The rise to the top started at the bottom


The euphoria of the 2010 Super Bowl championship started at rock bottom.

As most professional football teams start each season with the mantra of a single goal to be world champs, only one squad will lay claim. The past two seasons for the Green Bay Packers started with grand optimism and while this past year ended in incredible excitement, it had been more than a decade since the team had concluded its season as champions.

The Packers came close in 2003, but gave away a playoff game in Philly. They came back to one game away from the Super Bowl, but lost when Brett Favre’s final pass as Packer went to the wrong team.

Favre left, the Packers suffered miserably in Aaron Rodgers’ first season at the helm, the coach and general manager were questioned about every personnel and organizational move made. They were in the hot seat in 2008 and by the time 2009 came around, fans were livid. Favre was smoking the competition in Minnesota and the Packers were nothing but mediocre. They showed promise, but demonstrated only inconsistency.

It all came to a head in week eight of the 2009 season – in fact it was Nov. 8, 2009, in Tampa Bay.

The Packers were heavy favorites heading into the game against the winless Buccaneers. It would be a cakewalk.

And it started that way.

James Jones caught a 74-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to give the Pack an early 7-0 lead on the Bucs. That’s all the Packers needed, many said. An early nail in the Bucs’ coffin.

Little did they know.

Tampa Bay came right back with a drive and a six-yard touchdown pass from rookie Josh Freeman to Derrick Ward to tie the game.

Not to worry, the Packers went right down the field and closed out the first quarter scoring when Ryan Grant rambled in from two yards out to give the Packers a 14-7 edge heading into the second.

But as they would for the remainder of the game, the Bucs came right back to tie the game at 14-14 on a special teams gem – a blocked punt that was returned for a score.

Not to be denied, Donald Driver scored from 32 yards out on a pass from Rodgers to again give the Packers a lead at 21-14. After Tampa Bay closed the gap with a field goal, the Packers scored again, this time a 12 yard run by Rodgers, putting the Packers comfortably up by 10 points just into the fourth quarter.

All the Pack needed was a couple of solid stops from its defense.

But it wasn’t to be.

The Bucs scored midway through the fourth on a touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow … a score that was followed late in the game by another touchdown … this time a TD pass to Sammie Stroughter (who?) to give the Bucs a 31-28 lead.

Though the Packers had a chance to move the ball into position for at least a game-tying field goal, it wasn’t to be. Will Allen returned an errant Rodgers pass 35 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.

Buccaneers 38 Packers 28.

This gave Tampa Bay its first win of the season and left the Packers wallowing at 4-4.

Packers fans were brutal. They were calling for the heads of both coach Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson. Fans wanted to know why the two had let Brett Favre get away, why they had put all their faith in Aaron Rodgers.

How would this team recover from such a demoralizing, embarrassing defeat? How could the coach get his troops ready to play the next week? Would this game be the beginning of the end for McCarthy and Thompson? Would the team implode from this loss? Would players start pointing fingers? Start making excuses?

Well, as we all know, it turned out much differently than anyone could have expected.

The Packers finished the season from that point by winning seven of their final eight games to qualify for the playoffs.

Though they lost in the wildcard round to the Cardinals in the highest scoring playoff game of all time, the Packers proved they were one of the highest powered offenses in the league and their developing defense was showing signs that, with some tweaking, this was a team on the rise. And rightly so.

The 2010 season started somewhat like the previous year … the team flashing signs of greatness, but seemingly underachieving.

Injuries mounted, key losses at midseason, and the loss of Rodgers to a head injury all contributed to a feeling that this was a season of lost opportunities.

But like the team of the previous season, the 2010 edition showed enough moxie and enough depth to make things happen. With some luck, a defense that was determined to stop other teams and an offense that just continued to get better despite the lack of a running game, the Packers put it all together when it really mattered.

And it all started on that dismal day a season before in Tampa Bay. If there was a day when a team had hit a bottom that low, I don’t know when it was. That was a game from which management learned that winning comes from losing.

It was also a turning point for the Bucs. Confidence soared from that point and had the Packers not defeated the Bears on the final game of last season, the Buccaneers may have made their own noise in the 2010 playoffs.

Instead, from that loss in Tampa Bay on that early November Sunday in 2009, the Packers rose to a season of greatness, Brett Favre finally faltered in Minnesota and the Lombardi Trophy found its way home.

A classic case of failure leading to success … much to the happiness of Packers fans.