Though he is in a profession infamous for provoking a maniacal focus impervious to outside distraction, Mike McCarthy isn't completely oblivious. The Green Bay Packers' coach may not spend as much time at home as some wage-earners, but the big Christmas tree with the pile of Santa's offerings underneath hasn't escaped his attention.
"I'm in winter wonderland," McCarthy said Thursday, three days before the home game against the New York Giants that will likely define his season. "I don't know if anybody has as many presents under the tree as we do. My wife's all over Christmas."
With three young kids in his and wife Jessica's household and an impending visit from older daughter Alex, a freshman at Kansas University, McCarthy says he has every gift he could ever want. He's also pretty pleased with the current state of his team, a disappointing 8-6 record and non-existent margin for error notwithstanding.
Coming off a narrow defeat to the New England Patriots, the Packers must beat the Giants (9-5) to keep their wild-card hopes alive. Secure a victory over the Chicago Bears the following Sunday at Lambeau Field, and McCarthy's team will reach the playoffs for the third time in his five seasons as coach.
The return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes), who sat out Sunday's game against the Pats after having suffered his second concussion of the season in the previous week's defeat to the Detroit Lions, has McCarthy believing that big things are possible.
"Absolutely – he's our best player," McCarthy says of Rodgers. "Frankly, the time off, I think, has refreshed him. He seems reenergized and refocused. I think the reality of sitting at home and not being around your teammates, that's a quick window into retirement, what it's like not being around the game. He's ready to go. Trust me."
Rodgers was a revelation during his postseason debut last January, leading the Pack back from a 21-point road deficit against the Arizona Cardinals before losing a 51-45 overtime heartbreaker. That performance not only validated the franchise's decision to part ways with Brett Favre(notes) following the 2007 season – a move for which McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson had been strongly criticized – but it also stamped Green Bay as a trendy Super Bowl favorite for 2010.
While Rodgers has been stellar this season, McCarthy's team has had its share of misfortune, enduring season-ending injuries to key players like running back Ryan Grant(notes), tight end Jermichael Finley(notes) and middle linebacker Nick Barnett(notes). All six of the Packers' defeats have been by four points or fewer.
"Anytime you go through more challenges than you anticipated, to be able to overcome them definitely makes you stronger," McCarthy says. "I think we have a lot of character in our locker room, and I don't question our heart at all. I really like coaching this team. We work hard. We don't have drama. And we've had to call on some people who weren't with us at the start of the year, and they've stepped up and helped us."
After the disappointing defeat to the Pats, McCarthy told his players that "I love and respect them as the warriors that they are." He knows the Pack will face an equally desperate team coming off a crushing defeat – the Giants blew a 21-point lead to the Philadelphia Eagles, giving up four touchdowns in the final seven-and-a-half minutes to lose 38-31 in a game that likely decided the NFC East. With the Saints (10-4) almost certain to secure a wild-card spot, either New York or Green Bay will likely be home for the postseason.
McCarthy's Packers have dropped three of their past four games.
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
McCarthy feels for Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose job is rumored to be on the line if his team misses the playoffs – though the last time Coughlin's team visited Lambeau, for the 2007 NFC championship game that represented Favre's last performance in a Packers uniform, was not one of the Green Bay coach's finer memories. He's aware of the chatter out there, from Favre's "go beat the Packers" admonition to Bears defensive end Julius Peppers(notes) after Chicago's NFC North-clinching victory over the Vikings on Monday night to Giants safety Antrel Rolle's(notes) pseudo-guarantee of a New York victory on Sunday, and he insists none of it matters.
"I don't believe in relying on other teams' emotions or remarks to get our team fired up," McCarthy says. "Really, our language is the most important thing to me, and I like what I'm hearing. On Sunday night we played at a high level and didn't win. It's an excellent standard, and we have to play above that. I've challenged our guys to out-prepare New York this week, and we'll see how it goes."
If the Pack backs up its coach with a season-saving victory, that will be all the holiday cheer he needs – not to mention the perfect gift for the man who swears he has everything.
"They give you so much in this job, and our family is blessed," he said. "Honestly, I don't need anything."
For Packers fans, the holiday wish list is simple: Two victories, and a chance for Rodgers to deliver some more postseason magic.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Jets will go toe-to-toe (I know, it's terrible; I just can't help myself, though) with the NFC North champion Bears and come away with a hard-fought victory at Soldier Field. … Tim Tebow(notes) – yep, it's that time of year – will deliver a Christmas gift to Broncos fans by leading Denver to an upset of the Texans. … The Packers will be Lambeau Leapin' aplenty in a victory over the Giants, who'll want to get the hell out of Dodge by the time it's over.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
LIES, LIES, LIES
2. Michelle Ryan capped a lively week by extending her deal with NFL apparel to include a line of see-through Jets slippers.
3. If the Giants fail to make the playoffs and Coughlin is fired, a high-ranking organizational source said the short list of candidates being considered to replace him includes Bill Cowher, Perry Fewell and Dave Tollefson's(notes) mom.
FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK
When my buddy Malibu suffers a narrow fantasy defeat, it usually means I'm in for a second-guessing session questioning my NFL-insider credentials, something along the lines of, "Dude – you're supposed to be connected. I'm gonna start calling you, ‘MTV Unplugged.' "
Mathews has rushed for 503 yards this season..
