GREEN BAY — Green Bay Packers fans shouldn’t react defensively to statements made by first-year coach Matt LaFleur and 15th-year quarterback Aaron Rodgers that basically called them out, imploring them to become a greater factor on game day and to help improve the team’s home-field advantage at Lambeau Field.
Actually, it’s refreshing that the two most important people in the franchise are willing to say publicly that their fans need to get more involved, starting with Sunday’s home opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Most of the time, players and coaches blindly call their fans the greatest in the world when the cameras are rolling, even if they don’t believe it.
Rather than view those comments as criticism, fans should consider them a cry for help, a call to arms if you will, as the Packers try to build on their season-opening road victory over the Chicago Bears. And one more thing, LaFleur and Rodgers aren’t wrong.
The cold, hard truth is that Packers fans aren’t what they once were. Extremely proactive in the 1990s, they have become more reactive after three decades of winning. Other than a playoff game or an occasional night game against an opponent that moves the needle, the fans no longer show up ready to create a special atmosphere at Lambeau. Most of the time, the team has to do something good on the field to get them out of their seats.
As someone who has covered games in every NFL stadium, I can tell you there are fan bases out there — Seattle, Minnesota, New Orleans and Kansas City come to mind — that create a better game-long atmosphere and do more to help their team win than fans in Green Bay. I’m not saying it’s a bad atmosphere at Lambeau, I’m saying it could be better. Packers fans can be as loud as any when they’re fully engaged, but they’re not always fully engaged for 3 hours.
Before we go any further, let’s review what LaFleur and Rodgers said.
LaFleur: “I just think the more you can get the fans involved, it definitely (helps). Anybody that was there last week in Chicago could feel that. You could feel that from the opening, from pregame. It felt like it had a playoff-type feel to it. The fans were into it. They sang the National Anthem and they were screaming their heads off the whole time, for 2 minutes or whatever it was. We knew that that type of environment is challenging on offenses. That’s what we want to get here. We want our fans to stand up and get loud and really support our players.”
Rodgers: “(The fan support) is great. My only ask is that we don’t do the wave when we’re on offense. Other than that, man, be as loud as you want from the start. Hopefully nobody says, ‘Sit down,’ to anybody. I’ve heard that from time to time, somebody’s standing up and somebody else tells them to sit down. But we’d love for everybody to get up and be as loud as possible from the start. We need it. We’ve been rolling here over the years in stretches and it’s a tough place to play, especially late in the season and in the playoffs when we’ve got the temperature and the crowd going. Twelve o’clock games are always a little different because everybody’s kind of waking up and getting going. It’s an earlier start (Sunday). I love the lights dimmed for night games, hopefully we can get that in Week 4. But, yeah, we’ve got a great home-field advantage, a great fan base. The louder the better.”
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Though both men made good points, their statements drew some blowback from fans.
Look, I understand when fans say they pay a lot of money for their seats and don’t like being told when to cheer and don’t want to have to stand just because the fans in front of them are standing the whole game. Those are valid concerns.
But here’s what I don’t understand: Why don’t Packers fans want to become more of a participant in the game? Why don’t they want to do things to help their team win?
By cheering loudly and at the right times, NFL fans can affect games. Fans in Seattle, Minnesota and elsewhere have learned how to be a factor in the outcome. We’ve all seen quarterbacks and pass blockers become unnerved and opposing pass rushers get a split-second jump because those crowds made it too loud to communicate or even think clearly. One would think that Packers fans would jump at the chance to help their team on the field in any way they could, and not just when the opposing offense is facing a third-and-long in the fourth quarter.
When Rodgers asks fans not to do the wave when the Packers have the ball, there’s a reason for it. It’s simple, really. Loud cheering always accompanies the wave and today’s offenses work best when there is no noise. That gives the players time to communicate changes in blocking assignments or even plays. Conversely, generating noise hinders the visiting offense in a variety of ways.
The Packers tried some new things to get fans revved up during the preseason, employing a foghorn in the first game and dimming the lights after scores in the second. They have more planned for Sunday, including new music and players appearing on video boards reminding fans to get loud and stand up on defense and to remain quiet and seated when the offense is on the field.
But if the fans simply follow the prompts of their coach and quarterback, it could be a win-win situation: The Packers will have a better chance to win the game and the fans will get to feel like they were a part of it.