playing their best football.  Notwithstanding yeoman performances by what at times has been a somewhat makeshift offensive line, the team needs to give Mr. Rodgers better pass protection.  Likewise, its defensive pass rush has been intermittent – for which the team has thus far been able to sufficiently compensate through the stellar play of its secondary.  Finally, after years of outstanding performance by Placekicker Mason Crosby, Mr. Crosby has lately been, at best, inconsistent.  I would venture that if the Packers suffer no more serious injuries to key contributors, four primary contributors – Offensive Tackle David Bakhtiari, Cornerback Jaire Alexander, Linebacker Za’Darius Smith, and Running Back Aaron Jones – return at close to full strength for their stretch run (Mr. Jones played against the Rams despite a recent knee injury, but except for one run on what for him were limited touches, didn’t look like his normal self), and Mr. Crosby can get his groove back 😉 , Green Bay has a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl berth, and perhaps a championship.

Those are, granted, a lot of ifs.  Even so, we Packer faithful should enjoy the ride, since this feels mighty like it could be the last year in Green Bay for Mr. Rodgers, and, unless Mr. Crosby improves his consistency, perhaps his last year with the team as well.  If so, judging by what we saw of Currently Heir Apparent Quarterback Jordan Love a few weeks ago, the football talk in Wisconsin at this time next year could center on how the team might best use what could be a high upcoming first round draft pick to begin rebuilding its fortunes in 2023.

On Aaron Rodgers’ COVID-Related Absence

As all who care are aware, Green Bay Packer Quarterback and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player (“MVP”) Aaron Rodgers has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and under NFL COVID protocols has accordingly been ruled out of the Packers’ game this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs (who are led by their own recent MVP, Quarterback Patrick Mahomes) in Kansas City.  As all NFL fans are aware, Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium is renowned as one of the toughest, if not the toughest, arena in the NFL for a visiting team.

While Mr. Rodgers certainly left the impression and acted like he had gotten his COVID vaccination, apparently he didn’t.  He will be replaced this week by Packer Backup and former Utah State University Quarterback Jordan Love.  Anybody who hasn’t spent the last two years in a cave is aware of the friction existing between Mr. Rodgers and the Green Bay front office caused by Packer General Manager Brian Gutekunst’s selection of Mr. Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft (although Mr. Rodgers professes no ill will toward Mr. Love personally, who is obviously an innocent bystander in the dispute).  Three reactions: 

First:  Packer fortunes.  Even the most rabid backer of the Green and Gold will concede that the team has not played as well as its 7-1 record would indicate.  That said, as things sit today, the team has, based primarily upon Mr. Rodgers’ extraordinary play, maneuvered its way into an excellent position in the NFC playoff race.  His absence as the Packers visit an extremely tough venue certainly endangers the team’s current enviable playoff position.  While this is little consolation for a significant segment of the roster who, statistically, will be out of the league three years from now, I’m glad that Mr. Rodgers is out.  The Packer Nation has already had enough discussion to last a lifetime about Mr. Love’s potential to be a fitting successor to Mr. Rodgers and a couple of his predecessors, Hall of Famers Bart Starr and Brett Favre.  On the road against a still-formidable 4-4 Chief team that is struggling to find itself, we’ll finally get a real chance to see if Mr. Love is any good.  Hopefully, the Packer receiving corps – Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and, obviously most importantly, Davante Adams – are back from their COVID-related absences to make it a fair opportunity for Mr. Love.  For me, the test for him is not whether the team wins, but how well he plays.  (Since, as my mother used to say, one swallow does not a summer make, I actually wouldn’t mind if Mr. Love had to start Green Bay’s following home game against another struggling team with a proud tradition, the Seattle Seahawks.) 

Second:  Given Mr. Rodgers’ prominence, perhaps this fiasco will bring home to the vaccine hesitant and resistant among the Packer faithful the consequences that can result from one’s misguided failure to get vaccinated, and cause some to get the shot.  If lives are saved as a result of Mr. Rodgers’ obstinate miscalculation – which, of course, will never be known — it will have been worth it.      

The third reaction:  in taverns throughout Wisconsin this weekend, discussions will be nonstop among Green Bay fans regarding various points related to Mr. Rodgers’ inability to play.  These positions will be earnestly and enthusiastically urged.  However, I would venture that even after the state’s most avid progressives and wildest Trumplicans accompany their fish fries with one, two, or perhaps even three refreshers [of course, never more, given the need to drive home safely  😉 ], Packer fans share such a bond – allegiance to the Green and Gold – that no matter how strongly their views of the Rodgers situation may differ, the talk will remain amiable.  Disagreements will be expressed … agreeably. 

