Green Bay Packers' values help ease through Joe Philbin's anguish
On the day the Packers began planning for their game against the New York Giants in Green Bay, the body of Michael Philbin was discovered at the bottom of a river an hour's drive away. Thus arose a sports distraction of the highest, and saddest, order.
Michael, 21, was the son of Joe Philbin, for whom life had been sweet. He was the offensive coordinator for the league's highest scoring team and the reigning Super Bowl champions. He had interviewed for the head coaching vacancy in Miami.
No franchise in any league preaches and practices the values of family more than the Packers. They mourned for their brother, who was absent from work all week, while trying to focus on how to checkmate the Giants' furious pass rush. There was a wake to attend on Thursday, a funeral on Friday.
Who can say with certainty that any connective tissue formed between the unimaginable suffering of the offence's architect and the unimaginably flawed execution by the unit against New York?
About the only statistic yet to be formulated in football is one that measures impact on performance when the brutal realities of life intrude. This, we do know: success follows when preparation meets opportunity. The Packers' preparation for the opportunity to reach another Super Bowl was compromised by the drowning of a young man with no direct affiliation to them.
Another splendid team from this season can appreciate Green Bay's ordeal.
Oklahoma State University were 10-0 in mid-November, with designs on a college championship, when a single-engine plane went down in an adjacent state. The school's head and assistant women's basketball coaches were killed, along with two others.
For those old enough in the football programme to remember, the disaster dug up harsh reminders of a doomed flight nearly 10 years earlier. A plane carrying two OSU men's basketball players and eight others associated with the team crashed. There were no survivors.
The football team were informed of the latest accident on the morning they would play Iowa State, a much inferior foe. With their attention divided, the Cowboys were upset, ultimately denying them a role in the national title game.
Though he declined to offer up the tragedy as an excuse, Mike Gundy the USU coach, said, "We can deny things all we want, and we can say this and that. But the truth of the matter is, it's a very, very tragic situation that takes a long time to get over."
Some devastated teams have shown remarkable resilience, if not right away, especially after burying one of their own. A common pattern: short-term slump during the depths of sorrow, followed by prosperity, possibly driven by inspiration from the memory of the dearly departed.
Baseball's St Louis Cardinals, staggered by the sudden death of the pitcher Darryl Kile from a heart condition in his hotel room in 2002, dropped five of their next seven games, then recovered for a 97-win season and an AL Central crown by a 13-game margin.
"We did it for DK," teammate Miguel Cairo said amid a celebration that involved Kile's jersey after the Cardinals' first-round play-off sweep.
After his team's third game of the 2009 baseball season, Nick Adenhart, the Los Angeles Angels pitcher, died while riding in a car that was hit by a drunken driver.
The Angels dropped nine of their next 14 games. When the grieving subsided, they righted themselves and took the AL West by 10 games.
In 2007, Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins safety was murdered in his home by a gun-wielding intruder. That weekend, still in a daze, the Skins lost their fourth successive game. Then they reversed course, closing the season with four wins to secure the wild card.
"I think once we got our angel situated up in heaven, he gave us all the strength in the world," Clinton Portis, the tailback, said.
Eleven years have passed since the NBA guard Bobby Phills of the Charlotte (now New Orleans) Hornets died in an car accident as he raced a teammate. The Hornets then lost their seventh in a row before winning six in the next seven games en route to the play-offs.
The dynamic differs when the life of a coach's child is cut short, though the team still moves in either of two directions: uplifted or disheartened.
The Packers said they drew extra motivation to ease Philbin's anguish and were invigorated when he unexpectedly reported for duty Sunday to Lambeau Field, business almost as usual.
"I think, deep down, a lot of us wanted to get this one for him," Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback, said. "Give some happiness to him and his family,"
But the finality of defeat in the NFL play-offs strikes as abruptly, if a thousand times less painfully, as the finality of death. For Joe Philbin's team, there was no time to play through the sadness.
Published: January 17, 2012 04:00 AM