Victories by Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers could bring lots of national attention to Upper Peninsula

Steve Brownlee

Will there be some sort of crack in the time-space continuum if the Packers and Lions play each other for the NFC Championship a week from now?

Don’t worry, I don’t know what a “crack in the time-space continuum” means either, but it sounds like one of those Star Trek/Game of Thrones/The Weather Channel cool phrases those people use.

Truly, though, if that happens, I get the feeling that a bunch of national media outlets will converge on the Upper Peninsula as the only area in the country that roots for both those teams.

Nowhere else can that be said. Certainly, just about everyone in the Lower Peninsula roots for the Lions, with the possible exception of areas along the extreme southern border near Ohio and Indiana.

And depending on which part of a neighboring state they’re closest to, they would have divided loyalties with the Lions and Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts or Chicago Bears, but not the Packers.

People in the northeast corner of Illinois hugging Lake Michigan could be in that gray area between the Lions and Packers, except that they are either in or right next to Chicago and so the Bears take all those fans.

Of course, I’m sure there are individuals or quite small pockets of people in New York City or Oklahoma or California or Alaska or Hawaii, where they root for or are torn by their loyalties to both Detroit and Green Bay, maybe because they’ve lived in both Michigan and Wisconsin earlier in their lives.

But they’re such small minorities in their areas that there wouldn’t be a “group think” of being torn between the two NFC North teams like we have here in the U.P.

Taking a look at the website I cited here last week, ChampsOrChumps.com, I see it really is true that the Packers and Lions have never won a playoff game in the same year — until last weekend.

But I do remember a year while working for The Mining Journal that came closest to these divided loyalties.

It was the 1997 season, actually in January 1998, when the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Packers in the NFC Championship game that Green Bay won 23-10 before the Packers would fall in Super Bowl XXXII to Denver.

That was Iron Mountain native and Northern Michigan University graduate Steve Mariucci’s first year as head coach of the 49ers. At one time, he was best known as the quarterback of the Wildcats’ national championship football team in 1975. After that, one of his coaching stops was as quarterbacks coach for Green Bay, specifically tutoring Packers star Brett Favre, who was still in his prime in ’97.

I actually put a request in to interview Mariucci by telephone during the week leading up to that Packers-49ers game — I was here at The Mining Journal, though not as a sportswriter at the time — and got a call from the 49ers office, I think on the Wednesday afternoon before that NFC Championship game, that “Mr. Mariucci” would be calling me in a few minutes.

I told a few of my newsroom colleagues here about it, then excitedly waited by the phone, not venturing more than five or six feet from my desk in the 15 minutes I had to wait.

When “Mr. Mariucci” and I did talk, among the things I asked about was what his family based in Iron Mountain thought about the game, considering they were also diehard Packers fans, and the phrase “blood is thicker than water” kind of summed it up for them, including for Steve’s two sisters who lived and worked in Marquette County.

Of course, for most people, it was an easy choice about who to root for if you weren’t part of the extended Mariucci clan.

Then again, if the Lions and Packers play next week, it will be just like a regular season game with the vast majority of us already having picked our side.

Let’s just see if that happens, but in the meantime, let’s look at this week’s divisional round, with games listed chronologically with conference, seeding, win-loss record, game time and TV coverage. By the way, you WILL be able to watch all four of these games on cable TV:


AFC No. 4 Houston (11-7) at No. 1 Baltimore (13-4), 4:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC & ESPN — Even with Houston as my remaining darkhorse pick to get to the Super Bowl, this still seems like Baltimore’s game to lose, as in their biggest potential problem may be rust.

That’s because the Ravens haven’t played a meaningful game since Week 17, New Year’s weekend, when the Ravens clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a 56-19 home blowout of Miami.

Several decades ago, there were multiple examples of teams who clinched early — I remember Denver starting something like 14-0 one year and having two or three meaningless regular-season weeks, then laying an egg and exiting in their playoff opener.

Actually, Champs and Chumps shows it was the ’96 season when Denver started 12-1, then lost two of their final three in the regular season to finish 13-3, and then after a bye week, lost to Jacksonville in the Broncos’ first playoff game, 30-27.

Now, though, with all the serious injuries to prominent players, everyone wants to rest and stay out of harm’s way as much as possible. So I’ll assume that if Baltimore does suffer rustiness, the players will be able to shake it off after a quarter or two. Ravens, 31-24.


NFC No. 7 Green Bay (10-8) at No. 1 San Francisco (13-4), 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Fox — I couldn’t pull the trigger last week, as much as I wanted to, to take the Packers in Dallas, since the Cowboys are proven NON-contenders when it comes to the playoffs. Plus just all the attention this Dallas teams receive for no special reason I can fathom makes me like to see them lose.

Similar to the Cowboys, the 49ers also didn’t go as far as it was perceived they should in the playoffs last season, but they had an excuse — no serviceable QB by the time they got to the NFC Championship game. Whatever you think of Mr. Irrelevant, QB Brock Purdy, he certainly does not play like he was the absolute last pick in the draft.

And what to make of San Fran throttling Dallas and Philly this season, but getting throttled themselves near the end of the season by Baltimore. Well, the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson really is a “unicorn,” and no matter how good Green Bay’s Jordan Love is, he looks like a run-of-the-mill QB when compared to Jackson.

Even as another team with “rust” issues, I’ve just got to stick to the chalk and take the 49ers, 26-23.


NFC No. 4 Tampa Bay (10-8) at No. 3 Detroit (13-5), 3 p.m. Sunday, NBC — Peacock is also listed with NBC as carrying this game, but apparently it’s not exclusively on Peacock, meaning we DO get to watch this game on Channel 6.

The Lions and Bucs met in Week 6, Oct. 15, with the Lions winning 20-6 at Tampa, as Detroit QB Jared Goff completed 30 of 44 passes for 353 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Bucs QB Baker Mayfield was much more pedestrian, completing 19 of 37 for 206 yards, no TDs and a pickoff.

Lions leading receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a dozen passes for 124 yards and a score, and there was no significant rushing as both teams were in the 40- to 50-yard range.

I give the Lions credit for pulling out last week’s game in the second half, even if it was only a one-point victory. And I DON’T give Tampa full credit for its victory over Philly — I think the Eagles were at the point that 2-15 Carolina would’ve been a mighty challenge.

With that in mind, I’ll take the Lions, 34-24.


AFC No. 3 Kansas City (12-6) at No. 2 Buffalo (12-6), 6:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS — This will be the marquee game of the weekend nationally, whether or not this one lives up to the hype.

I keep hearing about the Chiefs, “But he’s Patrick Mahomes, how can you pick against him?” Easy, if at best there is inconsistent receiving of this virtuoso’s artistry (i.e., the way he throws the ball), it’s a lot like if Rembrandt had just kept all his paintings in his garage and no one had ever seen them — what difference would it make how good he was?

Now maybe KC tight end Travis Kelce will come out of his doldrums, or wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling will show that the Packers should’ve retained him. But even if they do, Buffalo has seen a renaissance on offense since it made a change in coordinators at midseason.

So give me the Bills, 30-27.


Last week — 4-2, 67 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 552. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today