Were it so on issues that matter.

Things That Make You Go, “HMMM.”

I’m channeling my inner Arsenio Hall.

Make no mistake:  I haven’t lost sight of the fact that President Joe Biden, by his willingness to run for the most challenging office in the world at an age more than a decade older than most people – including me — retire, showed a level of selflessness and patriotism we’ve rarely seen in our public officials in recent years.  Mr. Biden is a good man.  I remain thrilled that he is in the White House.  That said, for an Administration whose primary foreign policy pledge has been closer cooperation with allies, it’s been Amateur Hour.

Put aside whether our decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was correct; I don’t think so; many do.  It was Mr. Biden’s call; he’s the President of the United States.  What is becoming apparent is that the allies who got embroiled in the Middle East quagmire 20 years ago because of a grotesquely misguided series of decisions by former President George W. Bush felt inadequately consulted and little considered by our decision to so abruptly withdraw.  This seems an unnecessary error in allied relations.

As I’ve already lamented in these pages, it was pretty darn clear to anyone who read any credible news accounts on Taliban activity in Afghanistan during 2020 and 2021 that it was pretty darn likely that Afghanistan was going to fall to the Taliban almost the minute we withdrew.  In fact, it fell to the Taliban before we withdrew, and it was only under its auspices that we were able to get a lot of Americans and our collaborators out.  To not anticipate that such a precipitous Taliban takeover was at least a possibility, and plan for it, I find a disconcerting oversight on the part of the Administration’s foreign policy team.

Perhaps the most glaring:  The grievous insult to France recently perpetrated by the announcement of our AUKUS arrangement with Australia and the United Kingdom.  I think the arrangement itself – providing nuclear-powered submarines to Australia to help it patrol waters in which China has been increasingly aggressive – is exactly the type of step we need to be taking as we adjust our foreign policy to fit current realities.  That said, anybody with a shred of sense – and Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team is supposed to be comprised of professionals – should have seen that in not being advised and mollified in some fashion before it was announced that they were losing a $60 billion submarine contract with the Australians, the French would feel outraged and humiliated.  French President Emmanuel Macron, in tight political competition with right wing political groups sympathetic to Russia that we do not want to see take control of France, was belittled.   It is reported that Biden Administration National Security Advisor Jake Sherman was aware of all of the AUKUS machinations as they were occurring.  Whether he was or not, this was a stunning unforced blunder.

In a separate vein, I am mystified by Congressional Progressives’ indications that they will withhold their support from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package already passed in the Senate unless Democrats also pass most or all of the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package currently under their consideration.  Since no Republican support is expected for the human infrastructure package, its passage it will require the support of all Senate Democrats and virtually all House Democrats, moderates as well as Progressives.  If I thought that Progressives’ thundering was merely posturing, it wouldn’t bother me; as it is, I am concerned that some of the self-righteous among them may actually be serious.  If so, I would suggest that their harrumphing is akin to someone who threatens to jump off a roof unless others do what he wants.  Progressives should take whatever they can get on human infrastructure, and be satisfied.  It seems that too many continue to be oblivious that the majority of our citizenry – not only Republicans, but moderate Democrats and many Independents (including me) — have misgivings about the scope and extent of some of their policy aims; and that while their seats are mostly not imperiled by seeking the moon, many moderate Democrats’ seats will be at risk if the party is seen as acting too rashly, and the Democrats could end up forfeiting control of Congress to Republicans.  What will happen to their priorities then?  If Progressives indeed scuttle a bipartisan infrastructure bill that has widespread public support because they can’t get a number of initiatives that a significant segment of our people, correctly or incorrectly, have sincere question about, they deserve their fate.

Unless I’ve missed it, the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients remains uncertain as parties’ Congressional delegations wrangle over wider immigration reform.  For years, there has been widespread support, including among the Republican electorate, for granting these young(er) people, who were brought here illegally in their youth, a path to permanent legal status.  I believe that the House of Representatives has already passed a measure to safeguard DACA recipients.  Every minute Democratic Senate leadership delays, a law becomes more difficult, since immigration will undoubtedly be a contentious issue in the 2022 campaign.  I don’t understand why that leadership doesn’t put a simple bill on the Senate floor, requiring all Senators to vote, designed to secure legal status for these blameless individuals.  Either the DACA recipients get protection or the Democrats get an emotive issue.  My guess:  it would pass.

