GREEN BAY – The annual Packers Family Night festivities had many familiar themes, exciting spectacles, kid friendly ticket prices, and of course fireworks, but for those well acquainted with the event something definitely looked different once the players took the field.
Gone is the 11 on 11 heavy scrimmage style of practice, in its stead, a practice that looked much like the ones you see on Nitschke Field. Fans knew this would be the case before hand and that didn’t seem to deter any of them from partaking. 67,336 fans packed the stands at Lambeau Field, providing an atmosphere drew Coach McCarthy’s praise.
“The energy from where I was standing was unbelievable. Maybe our best level of energy ever,” McCarthy said in his post-practice press conference. Wide receiver Myles White took part in his second Family Night. He enjoys the atmosphere, “It’s fun. The fans are into it and you have no choice but to be into it.”
The environment inspired awe from the rookies like Davante Adams. “It was unbelievable coming out of the tunnel and seeing all those people. I’ve never played in front of a crowd that big,” Adams said. Fellow rookie Richard Rodgers added, “It was great to just get out there and experience that for the first time.”
The new format is to take advantage of the limited practice time now available, but for many players, they look at it as a chance to avoid injury, as opposed to 2013 when starting offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost for the year with a torn ACL.
Bulaga said the events of the previous edition of Family Night were on his mind Saturday night. “To not have it in the back of my mind, I’d be lying to ya. Just, new year, new challenges every year, just to get past it and move on is good,” Bulaga shared.
BJ Raji appeared to tweak his ankle during the practice but didn’t seem too worried when he spoke to the media in the locker room. Instead he took time to praise the team’s choice to reformat the football portion of the evening. “I thought it was smart particularly for a team like us who in the past have been injury prone. It’s smart to not risk anybody in team tackling you know against each other,” Raji said.
Not everyone loved the idea of not tackling to the ground at Lambeau though. “It was just a little different because it wasn’t live and that’s what I’m used to every time I step on Lambeau Field and so I just kind of had to pull up. I couldn’t go full speed,” Jarrett Bush quipped.
Whether fully live or just going thud, Family Night remains a special evening for fans and players alike, even veterans like AJ Hawk. “Just being out there in that atmosphere, even warming up is big. I’m in my 9th year and I needed that. Every rep you get in an environment like that is big,” Hawk said.
When the team returns to the playing surface next, things will most definitely be “live” as they face the Oakland Raiders in the third game of the preseason.