The Murphy – Gutekunst – LaFleur Era in Green Bay Truly Begins

Aaron Rodgers is gone.  This week, the Murphy-Gutekunst-LaFleur Era in Green Bay truly begins.

As all familiar with Green and Gold lore well recall, Green Bay was the furthest removed of NFL backwaters when Packer President Bob Harlan hired Ron Wolf as Packer General Manager in 1991.  Mr. Wolf promptly hired San Francisco 49er Assistant Coach Ron Holmgren to be his head coach and traded a first-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for their second-year, third string quarterback, Brett Favre; and the Packers’ reascension to NFL royalty began.

After a few years of team wobbling after Mr. Holmgren’s departure which, due to Mr. Favre’s continuing brilliance, were more apparent to the diehard than the casual fan, in early 2005 Mr. Harlan hired Ted Thompson as Packers General Manager; in 2006, Mr. Thompson hired San Francisco 49er Assistant Coach Mike McCarthy to be his head coach; and as his first first-round pick, Mr. Thompson selected University of California Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, after 25 teams had passed on Mr. Rodgers.

That selection, more than any other made by Mr. Thompson, maintained Green Bay’s place among NFL heavyweights during the last 15 years. 

Certainly, Messrs. Wolf and Thompson made mistakes over the years; I will always believe that Mr. Wolf cost Green Bay at least one more championship by mistakenly selecting University of Florida Cornerback Terrell Buckley rather than University of Wisconsin Cornerback Troy Vincent in the 1992 draft; Mr. Thompson glaringly whiffed in his last draft, 2017, when he passed on Wisconsin Linebacker T.J. Watt, instead in effect choosing the duo of University of Washington Cornerback Kevin King and Wisconsin Linebacker Vince Biegel, both marked disappointments.  But it cannot be disputed that Green Bay’s consistent success over the last 30 years is in large measure due to the respective skills of Messrs. Harlan, Wolf, Thompson, Holmgren, McCarthy, Favre and Rodgers.

When it was time for Mr. Thompson to step aside in 2017, Packer President Mark Murphy, who had succeeded Mr. Harlan during Mr. Thompson’s tenure, chose Brian Gutekunst as Packer General Manager in 2018; in 2019, Mr. Gutekunst hired Tennessee Titan Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur to be his head coach, succeeding Mr. McCarthy; and in 2020, Mr. Gutekunst traded to move up in the NFL draft to select Utah State Quarterback Jordan Love in the first round.

During Mr. Gutekunst’s tenure as Green Bay General Manager, with Mr. Rodgers continuing as quarterback, Green Bay has made playoffs three times and rose to the NFC title game twice.  During Mr. LaFleur’s tenure as Green Bay head coach, he has – or at least for quite a while had – the best winning percentage of any Green Bay coach in history.

I am reminded of a story that I may have entered in these pages before:  when legendary New York Yankee Manager Casey Stengel was asked about the most important strategies he employed in winning so many World Championships and American League Pennants, Mr. Stengel replied:  “Well, there were many; but the three most important were named, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra.”

I saw a note yesterday that only three players drafted by Mr. Thompson – Placekicker Mason Crosby, Running Back Aaron Jones, and offensive Tackle David Bakhtiari – remain with the team.  The rest of the roster was selected by Mr. Gutekunst.  Although the Packers have seemed to me to be increasingly floundering during Mr. Gutekunst’s tenure – his shortcomings as a General Manager arguably most apparent by his selection of Mr. Love much higher than most teams had rated him — the team has been mostly able to compensate for its weaknesses through the continued brilliance of Mr. Rodgers.

While I have no marked criticism of Mr. LaFleur, I don’t think anyone believes, despite Mr. LaFleur’s impressive early winning percentage as Packer head coach and recognizing the differences in eras, that Mr. LaFleur is as good a coach as Vince Lombardi was.  I don’t think he’s as good a head coach as Mr. Holmgren was.  I’m not sure he’s any better or perhaps even as good as Mr. McCarthy was.

