By CHRIS HAVEL
For Packers’ fans these dates are prominently circled for good reason: No other team’s fan base has as great a vested interest.
To them the schedule is the straw that stirs the drink. Weddings, vacations, reunions and perhaps funerals are planned around the Packers’ game dates – both home and away. It is why there is such an uptick in all things Packers when the schedule is released.
Local businesses plan much of what they do around the Packers. Whether they are diehard Packers’ fans or closet Bears’ fans they understand and accept that the dates are integrated in people’s lives.
The schedule’s release enables Packers’ fans to plan their future.
When fans print out the 2013 schedule they likely will acknowledge that it is a brute. They also are apt to find more W’s than L’s when they check out the dates and opponents.
The Packers open Sept. 8 in a nationally televised 3:25 p.m. start at San Francisco, the site of their most recent playoff embarrassment.
To suggest the Packers are seeking revenge is to forget January’s nightmare. Forget revenge. The focus is on competing, challenging and winning – none of which the Packers did to any great extent in bookend losses to the 49ers in 2012.
“Opening day is always exciting,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Playing the San Francisco 49ers is obviously a challenge that we look forward to.”
The Packers play host to Washington and quarterback Robert Griffin III in their Sept. 15 noon opener at Lambeau Field. That’s two read-option teams in as many games, so we’ll find out early if the Packers’ defensive staff learned anything from its off-season trip to Texas A&M.
An early bye week (Sept. 29) is offset by a Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit against the Lions. The four-day turnaround from a Nov. 24 home game against Minnesota to a Nov. 28 Thanksgiving game is tough. The bright side is it gives McCarthy and his team a second “bye” in that players should get four or five days off before the four-game stretch run.
The Packers’ first quarter of the season is difficult in that it begins with three games against playoff teams (49ers, Redskins and Bengals), including two on the road.
After wrapping up the first four games with a home contest against the Detroit Lions Oct. 6, the Packers travel to Baltimore to face the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens Oct. 13.
The season’s fourth quarter is even more challenging than its first.
It begins with a Sunday night game at Lambeau Field against the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 8. The Falcons have adopted a “Super Bowl or bust” mentality. Undoubtedly this game will have significant playoff implications.
After that, it’s on to Dallas to face the Cowboys Dec. 15. Then it’s back home to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers before a Dec. 29 regular season finale at Chicago against the Bears.
While fans’ lives revolve around the schedule the Packers’ draft is the lifeblood of the team.
No other NFL team places as much emphasis on it.
The Packers’ financial situation dictates that they spend wisely, if sparingly, in free agency. The Packers’ “draft and develop” philosophy has served them well, and GM Ted Thompson and his scouts widely are considered among the best in the league.
The draft gives hope to fans whose team doesn’t play in free agency. Every pick is potential starter. Every draftee is a possible Pro Bowler; every pick is gold waiting to be mined.
Most Packers’ fans like their chances at San Francisco in the opener, and they love their chances in the draft.
Meantime, they’ve got a great deal of planning to do. Weddings, vacations and reunions will wait only so long.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.