(Robert Benson/US Presswire)
Thankfully, Malibu is much less punitive after his team gets blown out, and after closing the season with a four-game winning streak to sneak into the playoffs, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath suffered a season-ending shellacking last weekend, falling 152-75.9 to You Are A Jerk. I could break down the long list of underachievers – only Matt Forte(notes) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) scored at least 13 points (and just barely) – but instead I'll single out the season-long malaise of top draft pick Ryan Mathews(notes) and let Malibu supply the epitaph: "I think I've finally learned my lesson about putting too much faith in the Chargers. Just like you don't bet with your heart, you shouldn't let your love for a team impact your fantasy decisions. Somehow, picking LT first a year ago didn't drive that point home, but Mathews seals the deal."
We'll see about that next summer, if I let Malibu come back into this space for a fifth season. Note to Sex, Drugs and Fantasy Football league participants: Returning to Yahoo! – the true and rightful home to fantasy sports – after an ill-fated tryst with that other website would enhance his chances tremendously. As for UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose The VIP Room had a rough 2010 campaign? She's pretty much a slam dunk to return.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Though Cal couldn't quite finish the job, falling to Penn State in the NCAA finals last Thursday – the Nittany Lions' fourth consecutive national championship, with victories over the Bears in the Elite Eight or later each time – the Bears nonetheless enjoyed the greatest volleyball season in the program's history, capped by senior setter Carli Lloyd's selection as the American Volleyball Coaches Association's national player of the year. And while AVCA coach of the year Rich Feller and returning All-Americans Tarah Murrey and Correy Johnson will surely have the Bears back with a vengeance next season, team leader Lloyd will be very tough to replace.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Given that I devoted last week's ditty to the tragic tale of Jets strength coach Sal Alosi, logic would have suggested that I'd be giving Gang Green a break for the foreseeable future. Then word broke that Rex Ryan and his lovely wife, Michelle, may be the subjects of a homemade video library that puts the foot in football – and, well, that's a Christmas gift no sane song re-writer can possibly resist. So here we go: The city is Oakland. The genre is alternative rap. The band is Digital Underground, the ensemble which helped launch 2Pac's career. The leaders are Shock G and Money-B who, for this version, have been replaced by our swinging couple, a.k.a. Rex E. and Pretty Feat – or, as we pro-football insiders now know them, The Freaks of the Industry.
Well we're the freaks of the industry
My girl Pretty Feat, oh my mellow Rex E.
The freaks of the industry
Yo, check us out on youtube, maybe then we'll meet
Well they say that coaches' wives get lonesome (lonesome)
Time to freak Pretty Feet gets on ‘em
Not a heavyweight but I go twelve rounds
With a new pair of socks I'm goin' kick for kick so
Give me the heels and I'll be the mistress
Just relax and I won't trip
Like Alosi, I'm scandalous and down for the team
And I'll be takin' a break, cause it's gettin' obscene
Yes, removing my sock we're toe to toe he's kissing on my bunions
He pauses to take a whiff and says they smell like rotten onions
"Pretty Feet," yeah, that's what you'll be sayin', not gamin'
Cause it's Rex E. and me, we're role playin'
We're dirtier than Sanchez, wakin' up every day feelin' foot-tastic
Getting out of our kicks, rubbing ‘em and teasing ‘em
Putting it on tape and pleasing ‘em
Cause we're the freaks of the industry
You's a freak Pretty Feat. You got that Rex E.
The freaks of the industry
And when we take off our shoes be prepared to breathe
Say she's sleepin' (Sleepin'?)
Thinks no one else is peepin'
Kickin' back in her car right in front of you
Layin wit' her feet up, and she's such a lovely lady (Ooh yeah)
You're lookin' at her from above (Yeah)
She looks kinda like Brady (The QB)
Uh uh, not the Brady with the playin' career
But Carol from the TV sitcom
The foxy mom? (Uh huh) A'ight, you respond:
She's lying on her back with her feet stickin' up in the air,
The smell of toe cheese everywhere
Should you: A, play with them out the car window,
B, you hook it up like Lew Alcindor
C, tell her that you want her love,
Well the answer is D, (D), all of the above
So you're rubbin' (rubbin'), the Lubriderm's comin' (comin')
She's lovin' every single tickle and squeeze
Toe to toe, and heel to heel
You're taxin' ‘em and waxin' ‘em and showin' sex appeal
Till the tootsies start lookin' like your next meal
Which is cool, but the camera's still aimin' its lens at you
If this ends up on YouTube, then some people might clown you
In this situation, what do you do? (What?)
A, you plain and simply back up off her
B, you disappear just like Jimmy Hoffa
C, you look into the camera and yell, "Cut!"
Well, D is what I do, so yo, listen up:
I put the camera on the floor and sneak in through the passenger-side door
Now I'm right next to her sweat pores
Check the screen so I'm unseen, but they can listen
There'll be no uploading and there'll be no dissin' (Dissin')
Gettin' back to my mission, break out the whipped cream and the cherries
Then I go through all the fly positions:
My hand under her ankle and my mouth under her toe
She says, "Let's get a g-damn snack, baby let yourself go"
I hit it and split it, lick it and quit it
After the ride, grab the camera and walk outside
And before my pretty babe gets a chance to speak
I say, "Call me Paul Bunion, I guess I'm just a freak!"
Cause we're the freaks of the industry
Aw, you's a freak, Rex E. Yo, you worse Pretty Feat
The freaks of the industry
We got our fetishes on and we're so discreet
(You know what Rex, you's a freak
I seen you with that girl in green Converse after that walk she took
And what about that mustard yellow love seat?
Sssh, don't tell noboby)
It's like this:
Now if there's a cure for this,
We don't want it, we'll run from it
And if there's a remedy
It ain't actin', it's Tinactin
(This is to the tootsies: I'm a freak
Hey, yo, piano man: take us out of here, man)