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By CHRIS HAVEL
Packers would be wise to follow Wisconsin’s blueprint to success
Even the 24-7, 365-day ‘round-the-year beast called the NFL pumps its brakes for the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
It was especially so for the Green Bay Packers, who had to look no further than Madison to admire the Badgers’ brilliance all season.
Ultimately, Wisconsin fell to Duke, 68-63, in Monday night’s title game in Indianapolis. The loss was painful, but the way the Badgers responded to last year’s last-second loss to Kentucky was impressive.
The Badgers didn’t hide from the loss. They hurt from it. They absorbed it. They learned from it.
Sam Dekker got stronger. Nigel Hayes developed 3-point range. Bronson Koenig returned ready to consistently contribute as a sophomore. And Frank Kaminsky merely came back to capture the NCAA men’s basketball Player of the Year Award.
Constantly, they were motivated by the loss to Kentucky. I suspect the Packers’ response to that gut-wrenching 28-22 overtime loss at Seattle in the NFC Championship Game will be similar.
In fact, it has been so far.
Mike McCarthy didn’t shy away from the loss. He analyzed it. He was honest with himself. He made changes.
McCarthy fired his close friend and special teams’ coordinator Shawn Slocum. He relinquished the play-calling duties so that he could focus on the big picture. In addition, it allowed him to further empower assistant head coach Tom Clements and offensive coordinator/receivers coach Edgar Bennett.
While the Packers’ roster will experience significant turnover compared with Wisconsin’s, the key players remain to right the wrong.
Aaron Rodgers is highly driven by nature. Imagine what it’s like for him to have to swallow the fact that Green Bay was five minutes away from a Super Bowl berth? Others have similar attitudes and motivation.
Julius Peppers telling Morgan Burnett to take a knee, and Clay Matthews literally taking a knee to rest on the sidelines at the most critical moment, surely want vindication.
No doubt Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb would like another opportunity to light up the scoreboard in the second half at Seattle, or wherever the title game is played. It’s something they failed to do in this most recent and painful playoff loss.
So far, the Packers have had a strong off-season. When they arrive April 20 for the start of team activities, I suspect there will be a pervading attitude of vowing not to miss that opportunity again.
Likewise, the returning Badgers vowed to avenge last year’s loss to Kentucky, and to do everything in their power to rewrite the ending. Dekker’s cell phone wallpaper showed the Wildcats celebrating. It was a constant reminder of how much it hurt to get so close and fail.
The Packers could follow suit and use as a backdrop the Seahawks’ recovery of the onside kick as major motivation.
On Monday, the Badgers were poised to become national champions. They had a healthy Dekker, and Koenig was an upgrade over Traevon Jackson at point guard. Also, Duje Dukan had become a 3-point threat, Josh Gasser continued to play relentlessly on a surgically repaired knee, and Hayes kept getting better each day.
With all of that going for it, Wisconsin had a great chance to be cutting down the nets in Indy. Instead, the Blue Devils prevailed. But that did nothing to diminish the Badgers’ run to the title game.
The Badgers defeated Coastal Carolina by two touchdowns to open their NCAA Tournament run. They followed it with an epic stretch of seven-point victories over Oregon, North Carolina, Arizona and Kentucky.
Wisconsin was on a mission. The Badgers weren’t going to be denied. Not by a misspent off-season. Not by past demons. Not by anything except Duke’s terrific freshmen and perhaps tired legs from contending with Kentucky in the semi-finals.
The takeaway from this isn’t that the Badgers came up short. It’s that they gathered themselves from a difficult defeat, made tremendous use of the off-season and had the greatest season in the modern era of Wisconsin men’s basketball.
It’ll be interesting to watch the retooled, rejuvenated Packers try to get beyond that crushing loss at Seattle in the NFC Championship and return to the Super Bowl.
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.