When Packers coach Mike McCarthy left frigid Green Bay, the temperature was in the single digits. When he landed in Honolulu, it was a balmy 80 degrees.
The Green Bay Packers are thawing out in the islands, relishing every minute of their Pro Bowl experience. They would gladly trade in their floral leis, beach chairs and mai tais, however, to be preparing for the Super Bowl.
“Just like every team in the NFL, there’s only one team that’s going to be satisfied when the season is completed. We won’t be that team this year,” said McCarthy, who is coaching the NFC squad for Sunday’s game.
As a reflection of their stunning season, the Packers have six players in the Pro Bowl — second only to the seven members of the San Francisco 49ers. Green Bay sailed through the regular season with a 15-1 record before coming apart at home in a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs.
“I’m not one to publically display the disappointment, but I am personally disappointed the season didn’t go as we had planned,” McCarthy said. “Give credit to the teams that are in the Super Bowl. It’s just another reminder of how difficult it is to get there and even more so to win it.
“But we’re a good football team. We’ll make the adjustments we feel we need to make and add new players … we’ll forge ahead and we look forward to being a better team next year.”
When asked what the Packers needed to improve on, cornerback Charles Woodson didn’t hesitate to answer: “Personnel.”
“I think the last game, our entire organization saw the same thing out on the field,” he said. “There were some things we just weren’t able to do, so hopefully we’ll bring some guys in to accomplish the same goal we achieved last year.”
Woodson, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, keeps replaying the playoff loss in his mind, including Eli
Manning’s desperation Hail Mary pass to a leaping Hakeem Nicks as time expired in the first half to give the Giants a 20-10 lead and a load of confidence heading into the locker room.
“If you watch that game, my feeling is that they just wanted it more than we did,” Woodson said. “I think about one play, and I think about that Hail Mary. I go over it in my head and see the clips on ESPN and different sports shows and see the lack of effort from our team to get that ball intercepted or knock it down.”
It’s clear the Packers are still scratching their Cheeseheads, trying to figure out what went wrong after so much went right earlier in the season. McCarthy said he’s still in the middle of an evaluation process.
“I had a chance to spend the full week back in Green Bay, talking to all the players the first two days,” he said. “We’re still working through the coaching evaluations. We’ll go about it like we always have and head our compass pointing toward next year.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he hasn’t had time to look back at what the team was able to accomplish, nor to reflect on a season in which he passed for 4,463 yards with 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His quarterback rating of 122.5 set an NFL record.
“I think that’s going to happen once I leave here and the offseason really starts, it’ll be time to reflect on that,” he said.
Rodgers is making his first trip to Hawaii. He was also selected two years ago when the game was in Miami, so he never got the full aloha experience. After practice Thursday at this military base, he signed autographs and shook as many hands as he could for the service members and their families before running off for the NFC bus.
He even asked a little boy holding a mini Cowboys helmet and staring at the Packers’ star, “Do you want me to sign that?”
“No,” the boy replied.
Of the roughly 2,000 watching practice, many were Packers fans, wearing Green Bay jerseys and waving flags with the “G” logo. “I love you, man!” howled one fan as Rodgers signed a helmet for him.
“It’s great. It’s a fun experience. A lot of us would like to be in our home cities getting ready for the Super Bowl, but this is a great opportunity, a great vacation, good guys, good times,” Rodgers said.
Linebacker Clay Matthews said the practice was special. There were three large Air Force cargo jets parked on the runway just south of the practice field.
“To be able to get to interact with some of them is truly fantastic,” he said. “They’re the real heroes and they represent courageousness. What we do on the field pales in comparison to what they do every day.”
Center Scott Wells is making his first trip to Hawaii in his eighth season in the league. He brought his wife and kids. After the Pro Bowl, he’s going to spend some time on Maui.
“It’s no secret we’re disappointed in the way our season ended, but at the same time I’m excited to be here and looking forward to taking everything in,” he said.
Receiver Greg Jennings said the Pro Bowl isn’t his bowl of choice, but he’ll take it.
“Obviously, it’s not where you want to be, but if there’s a crystal ball and you knew you weren’t going to be in the big dance, this will be the consolation prize,” he said.
Jennings said he hasn’t had an opportunity to look back or look ahead to next season.
“Probably once everything slows down, I’ll take a deep breath and kick my feet up and I’ll have a chance to really reflect on the special regular season we had and then the unfortunate letdown we had the in the playoffs,” he said. “You can’t really do that until the offseason.”