Menefee, the studio host of the Fox network’s popular pre-game show, was in Green Bay this week kicking off his annual training camp tour that takes him through more than half of the league’s cities. On Wednesday, Menefee was the guest speaker in the Packers’ team meeting, giving players his perspective on the current media landscape and answering some of their questions.
In a brief chat afterward with Packers.com, Menefee said without question he sees the Packers among the top contenders in the NFC, along with the Cowboys, Saints and Vikings. He also noted that he’s already on record with an early Super Bowl prediction that pits Green Bay and Baltimore in the league’s title game.
“This will maybe tell you that what I say should be taken with a grain of salt, but I thought Green Bay was the best team last year, certainly the second half of last year,” Menefee said. “And I’ve seen nothing that changes my mind this year, because I think this team is better than it was last year. They’re mature. Aaron Rodgers has now started in a playoff game. He didn’t win it, but he started a game and he played well. He’s gone through another season as the starter. Guys like Jermichael Finley have matured as players.
“Year after year, for four straight years, everyone has talked about Green Bay being the youngest team in the league. Now, they’re still a young team but they’re an experienced team, and I think there’s a difference. I think that experience should begin to come to the forefront, and to me I see no reason not to believe they’re just as good as anybody else in this league.”
Menefee’s high regard for the Packers stems from watching the team grow significantly last year, fixing the pass-protection problems and overcoming significant injuries on defense in the second half of the season to go 7-1 after a 4-4 start.
He felt those injuries, particularly the one to starting cornerback Al Harris, eventually caught up to the team when it couldn’t win the playoff shootout with Arizona. But barring any major health problems, the Packers in Menefee’s eyes are poised to take the next step, provided they don’t put themselves through another roller-coaster type of season.
“It’s the same thing it takes for everybody – it’s consistency,” Menefee said. “You go and lose that game to Tampa (in Week 9 last year), you’re 4-4, there’s disarray, but then they turned things around, and they played like they should have played all season long.
“That playoff game, those things happen sometimes. You get in shootouts. I don’t think there are many 14-13 games in the NFL anymore, especially come playoff time. They may not be 51-45, but you’ve got to be able to score, and I think this team can score with anybody.
“I think if this team plays consistently as well as it can, then there’s no reason it shouldn’t win 12 or 13 regular-season games, which gives you more than likely the No. 1 seed, which means everybody has to come through Green Bay, and all of a sudden, you’re the team to beat.”
Menefee knows he’s not alone in setting lofty expectations for the Packers this year, and he’s not alone in feeling the Packers will be one of the more entertaining teams to watch, just like they were last year in the playoffs.
Menefee said the Fox studio in Los Angeles got pretty raucous as the cast and crew watched the back-and-forth slugfest between Green Bay and Arizona last January. Come playoff time, Menefee said his fellow on-air personalities will often become fans of the teams that they predict on the show will win – “for credibility reasons,” he said with a smile – and because most of the Fox analysts had picked Green Bay in that game, the volume of voices rose throughout the Packers’ second-half comeback.
“I do remember there was a lot of screaming in the studio during that game,” Menefee said. “From an entertainment standpoint, it was like a bunch of guys in a sports bar watching every play and cheering every touchdown or screaming, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that happened,’ rather than watching it dispassionately like we do a lot of other games.”
It’s the passionate times like those that have kept Menefee enjoying his job since his sportscasting career began at WISC-TV 3 in Madison, Wis., in the late 1980s when he would occasionally cover the Packers’ games at Milwaukee County Stadium.
Obviously he’s come a long way since then, but the closer he’s been able to observe the NFL the more intriguing it is for him to cover, especially when the league can produce the kind of drama it did in Green Bay’s playoff game last season.
“That’s the beauty of the National Football League,” Menefee said. “The thing that’s heartbreaking for one team is the reason that it makes you watch as a fan, because it comes down to sometimes one wild play at the end of a phenomenal game.
“You can go back to, not only that playoff game, but if you ask somebody the game of the year in the regular season last year, I think a lot of people would tell you Detroit and Cleveland. Two of the worst teams in the league that no one ever would think would play a great game, but Matthew Stafford comes in (with an injured shoulder) and throws a touchdown pass with no time left.
“Sometimes the magic of the NFL overcomes everything else, and I think that playoff game was a game that was – magical is probably the best word to describe it – to watch.”