Some deaths are so traumatic and unexpected you remember exactly where you were and who you were with when they happened.
This is the case for Green Bay Packers fans regarding a day that will live in infamy: Jan. 18, 2015, when a promising season died thanks to one of the biggest choke jobs in NFL playoff history.
It has been said, “time heals all wounds.”
You know this is a lie if you are a fan of the greatest and most endearing franchise in the history of sports, located in a small town, owned by the community and adored by people around the world.
Why am I dredging this up now?
On Sunday, the Packers play the team that put a stake in our hearts five years ago, The Seattle Seahawks. It’s an NFL divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. The winner goes on to the NFC championship game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The loser goes home.
To attempt to let go of the past, even a little, an unflinching review of what happened that day is necessary, at least for me.
WARNING: Details of this day may trigger strong and unwanted responses in some Packer fans. If you are not in a safe place, physically or emotionally, STOP reading immediately. If you must proceed, do not drive a motor vehicle or operate potentially dangerous machinery for two days. If this account sparks outrageous behavior lasting more than 4 hours, seek medical care. Drinking a six-pack of beer may exacerbate reactions.
I was on a business trip in Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t know if I could find a place to watch the game.
I was told to take a taxi to Murphy Brothers Bar. I wondered if the Murphy boys would even be open at midnight in this European city for the kickoff of an American sport that dares to call itself football.
Wearing my Green Bay hat, a bouncer at the door directed me in Spanish to a back room where dozens of my green and gold brethren greeted me. I didn’t speak their language but felt as if I were home amongst friends.
The Packers led 16–0 at halftime. The mood in the back room of the bar?
Ecstatic, as the grainy photo shot on my iPhone, below, shows.
Sportswriter Rob Reischel, who has covered the Packers since 2001, describes in a Forbes magazine article the improbability of what happened after that.
According to ProFootballReference.com, the Packers’ odds of winning were 94.4% at halftime and 99.9% with just more than 3 minutes left.
Yet somehow, someway, the Seahawks rallied for an improbable 28–22 win in overtime. To this day, that remains one of the most painful losses in Packer history.
With only 2:09 left, the Packers still led. All they needed to do was recover an on-side kick.
“We’ve got this,” I said.
An article in the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel described in retrospective detail the mishap by a backup tight end named Brandon Bostick.
Bostick took his place for what’s perceived as an automatic play. Left foot on the 46-yard line, right foot on the 47, he was second to the near sideline as the Seattle Seahawks prepared for their onside kick. Bostick stood in a pod of three tight ends and a fullback, a wall built to block for receiver Jordy Nelson, who crouched 5 yards behind them.
When kicker Stephen Hauschka pushed his foot over the football, three members of the Packers’ four-man wall advanced forward in unison, crashing like a wave into the Seahawks’ front line.
The reserve tight end saw the football suspended in midair and, like a moth attracted to light, went for it. Left foot on the 46, right foot on the 47, Nelson waiting behind him with arms outstretched, Bostick jumped.
The ball slipped through his hands, bounced off the front of his helmet, finally caught by Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews. The man Bostick was supposed to block.
“It was a split-second reaction,” Bostick says.
My reaction was also split-second.
I slammed my fist on the table in front of me, causing a stein of beer to wobble, then crash to the floor like the Packers’ season.
I couldn’t watch what happened next on the big-screen TV. Sometimes you just know when it’s over. It was. I walked into the streets of Barcelona at 4 a.m. in a daze.
It was there that I began Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “5 Stages of Grief.” I’m stuck at “Bargaining.” I’m far from “Acceptance.” This article has helped me move farther from “Denial.” Thanks for letting me share my pain with you.
On Sunday, I will be in the basement of my home, fondly referred to as “the Packers man cave,” watching the game with my two adult sons, hoping history can’t repeat itself.
The Packers are favored to win.
Somehow I’m not comforted by the fact that the percentages are with us.