Has Packers Popularity Affected NFL Politics?
Since their return to NFL elite status, the Green Bay Packers have been recognized as one of, if not the most popular teams in the NFL. A 2011 poll including nine historically popular NFL franchises found the Packers popularity to be twice that of the next most popular team, the Dallas Cowboys. A 2012 ESPN poll including all teams found the Packers to be the second most popular team behind the Cowboys.
It is no wonder then, that since their return to the Super Bowl in 1996, the Packers have been hugely influential in two major NFL moments. No, I am not talking about their two Super Bowl victories, however major those were. I am referring to two moments which effected the league as a whole: the reinstatement of instant replay in 1999 and the quick end to the lockout after the Monday night officiating debacle against the Seattle Seahawks in week three of the this season.
Let’s start with the return of instant replay in ’99. During the 1998 NFL season, “a rash of high-profile controversial officiating calls” left many fans, coaches and players calling for the installment of a post-season instant replay system. One of the more memorable calls came in a game between the New York Jets and the Seattle Seahawks. In the waning moments of the game, Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde was granted a touchdown on a play, despite not having broken the goal line. The Testaverde touchdown gave the Jets the victory and kept the Seahawks out of the playoffs.
Despite game-changing calls like the one in the Jets-Seahawks game, the NFL decided against the proposed post-season replay system, criticizing the proposed plan “as both an overreaction and as hastily conceived.” Then came the Jerry Rice fumble fiasco, which I argued last week was the most harmful botched call in Packers history. With a playoff game decided by incorrect officiating, the NFL’s hand was forced. Instant replay was reinstated the next season.
Much like the ’98 season, this current season was rife with controversy coming into the Monday night matchup between the Seahawks and the Packers. The replacement officials were accused of missing calls, endangering the players and affecting the game’s integrity in the process. Again, the Packers were a significant catalyst for change – the referee lockout was resolved before the next NFL game.
Whether or not the Packers popularity played into the changes highlighted above is not certain; what is clear is that the Packers have been central in changing NFL policy, both in the case of instant replay and this season’s lockout. Perhaps it is just chance that found the Packers influential in bringing about these changes.
I like to think it is something more than that, namely that when Packer Nation talks, the NFL listens.