Aaron Rodgers is gone.  This week, the Murphy-Gutekunst-LaFleur Era in Green Bay truly begins.  Packer faithful should hold on to their Cheese Heads.  As former President Donald Trump likes to say:  We’ll see what happens.   😉 

On Aaron Rodgers’ Transition

The Wall Street Journal had an article this week about the long-expected Green Bay Packer- New York Jet trade that will send Quarterback Aaron Rodgers to New York.  Although I think all consider the trade all but certain to occur, the Journal noted that the trade details were “complicated,” citing Mr. Rodgers’ “age, his recent performance, his possible retirement and the enormous sum of money he’s due.”  The Journal also opined that the Jets – although described as “utterly desperate for a quarterback,” have leverage over Green Bay “if the Packers want to recoup picks this year.”  The NFL draft begins on April 27.

I’ve found a surprising unanimity of sentiment among the Packer faithful about Mr. Rodgers’ imminent departure – in sharp contrast to the rancorous split of opinion in the Packer Nation when the team decided to move on from Mr. Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre.  Virtually to a person, the Packer fans with whom I’ve talked credit Mr. Rodgers for his wonderful performance over these last many years; most acknowledge that technically, he was even better than Mr. Favre; they will not begrudge it if he goes to New York and wins another Super Bowl; and that he is a weird guy.  A random comparison regarding relative fan affection for PGA giants Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus comes to mind:  golf fans knew that the reserved Mr. Nicklaus was technically better than Mr. Palmer, but always loved Mr. Palmer more due to his classy, yet competitive, lay-it-all-out-there demeanor; Packer fans acknowledge that Mr. Rodgers, a cool Californian, was better, but will always remember Mr. Favre, a Wisconsin kind of guy – and notwithstanding his peccadillos since leaving the team – more fondly.

That said, if I were Packer General Manager Brian Gutekunst, I would wait the Jets out.  If the Jets do have, as the Journal stated in its piece, “a playoff caliber roster – except for the huge void at quarterback,” it is they who have to win now.  They should provide the Packers two first round picks for Mr. Rodgers, although such might not happen until after the draft.  Mr. Rodgers – like legends John Elway and Peyton Manning who won Super Bowls late in their careers – is no longer capable of carrying a team on his back every week, but certainly retains the skill to dominate a few games during a season when his team finds nothing else is working. 

As for the Packers, although they seem very likely to complete the trade before the draft in the win-now culture of the NFL (indeed, the trade may be announced as I post this 😉 ), I don’t think they should.  Mr. Gutekunst presumably believed when he drafted Utah State Quarterback Jordan Love in 2020 that Mr. Love had the right stuff to follow in the tradition of Messrs. Favre and Rodgers.  Mr. Love may be the finest man in the world, but all current indications are that in drafting him, Mr. Gutekunst whiffed, completely whiffed.  (If you need evidence:  the team wouldn’t have paid Mr. Rodgers $50 million last season if it considered Mr. Love, even after having had two years in Green Bay, to have been remotely ready to start.)  The issue at this point seems not to be whether Green Bay is destined to revisit the NFL hinterland, but how best to make its return as brief as possible.  If Mr. Gutekunst could secure 2024 and 2025 first round picks from the Jets for Mr. Rodgers after the draft, the stockpile of first round picks will serve Green Bay well as it builds for the future.  Even if Mr. Love plays well, this is probably a lost year for the Green and Gold; they have a lot of gaps, and recall that neither Mr. Favre nor Mr. Rodgers made the playoffs in their respective first years as starter.  That said, it is the extremely rare team that can win a Super Bowl in this era without an elite quarterback, so if Mr. Love doesn’t play well, those picks could could be packaged to move up in the 2024 draft for Mr. Gutekunst to try, try again.  (If he whiffs again, he won’t be around for a third try.)

‘Nuff said.  As always, fun to take a break from the ongoing domestic and global issues which we face. 

