You'd think it'd be kind of fun to watch this Saturday's Green Bay Packers game against the Seattle Seahawks on an enormous screen with a few dozen fellow fans.
But perhaps proving anew that NFL stands for No Fun League, theaters trying to provide this experience received cease-and-desist letters last week. That includes Wauwatosa's Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, where owner Larry Widen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he's been hosting Packers games "for years" without incident. Madison's Majestic Theatre may also be in hot water over its plans to show the game on Saturday.
"A bar showing NFL games is fine, because they are in the business of showing games on a regular basis," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told The Capital Times this week. "If a business makes it an event, we don't allow it."
Right. Can't let businesses make this kind of thing - a mere Green Bay Packers playoff appearance - an "event."
With all due respect to McCarthy and other NFL officials, they don't seem to know much about their own product. The NFL playoffs passed "event" status a long time ago, particularly in Packer country.
The state of Wisconsin is going to shut down at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, as will parts of Minnesota and Michigan. People will be calling in sick to their jobs. Commerce will cease. If they don't plan to show the game, movie theaters would be well advised to lock their doors for the afternoon.
As if Packers fans needed any more reasons to tune in, the game marks the return of Mike Holmgren to Lambeau Field. Holmgren, of course, coached the Packers to consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 before heading off to Seattle, where he's led the Seahawks to the playoffs the last five seasons, including Super Bowl XL in 2006.
Since Holmgren left in 1999, the Packers have not advanced out of the playoffs' divisional round, and in 2003 and 2005 were eliminated even earlier, in the wild card round. Many have blamed those disappointments, as well as the team's 4-12 record in 2005, on former coach Mike Sherman's inability to rein in quarterback Brett Favre, as Holmgren was able to do.
Second year coach Mike McCarthy, who many feel should have won the NFL coach of the year award over New England's Bill Belichick, has made it his mission to get gunslinger Brett back under control. He's done it by holding Favre responsible for careless plays, and returning to the basics of the West Coast offense.
The Packers are now using a scheme designed decades ago by legendary coach Bill Walsh to accommodate weak-armed quarterbacks. The goal is to get receivers open for short, quick passes and then use their ability to run to pick up yards instead of relying on long, high-risk passes.
As a result, Favre has been having one of his best seasons. He's passed for more than 4,000 yards, averaging nearly eight yards per throw, with 28 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions. His efficiency has allowed rookie running back Ryan Grant to establish himself; the Packers' ground game, only a rumor in the season's opening weeks, has become dangerous. Grant, an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, is averaging more than five yards a carry, with just one fumble all season.
Packers fans would do well to keep their optimism in check.
Lambeau Field is no longer the impenetrable postseason fortress it once was. While the Packers have only lost two home playoff games in their franchise history, both in the last seven years. And the Packers' presumed cold-weather aptitude was nowhere in evidence during its last outing against the Chicago Bears.
With minimal assistance from a fading Lambeau Field mystique, the Packers' ability to win this weekend and advance toward an NFC championship game in Dallas - the match-up Packers fans have been craving since their team lost to the Cowboys on Nov. 29 - will hinge on Brett Favre and his offense. But the positive energy from millions of Cheeseheads, regardless of where they're watching the game, shouldn't hurt.