Finally, a good friend asked me recently why I haven’t posted on the Packers.  I never watch preseason games, and I missed the 38-3 debacle while we were vacationing, so my first look at the team was last Monday night’s victory over the Detroit Lions.  Green Bay seemed a long way from a Super Bowl champion to me.  Granting that one of its primary rushing threats, Za’Darius Smith, was absent, the defense was underwhelming, and I don’t think that the team can maintain a championship offense with only meaningful production from Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Running Back Aaron Jones (who will tire without the assistance of his former backup, Jamaal Williams), and Wide Receiver Davante Adams.  Hopefully, I’ll prove to be sadly mistaken.  Either way, Packer games will provide a wonderful distraction from the other issues we face.

Channeling my inner Mr. Hall was a good way to end the week  ;).  Have a nice weekend.

On Messrs. Gutekunst and Rodgers

As every American sports fan is now aware, Green Bay Packer Quarterback and reigning National Football League Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers has indicated that he wishes to leave the Green and Gold.  Although Mr. Rodgers has expressed affection and respect for the team’s coaching staff, fans, and the city of Green Bay, it is apparent that he has been irritated with Packer General Manager Brian Gutekunst ever since Mr. Gutekunst traded up in the first round of the 2020 draft to select Utah State University Quarterback Jordan Love.  (Mr. Rodgers has nonetheless also professed his love for Mr. Love personally.)  (An aside:  despite Mr. Rodgers’ positive remarks about the coaching staff, one has to wonder about his true estimation of its competence, given the key blunders it made in last season’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  They have certainly made me wonder.)    

Mr. Rodgers is 37 and certainly toward the end of his career, but his performance last season, taken together with the manner in which Tom Brady, 43, led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory, would seemingly indicate that he is capable of several more very productive – and perhaps elite — seasons. 

I concede that I have paid less attention to the machinations between the Packers and Mr. Rodgers than I would have several years ago.  In addition to Mr. Rodgers’ professions of respect and affection for just about everybody in Green Bay except Mr. Gutekunst, I do understand that a number of learned analysts have speculated that Green Bay might garner as many as three first round draft choices from the right bidder in trade for Mr. Rodgers.  It also appears from my limited information that — in my estimation, most crucially — Mr. Gutekunst has done a good job leaving the impression that he wants Mr. Rodgers to start in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. 

If I was advising Mr. Gutekunst, I would suggest that his dispute with Mr. Rodgers is, at bottom, a public relations battle … and that he holds the better hand.  Mr. Rodgers has several years remaining on his contract.  Unless the Packers are confident that Mr. Love will quickly have the necessary skills to lead the team to a championship, the Packers should hold firm and not make a trade.  Mr. Rodgers will then be left with two options:  play or retire.  If he actually gets on the field, no one that has ever seen him perform could believe that he will ever devote less than maximum intensity to his performance.  If Mr. Rodgers plays well, Mr. Gutekunst will look like an empowered genius for sticking to his guns and the team gains further time for Mr. Love to gain experience; if Mr. Rodgers plays poorly, his antics will cause him, and not Mr. Gutekunst, to bear the onus if the team starts slowly.  On the other hand, if Mr. Rodgers retires in the face of consistent Packer declarations that they want him to stay, the perception will seemingly be that he chose to leave Green Bay, not that the Packers discarded him – which will enable Mr. Gutekunst to avoid at least some of the imbroglio that engulfed former General Manager Ted Thompson when he engineered Quarterback Brett Favre’s departure and will perhaps cause generally patient and good-natured Green Bay fans to provide Mr. Love greater leeway than will be the case if they believe that the team could have continued to enjoy the services of Mr. Rodgers.

There is, of course, the contrary notion:  if the Packers can indeed get three first round picks for Mr. Rodgers, squandering that many additional first rounders over a few-year period in the event Mr. Rodgers actually retires rather than play in Green Bay would deprive the team the opportunity to build an elite squad that would consistently challenge for a championship for a decade.  Trading Mr. Rodgers nonetheless seems to me a more dicey strategy.  First — and I may have to eat these words — I don’t think Mr. Rodgers will retire. Second, the NFL is a “Quarterback League”; unless the coaching staff is confident that Mr. Love will soon be good enough to win a championship, the team will probably need to sacrifice a couple of the first round picks it obtains in a Rodgers trade to move up in a future draft to secure a prospective elite quarterback talent.  [Even this will still be a gamble (consider Alex Smith, drafted ahead of Mr. Rodgers, and the six quarterbacks drafted before Mr. Brady)]. Third, Mr. Gutekunst has not shown the drafting acumen to provide confidence that he would effectively exploit the high-level picks he would have at his disposal.  