An Early January Potpourri

A series of random thoughts as 2023 begins:

I have heard commentators declare that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republicans’ antics in their ongoing efforts to elect a Speaker don’t constitute a flaw, but rather a facet, of a vibrant democracy.  Although an exchange of clashing viewpoints has been one of the wellsprings of American democracy from the days of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, such is only the case if such differing viewpoints are offered in good faith – i.e., with the sincere intent to select a better leader or reach a better policy approach for the greater good of America.  I don’t have any insight into the views or motives of the vast majority of Republican House members who are refusing to vote for U.S. CA Rep Kevin McCarthy for Speaker.  I have already indicated in these pages that if a GOP representative, I myself wouldn’t be supporting Mr. McCarthy because he has shown that he doesn’t have the steadfastness for the job.  That said, I would submit that there is strong evidence that at least two of Mr. McCarthy’s most vocal opponents, election-deniers U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert, are simply hyper-partisan, self-promoting provocateurs.  I see little to indicate any motive for their current drive to oust Mr. McCarthy beyond personal ambition.

The current Republican (Animal) House dysfunction is troubling on a deeper level.  As Mr. McCarthy concedes more and more to the most rabid members of his caucus, how will he – and therefore, we – manage when a crisis needing unanticipated funding and unity inevitably occurs during the next two years?  Will the agitators come away from this internecine party battle with the power to prevent a vote on a bill raising the federal debt ceiling, causing the United States to default on its full faith and credit?  Will they be able to block additional needed aid to Ukraine, or aid to assist Taiwan, should Mainland China elect to invade the island?  Will they hinder the provision of assistance to California if it suffers an earthquake, or to Puerto Rico if it is battered by another devastating hurricane, because they don’t consider these to really be part of their America?  Will they fund the Biden Administration’s efforts if we are suddenly hit with another pandemic – or declare the announcement of a new virus merely a hoax?  You may dismiss these concerns as unduly alarmist.  If so, I hope you’re right.

Next:  the situation at the southwest border is human tragedy, a logistical quagmire, and a political nightmare.  Immigration has been a visceral issue for Republican voters, and generally a political winner for Republicans, for most of this century.  On Thursday, the President announced new approaches that may have value and/or simply be a bandage.  I have no substantive solutions to offer for the challenges we face.  I would venture this:  if Mr. Biden intends to seek re-election, his Administration had better achieve notable improvements to our humanitarian and security challenges at the border this year.  If not, immigration may well prove to be the issue that Mr. Biden’s Republican opponent can wield most effectively against him in the upcoming campaign.

Next:  I find it ironic that Republican-controlled states’ immediate reflex to oppose anything that the Biden Administration proposes is, in certain areas, helping the Administration either substantively or politically.  Republican lawsuits thus far successfully thwarting Administration efforts to dismantle Title 42 – a Trump Administration initiative used to quickly expel immigrants at the southwest border – have, by keeping Title 42 in effect, perhaps prevented even greater politically-damaging border havoc for the Administration.  (In an irony within an irony, the Administration’s new border protection measures reportedly expand the practice of immediate expulsion authorized under Title 42 to unsponsored migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.)  Likewise, Republican-led states’ efforts to throw out Mr. Biden’s plan to forgive federal student loan debt – no matter what one thinks of the Administration policy substantively – undoubtedly redounds to Mr. Biden’s benefit politically.  (The President can justifiably say to all those whose obligations would be forgiven or reduced:  “I tried to help you, and they wouldn’t let me.”)  Who are those borrowers going to vote for in 2024?

