For these Packers, that was last January in the visitors’ locker room in Glendale, Ariz., following a heartbreaking loss that stunningly ended their season when they felt they had a chance to make a playoff run.
Six months and 21 days is a long time to wait to even begin marching ahead again in full uniform. But even if no one can truly feel like they’re moving on until the games start for real in September, there is something about that first day of training camp that piques the emotions and revvs up the engine just a little bit.
“I think so,” running back Ryan Grant said. “The initial frustration of it, you get over that, and then you get hungry. I think guys still have a nasty taste in their mouth. You move on from last year, but at the same time you want to make up for that.”
The atmosphere was pretty spirited for Saturday’s opening workout despite a drizzly, soggy afternoon at Ray Nitschke Field. Roughly 2,200 fans turned out, filling the bleachers and lining the fences along both ends, and they were treated to a few long pass plays, a couple of interceptions, and even some noisy collisions.
No single play or moment in practice was necessarily a reflection of the leftover frustration from last January, but the memories did fuel the fire from time to time leading up to Saturday.
“For me it did,” veteran receiver Donald Driver said. “Just watching guys in this offseason, guys know that we left a lot on the plate. Guys were eating, but we didn’t eat enough. When you get that opportunity, you have to make the best of it.”
Which is what the Packers are focused on doing in 2010. The players weren’t taken aback when Head Coach Mike McCarthy mentioned the Super Bowl in the first team meeting on Friday, mainly because no one is aiming for anything less.
The best way to deal with a potential distraction is to address it right away, which is what McCarthy did, and the players were on board with the message that the expectations aren’t going away anytime soon, so they might as well learn to focus on what’s important from the very first day.
“What he says in our team meeting, he says things that get you thinking,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “He definitely puts you in the mindset of where we need to be coming into the season. But we know where his head is right now, and that’s improving and taking care of our responsibilities one day at a time.”
As long as that mantra is adhered to, there shouldn’t be a problem. The Packers are a young team, but they have plenty of veterans who can lead by their approach and attitude on a daily basis, particularly during the month-long grind of training camp.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins talked about having played for successful teams in Green Bay, but also for talented teams that underachieved. That perspective, which others like Jenkins share, could lend value in the preparation for a new year already filled with preseason hype.
“If people in our locker room think we’re too good, then you set yourself up for failure,” Jenkins said. “We have to make sure everybody’s down to earth and still treat it like we’re not ranked that high, because when it comes down to it, you have to earn it, just like every other team has to earn it.
“I think we have a lot of competition on the team, which helps out a lot. Guys can’t get too comfortable. We have a lot of depth, a lot of battles going on, as long as people keep that attitude and keep fighting I think we’ll be fine.”
For some guys, just getting back to hitting and popping the pads is enough to leave the lofty talk on the back burner where it belongs.
“I’m just excited because it’s camp,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We’re finally starting to play for real. We’re not just wearing helmets (and shorts) anymore. We’re finally playing real football, and that’s why I’m excited.
“Whatever the expectations are on the outside, obviously it means nothing to us as a team. It’s our job whether it’s good or bad to keep those away from us. It doesn’t really matter what anyone says. We just know we have a good team, we can get things done. But we need to find a way. We didn’t really do it last year. We did at times, but we didn’t finish.”
Making it time to focus on a new start.
“I think if you’re young or old, there’s some butterflies and some excitement just when you put the pads back on and you know you’re on another journey,” veteran offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. “The steps that go into the offseason now, everything is just ramped up a little bit more.
“We have to go out and prove it on a daily basis, and within that, improve, and as we improve I think we’re going to have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”