A final aside:  I find Mr. Rodgers’ fit of pique absurd.  I would submit that it is of no account, in this context, how well he has performed during his career, or whether Mr. Love will be a worthy replacement.  Many that follow these pages are now retired; many worked for significant operations; all are well aware of the emphasis that sophisticated organizations place upon succession planning.  Hiring someone you believe will be a suitable successor for a key employee who is unquestionably nearing retirement is simply what smart firms do.  Mr. Gutekunst was apparently willing to place a large wager – indeed, one that may well determine his professional destiny – on his selection of Mr. Love.  Despite my misgivings regarding his acumen, that’s his job.  Given the number of years remaining on Mr. Rodgers’ contract, Mr. Gutekunst was presumably — and arguably reasonably — calculating that he was providing his coaching staff several years to groom Mr. Love to assume his projected responsibilities.  Mr. Rodgers is by all accounts highly intelligent; he should understand and have taken no offense at this.  He’s indulging in a hissy fit.  That said, while in the long run, Mr. Gutekunst’s legacy in Green Bay will probably be judged primarily by the performance of Mr. Love, or whomever else ultimately replaces Mr. Rodgers, in the short run, the Packer General Manager’s standing will likely depend upon how adroitly he handles the current contest of wills with Mr. Rodgers.

The Perspective of an Aging Packer Backer

I know; it was extremely disappointing – indeed, wrenching – for many of those that follow these pages to watch the Green Bay Packers lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that the Packers should have won.  I doubt many, if told before the game that the Green and Gold, playing in Lambeau Field, would intercept Buccaneer Tom Brady three times, would have predicted a Packer defeat.  Since I consider the officiating mistakes and the two teams’ physical miscues to have about evened out, I would place the loss at the feet of the Packer coaching staff:  it was inexcusable not to impress upon the Packer secondary, with seconds left in the first half, what any sixth grader would realize – Don’t let a receiver get behind you; in going for two points after a touchdown with a lot of time left in the game, rather than taking the almost certain PAT, Head Coach Matt LaFleur was oblivious to what the late Marquette Coach Al McGuire called the “rhythm of the game” – that more points were certain to be scored by both teams and what was needed at that point was to maintain momentum – i.e., avoid the risk of emotional deflation that would necessarily occur if the two-point attempt failed (as it did); and Mr. LaFleur’s coaching malpractice involved in kicking a field goal rather than going for the tying touchdown in the waning minutes.

Fine.  I’m not sure that this would have as readily occurred to me 20 years ago, certainly not 30 or 40:  it is only a game.  Speaking as someone who our nieces and nephews used to say was as entertaining to watch, watching the Packers play, as the game itself – someone who has recorded the vast majority of Packer games for decades rather than watch them live, since his wife didn’t like putting up with the disgruntlement on Sunday nights that invariably accompanied a loss – Packer fortunes, or indeed those of any team, while providing a pleasant distraction from the many cares we face, are indeed that – a distraction.  On the macro level, even if Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers never plays another game, Packer fans can look back on the last 29 seasons – since then-Packer Quarterback Brett Favre threw his first touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor in September of 1992 – and truly say that while the team has at times been an underdog in a given contest, there hasn’t been a game in almost the last 30 years, with Messrs. Favre and Rodgers at the helm, that at the beginning, the team had no chance of winning.  I doubt another pro football franchise can say the same.  We Packer fans have no kick [so to speak ;)] coming.  Was it disappointing for Mr. Rodgers that he didn’t win last night?  Sure.  Given his salary in the tens of millions of dollars – or the fact that every Green Bay player earned at a rate of over $500,000 this season — does his or their disappointment rank with the millions upon millions of afflicted we have around the world?  Obviously not. Regrets devoted to sport today might better be centered on the passing of Henry Aaron, a giant of a man who I submit remains baseball’s true home run king.

So let us reflect on what I consider the brightest national note of 2020 – that by the virtue of a relatively few votes in the states of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, we avoided becoming prey to a leader I truly consider deranged, and subject to fascist tendencies.  At the same time, we remember the arguably hundreds of thousands of avoidable American deaths and millions of lives needlessly and terribly disrupted by his twisted malfeasance in dealing with the Coronavirus.  Let us look forward with hopes of doing better in this still-new calendar year.  We are led by a good man who truly means well.  The vaccine, despite distribution hiccups, is in the offing.  Most economists cited in the Wall Street Journal believe that our economy will strongly and quickly rebound.  While we cannot bring back those we have needlessly lost, or repair all of the economic loss so many have suffered, as we remember them we can hopefully be part of a renewal that will make the lives of at least some of us, here and around the world, at least a little better.

I recognize that this note sounds less like the vehement lament of a dedicated Packer backer than the ruminations of an aging citizen; I confess that my thoughts didn’t cover as wide an expanse in the moments after the Packer game as they do as I type this; but age does have its benefits.

Stay safe.