Next:  On a human level, all of us who are aware are saddened by the sudden cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin in last Monday night’s NFL football game.  As this is typed, Mr. Hamlin’s prognosis is reportedly improving.  (I heard some ghoul ask one of Mr. Hamlin’s doctors this week whether he might recover sufficiently to return to the game.  Really? That reporter should be made to face an unblocked rush from the San Francisco 49er defensive line.)  All hope for Mr. Hamlin’s quick and complete recovery.  At the same time, I am perplexed by the calls I hear from some for the NFL to “do something” to prevent afflictions such as that suffered by Mr. Hamlin.  All who read these pages are aware that I am an NFL fan.  Make no mistake:  I believe that the NFL and its owners are much more concerned with protecting the multi-billion colossus they have created than they are with player safety.  That said, having watched thousands of NFL tackles in my lifetime, I saw nothing unique or untoward about the collision that stopped Mr. Hamlin’s heart.  Assuming that the NFL tests all players for cardiac fitness as part of its initial processes, I don’t know what the NFL could have done before or do now to guard against tragic disorders such as Mr. Hamlin incurred Monday night.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of football in this country – a popularity, whether one likes it or not, which arises in large measure from the game’s ferocity – perhaps we should ban the game due to the physiological and attendant psychological damage suffered by players resulting from repeated head and other reasonably-foreseeable trauma.  TLOML and I were always happy that our sons never played the game at any serious level.  At the same time, if mine was the voice deciding for all of America whether to keep or ban football, I don’t know which way I would vote.  Our citizens voluntarily choose to downhill ski, sky dive, rock climb, bungee jump, and play soccer (which at advanced levels has its own head trauma challenges).  People are injured or killed every day riding bicycles.  By high school, every football player that chooses to play knows the risk.  Even though the average NFL career is short, the NFL annual base salary is over $700,000; the average American salary is under $55,000 a year.  Even if possessed in my late teens and early 20’s of the wisdom of Medicare-eligible years and aware of the game’s dangers [and despite lacking the coordination to efficiently tie my shoes 😉 ], would I still have gone into the NFL — to make the kind of money that could form a base of financial security for a lifetime — if I had had the ability?  I would have.

Finally:  Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2024.

I have mentioned a number of times in these pages that I hope, for the good of my children and grandchildren, that U.S. Transportation Secretary and former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg is someday president of the United States.  It has been clear, however, that notwithstanding President Biden’s selection of Mr. Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary – an appointment of an extremely able young politician with a seemingly bright future who withdrew from the 2020 Democratic nomination race (along with U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar) just in time for Mr. Biden to corral all moderate liberal support and win the nomination – Cabinet experience is not a sufficient background upon which to mount a credible campaign for the presidency.  If Mr. Buttigieg wishes to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination at some point in the future, he will no longer be able to employ the “Exciting Newcomer” lane he used in 2020; he will need a significant position from which to launch his campaign:  a Governorship or a U.S. Senate seat.  If he can win either office after leaving the Biden Administration, he can bide his time:  he will be 42 on election day 2024, which means that he will be viable, from an age perspective, for at least the five presidential election cycles after 2024 – to 2044 [and, judging by the age of our recent major party presidential nominees, perhaps longer 😉 ].

I suspect that Mr. Buttigieg agrees with my assessment that he will need a substantial post if he wishes to mount another campaign for the presidency.  I suspect that he agrees with my assessment that no Democrat will be elected a U.S. Senator or Governor in Mr. Buttigieg’s native Indiana for many years to come.  I also suspect that he agrees with my assessment that he needs to establish greater rapport with and support in the African American community than he had in 2020 in order to make a viable run.  For some months, I thought that he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, might move their family from Washington, D.C., commuting distance down to Baltimore, since the term of Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, 79, will expire in two years.

I was wrong about Mr. Buttigieg’s moving plans.  Last summer, the Buttigiegs established their legal residence in Traverse City, MI, Mr. C. Buttigieg’s home town, and registered to vote.

There are a lot of ambitious politicians in Michigan, as there are in all states.  Many will consider a campaign for Ms. Stabenow’s seat, and all will consider and call Mr. Buttigieg a carpetbagger if he seeks Michigan Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination.  That said, presidential support would be an advantage in a Senate primary contest; the President has compared Mr. Buttigieg to his own beloved son, Beau; and a President pays his debts. 

As former President Donald Trump sometimes says:  We’ll see what happens. 

More than enough Noise for one post.

The Green and Gold with Three to Play

I didn’t foresee entering any more notes about the Green Bay Packers here this season.  The team had been surprisingly disappointing in all three phases of the game; it seemed best for the squad in the long run to be eliminated from playoff contention as soon as possible so the coaching staff could play former first-round draft pick Quarterback Jordan Love and we could finally confirm that, despite apparently being a nice guy, Mr. Love is not THE FUTURE.

