We are sharing Wisconsin State Journal writers' favorite work from 2019. From Packers reporter Jason Wilde: When I started on the Packers beat for the State Journal in 1996 — the first of 13 consecutive seasons I covered them for the paper — I had three really great mentors in Green Bay: State Journal Packers beat writer Kent Youngblood, State Journal columnist Tom Oates, and Tom Mulhern, who was at the Appleton Post-Crescent at the time but would later spend more than two decades at the State Journal covering the Packers and University of Wisconsin football. Among the many lessons I learned from them at that young age of 24 was what an incredible responsibility we bore to chronicle the journey of each team we covered each season. Every journey was different, but covering it was no more or less important based on how the season went or how far the journey took that team. In ’96, it took the Packers to New Orleans and the Super Bowl XXXI title, the historic franchise’s first championship since the 1960s glory days.
Now in Year 4 of my second tour of duty covering the Packers for the State Journal thanks to sports editor Greg Sprout, the 2019 season has been — and continues to be, as the Packers ready themselves for an NFC Divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 12 — a fascinating journey. And it has nothing to do with the franchise celebrating its 100th birthday in August. (Although that was quite the accomplishment. And you should’ve seen the cake.)
From the team hiring Matt LaFleur as its new head coach, to the arrival of flamboyant and dominant pass rusher Za’Darius Smith (and his brother-from-another-mother fellow outside linebacker Preston Smith) in free agency, to 36-year-old Aaron Rodgers’ and the 40-year-old LaFleur’s work-in-progress offense and relationship, it’s all somehow gotten the Packers to a 13-3 record and into the postseason — something Super Bowl-winning head coaches Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren and Mike McCarthy couldn’t do in their first seasons.
For my five selections, I tried to pick stories that reflected key mileposts in the 2019 Packers’ journey.
(5) updates to this series since
With the team having cut ties with Nick Perry, and Clay Matthews expected to depart in unrestricted free agency, the Packers are counting on the Smiths to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks and deliver more sacks than their two former first-round picks managed together last year.
For the past three decades, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have done their best to live up to Bart Starr’s ideals. And while that’s not always the easiest thing to do, their success has given the Packers something no other NFL team can claim in the past century: three Hall of Fame-level quarterbacks.
A the Packers kicked off the NFL’s 100th season with a 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears, Aaron Rodgers and the offense did just enough — and the defense carried the day.
Now, it’s up to Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur — and the rest of the offense — to keep it going against in Sunday night's game against the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Having already clinched a playoff berth coming into the game, the Packers now have put themselves in prime position for a first-round playoff bye — and perhaps even the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed — with a win next Sunday at Detroit.