“You try to tell the young players how hard it is to get yourself in this position to go to the Super Bowl,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “It’s not every year you make it this far. We have a special opportunity right now. We have a great chance to do something special.”
Players like Pickett, cornerback Charles Woodson, offensive tackle Chad Clifton and receiver Donald Driver will go about stressing that in their own ways this week leading up to Sunday’s NFC Championship in Chicago.
They’re the four players on the Packers’ roster who are in double digits in terms of years in this league, and not one has ever won a Super Bowl. A collective 46 years of experience, counting this year, and no rings. Yet.
Woodson and Pickett have come the closest. Before both came to the Packers as free agents in 2006, they had advanced to Super Bowls with their original teams. But those moments feel like ancient history to them now.
For Woodson, it was 2002 with the Raiders, who lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. He got a crack at an AFC Championship two years earlier against Baltimore, and then again in 2007 with the Packers, and the 13-year pro has stated more than once his sole reason for continuing to play at age 34 is to win that elusive title.
“For every player in the NFL, these are the moments that you play for, to have an opportunity,” Woodson said. “I've been once, and it was an incredible experience. It's been a long time ago, though, now. The thing is you never know when you'll get back. You never know if you'll get there. You never know if you'll win one. But to have the opportunity, and again, to be one of the final teams trying to get to the Super Bowl, it means a lot.”
For Pickett, he reached the Super Bowl as a rookie with St. Louis in 2001, but the Rams were upset by the upstart New England Patriots. It was another six years before he got back to a conference title game, with the ’07 Packers, and back then he remembered feeling as a rookie that he’d get a lot more chances after playing in a Super Bowl so young.
But in nine years he’s never been back, and only twice has he gotten this far again, one win away. That’s the reality he’s trying to convey to any younger teammates he talks to.
“It was my rookie year, so long ago,” Pickett said. “I try to let them know this is my 10th year, and I haven’t been but one time. There’s a lot of guys like Driver who’ve never been. This is a special opportunity we have, so we have to make the best of it.”
Clifton and Driver, of course, have both had their close calls as Packers, playing in Green Bay their entire careers.
They were drafted one year apart – Clifton in 2000, Driver in 1999 – and they’ve been through the biggest heartaches together. Fourth-and-26 in Philadelphia seven years ago, and the overtime loss to the Giants at Lambeau Field three years back.
But those aren’t motivating factors as much as Father Time and the nature of the business itself.
“You can’t talk about the past,” Driver said. “You have to talk about the future. The past is gone. It’s a new day, and I’m happy to be in the NFC Championship once again.
“It’s only one chance. One chance to win it all. You don’t get that chance often. It’s right in front of us what we want, and that’s to get to the Super Bowl.”
One of the quieter guys in the locker room, Clifton is well-respected by his mates on the offensive line and probably doesn’t need to say much for anyone to know what this chance means to him.
Driver doesn’t have to say anything either, but he has said plenty in the past amidst his close-knit, outgoing receiving corps, which has always embraced his leadership.
“It’s huge for him,” receiver James Jones said. “Who knows how long he’s going to play? We’re trying to get him a Super Bowl ring. Not saying one’s guaranteed for all of us, but we’ve all got a little more time than he has. Every time we go out there we try to make plays and make plays for him and get him a ring.”
That feeling is reciprocated, because of what 12 years in the NFL have taught an ultimate competitor like Driver.
“As bad as they want to get me to the Super Bowl, I want to get them to the Super Bowl, so when it comes to their career, they don’t have to worry when they’re going to get there,” Driver said. “If we can all get there together at one time, that would put a nice little icing on the cake.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged he can sense the “urgency” coming from “Donald all the way down,” and he feels that kind of locker-room leadership at times like this is healthy for the entire team, especially since plenty of the still-young players were even younger three years ago when they got their first shot.
McCarthy himself remembers getting to the AFC Championship Game his first year as an NFL coach, with Kansas City in 1993, and he didn’t realize how big a deal it was until it took him 14 years to return to that stage, in his second year at the Green Bay helm.
So he appreciates exactly where the veterans are coming from, and there’s no need to hide from that reality. He sees the message getting through in a positive way.
“Just the urgency, the messaging from the veteran players to the younger players, I really like the pulse of our team, the energy of practice today,” McCarthy said. “They’re just really into it.
“It starts with the guys like Donald, Charles Woodson. You have conversations with those guys, and they know how important it is to get this opportunity accomplished, because you don’t know when it’s going to happen again.”
Additional coverage - Jan. 19