The Packers beat the reigning Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams in Lambeau Field last night.  It was a remarkably less-notable achievement than it sounds, given a Rams’ 2022 season even more horrendous than Green Bay’s, the fact that Los Angeles was missing key players, it was a cold night for a west coast team, and its quarterback, Baker Mayfield, while possessing a decent-if-mixed pedigree, had only been with the team about ten days.

And yet … it was Green Bay’s second victory since the math determined that the team is eliminated from the playoffs upon its next defeat.

Those with long memories will recall that in 2010, Green Bay, despite having Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Cornerback Charles Woodson, and Linebacker Clay Mathews, was having a dawdling season with dwindling playoff prospects until, at mid-season, it discovered that undrafted free agent Sam Shields had premier cover corner skills.  The discovery enabled the staff to move Mr. Woodson from the outside to slot corner, where he could wreak havoc on opposing offenses in multiple ways, and the team – which, starting with two regular season games to go, was going to be eliminated from championship contention upon its next loss — snuck into the playoffs as the lowest seed.  Green Bay became the proverbial Team Nobody Wants to Play, and the team rode its defense to the Lombardi Trophy.

I don’t have the same high hopes for the current Packer squad.  Although the emergence of speedy Rookie Wide Receiver Christian Watson has enlivened the team’s offense, and Keisean Nixon has sparked its special team return game, I believe that defense wins championships, and I simply don’t think that the team’s defense is good enough.  Even so, having watched the last two Green Bay victories dispassionately, each time anticipating a loss that would effectively end the team’s season, the Packers’ contest against the Miami Dolphins this Sunday (Christmas Day; the NFL should NEVER schedule games on Christmas Day, even when it falls on Sunday) will be instructive.  Miami is over .500 in a tough AFC division. It has its own battle to get in the playoffs.  It just went head-to-head in a narrow loss to the fearsome Buffalo Bills.  Pundits are almost unanimously picking Miami to beat the Packers.  If Green Bay nonetheless prevails, its prospects with two games to play – grudge matches at home against their NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions – become more intriguing.

And if the team loses … football entries in these pages are likely to go into hibernation until the late summer.  There is plenty else to talk about 😉 .

The Scream

Those that know me personally are aware that for at least the last quarter century, the only Packer games I have seen live are those played in prime time; the day games I record for later viewing.  One might suppose that such a practice indicates that I care relatively less about the fortunes of the Green and Gold; it actually came about because I was perhaps relatively too involved in the team’s fortunes.  TLOML pointed out to me long, long ago – in exasperation tinged more than a bit with irritation – that when I watched the game live – an emotionally-raw 3+ hour experience, win or lose, for the true Packer fan – and the team lost, I was irascible for the remainder of the day and evening; I barked at the kids; the pleasantries of cocktail hour were sacrificed.  I completely acknowledge the inexplicability of such reaction over the performance of a bunch of young men whom I didn’t know and who didn’t, understandably, give a whit about me.

Once I started recording the games, all improved.  Unlike many who record sporting events and don’t want to know the outcome beforehand, I deliberately determine whether the Packers won the game I’ve recorded that day.  If they’ve prevailed, I watch the recording; if they’ve lost, I erase the unviewed tape.  On the days yielding unhappy outcomes, it turns out that my simply knowing they’ve lost, as contrasted with having viscerally experienced the loss by watching it live, has enabled me to maintain an even, even cheerful, demeanor throughout the rest of the day and evening.

Given the team’s success in the Favre-Rodgers Era, this approach has obviously still enabled me to see the lion’s share of Green Bay games, more than enough to assess that year’s team’s strengths and weaknesses.  On the other hand, this year, my viewing opportunities have manifestly been … painfully limited.  An apparently woeful opening loss to Minnesota?  Perhaps an unfortunate way to start, but a win over the Vikings when they come to Lambeau Field will fix that.  But losses to the Giants?  To the Jets?  To the Washington … Whatever-Their Name-Is-Nows?

Having not seen the games, I can’t offer what the team’s problems are.  It has Aaron Rodgers; it has Aaron Jones; it was supposed to have a decent offensive line; it was projected to have a championship-worthy defense.  Clearly, some or all of these and other factors are not exactly executing as anticipated.  The Packers now trail the Vikings by three games in the proverbial loss column, and although it’s early, currently aren’t close to qualifying for the playoffs.  If Mr. Rodgers comes out this week and tells the fans to relax, the team had better be able to back his words up.  In the meantime, when I heard of Sunday’s defeat, for whatever reason a certain well-known painting immediately sprang to mind.  If we can’t revel in victories, at least we Packer fans can contemplate renowned art that captures our mood  😉 .  The link is below.[image2]/0/

On Wisconsin’s Release of Paul Chryst

As all who care are aware, University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Chris McIntosh released Wisconsin Head Football Coach Paul Chryst on Sunday.  Mr. Chryst has been replaced on at least an interim basis by the team’s former Defensive Coordinator, Jim Leonard.

This may be the first time that I have addressed Wisconsin athletics in these pages; virtually all of my football focus has, since my preteen days in the Chicago area, been directed to the men who play on Sunday [and now on Monday and Thursday 😉 ].  By the rarest of coincidences, at the kind invitation of a good friend I attended the Badger game against the University of Illinois this past Saturday.  Although I came to the game with eyes conditioned by the NFL, putting aside that college teams understandably lack the skill and do not play in the mode of the professionals, it was glaringly apparent that Wisconsin’s team had limited passion and lacked discipline.  Illinois won 34 – 10.  Wisconsin couldn’t control the lines of scrimmage and had no run game – both hallmarks of the Badger football tradition established by former Athletic Director and Head Coach Barry Alvarez.  The stands were not completely full.  The fans were audibly unhappy.  It was easy to guess that the big Wisconsin athletic donors were expressing their displeasure about the program’s status to Mr. McIntosh.

Although I abhor the big business that college football has become, the fact remains that it is a big business.  Many millions of dollars ride on it for an institution like the University of Wisconsin.  We have lived in Madison long enough to remember when the University’s football team was awful.  Over the last thirty years, the program has maintained a consistent level of eminent respectability under the auspices of former Athletic Director Pat Richter and Mr. Alvarez.  Once such eminence is lost, it is hard to regain.  Sitting in the stands Saturday – and watching the crowd as well as the game – the program’s standing certainly seemed to me to be teetering.  Mr. Leonard, who in recent years has become a highly regarded college coach after a distinguished professional career (and he’s young, which in addition to his professional pedigree would also appeal to recruits), is a hot college head coaching candidate that the University risked losing if it clung to Mr. Chryst, who is by all accounts a fine man who indisputably lacks charisma.  Sometimes remove provides perspective; based upon this one afternoon, if advising Mr. McIntosh, I would have indicated that if he didn’t replace Mr. Chryst now, the program suffered additional erosion of its prestige during the remainder of the season, and he lost Mr. Leonard to another school, his own job would be at risk.

Two final notes.  First, it seemed to me that when it was clear that Illinois was going to win the game, Illinois Head Football Coach Bret Bielema – who succeeded Mr. Alvarez as Head Coach at Wisconsin, and I understand was on the same coaching staff with Mr. Chryst – let up.  Illinois repeatedly ran the ball into the middle of the line, although the gaps it had theretofore exploited in the Wisconsin secondary remained available.  Illinois could have tacked on another 10 points had it wanted to.  I suspect that Mr. Bielema has high personal regard for Mr. Chryst, retains enough background about the innards of Wisconsin athletics to have understood that Mr. Chryst was on shaky ground, and didn’t want to humiliate him.  I have never cared for Mr. Bielema, but that was classy.

Finally, I suspect that a disadvantage coaches now face because college athletics are big business is that universities’ upper echelons have less tolerance for middling performance than was the case decades ago; the advantage for someone like Mr. Chryst is the report I’ve seen that the University will perhaps owe him $16 million for letting him go.  No one likes hearing that s/he isn’t wanted, but his is probably the best severance package any Wisconsin state employee will receive for quite a while.

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?