Lambeau not quite so hostile in recent playoffs

Lambeau not quite so hostile in recent playoffs

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The Green Bay Packers have the Minnesota Vikings right where they want them.

Or do they?

The Vikings (10-6) visit Lambeau Field for Saturday night's NFC wild card, and no place in the NFL has been tougher to play over the last three years. Green Bay (11-5) has won all but two of its last 28 regular-season home games, and its 22 home wins since the start of the 2010 season are one better than both New England and Baltimore.

But Lambeau hasn't been quite so fearsome in the postseason lately, with the Packers losing their last two home playoff games (both to the New York Giants) and three of their last four.

In fact, all four of the Packers' losses in home playoff games have come in the last six played at Lambeau.

``Home-field advantage, I know statistically it may not be what it used to be, but to me there's no place better to play than at Lambeau Field. I love everything about it,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ``Definitely we feel it's an advantage to have our crowd behind us, the surface that we play on. ... It will be a great atmosphere.''

Few teams have better fan bases than the Packers, the only publicly owned team in professional sports. To be from Wisconsin is to be a Packers fan, and loyalty has nothing to do with the won-loss record. The entire state comes to a standstill on Sunday afternoons, and Lambeau has been sold out since 1960 (the only blackouts in Green Bay have to do with electricity). Parents put their children on the waiting list for season tickets when they're born in hopes they'll get them by their 40th birthday, and Wisconsin kids talk about Aaron, B.J., Clay and Charles as if they're their best buddies at school.

``I'd rather be at home, I think anybody would,'' Clay Matthews said Wednesday. ``I mean, that's what you play for ... (to) make teams come into your backyard. Especially with us. We like to think living in this environment, playing in this environment, it plays to us well. "

Weather is behind much of the Green Bay advantage, to say nothing of its mystique.

Buffalo may have more snow, and the wind off Lake Michigan makes for some downright nasty conditions at Soldier Field. But the average temperature in Green Bay doesn't crack the freezing mark from December through February, and the thought of the Ice Bowl creeps into the minds of every opponent when they see a winter game at Lambeau on the schedule.

Temperature at kickoff for that 1967 NFL championship was 13 below, with a wind chill of minus-46. It was so cold the officials' whistles froze, and one fan died of exposure.

``You learn to live with it,'' said Matthews, who endured quite a shock when he arrived in Green Bay from sunny southern California. ``You can't avoid the elements out here.''

Saturday's game will feel like a heat wave by comparison to the Ice Bowl, with lows in the mid-teens, a wind chill near zero. And the weather in Minnesota is equally brutal, though the Vikings play indoors.

But feeling your nostrils freeze as you sprint to and from your car is a lot different than spending 3 1/2 hours in mind-numbing, finger-freezing cold on a regular basis.

``It's something that you have to be prepared for mentally,'' said Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who grew up in Texas and played at Florida State. ``I don't know how well you can prepare for it.''

And yet, the Packers haven't done much with that home-field advantage recently.

It was Atlanta - a Southern team! - that gave Green Bay its first home playoff loss, in the 2002 NFC wild card. Two years later, the Vikings beat the Packers at Lambeau in their only other playoff matchup.

The Giants were more fit for the ``Frozen Tundra'' in the 2007 NFC Championship, beating the Packers in overtime in the second-coldest game at Lambeau Field. Last year, New York knocked the top-seeded Packers out at home.

Oh, and two years ago, when Green Bay won the Super Bowl? The Packers did it on the road, playing the entire postseason away from Lambeau Field.

``I'm not opposed to playing here. Obviously with our crowd and our fans, that's what we want as a team,'' Greg Jennings said. ``But going on the road, being isolated away from everyone, I think the focus level and the sense of urgency is just a little tad higher. Because you're dependent on your teammate. You travel, you're in a hotel, you're all together. It's you guys against everyone else outside of that hotel. So it's a little different.''

These aren't the same Packers that lost those other postseason games at Lambeau, either. Mike Sherman was coaching the Packers when they lost to Atlanta and Minnesota. That first loss to the Giants was Brett Favre's last game as a Packer.

``It hasn't worked out for us lately,'' Jennings said. ``But it's a different year.''

Notes: WR Jordy Nelson (knee) practiced Wednesday and said he plans to play against the Vikings. ... DE Jerel Worthy will not play the rest of the season after injuring his knee last Sunday in Minnesota. ... WR Jarrett Boykin (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday, but McCarthy said the injury isn't as bad as initially feared.


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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Washington Wizards

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

USA Today Sports

Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Alex Cobb's comfort and familiarity with the AL East was the deciding factor in his decision to sign with the Baltimore Orioles.

"They used the AL East and the success I've had in it to their advantage," the 30-year-old right-hander said Wednesday after finalizing a $57 million, four-year contract. "They kept challenging me with it and I love the challenge of pitching in this division and they know that over the times we talked. They did a really good job of making me feel like this is where I need to be."

Cobb gets $14 million in each of the first three seasons and $15 million in 2021, and he would earn a $500,000 bonus in each year he pitches 180 innings. Baltimore will defer $6.5 million from this year's salary and $4.5 million in each of the next three seasons.

He gets $2 million of the deferred money on Nov. 30, 2022, and $1.8 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2023-32. If he doesn't pitch at least 130 innings in 2020, an additional $5.25 million of the final's year salary would get deferred, payable $1.75 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2033-35.


Cobb has a full no-trade this year, then can list 10 teams from 2019-21 that he cannot be dealt to without his consent.

He had spent his entire six-season big league career with Tampa Bay and was the last big-name starting pitcher available in a slow-moving free agent market. He joined Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, who were signed last month, in a revamped rotation that includes holdovers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Cobb was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts last season. He pitched 179 1/3 innings in his first full year back after missing nearly two seasons because of Tommy John surgery.

He had turned down the Rays' $17.4 million qualifying offer in November, and Baltimore pursued him from the start of free agency.

"They didn't stop bothering me the whole offseason," Cobb said. "They were very persistent, and I think that you notice that confidence they have in you just by the way they speak to you and the questions you ask and not questioning anything that's gone on. Everyone's got flaws that they come with and potential things you could really harp on that might not be your strong suit, but they never went down that avenue. They always told me how much they like certain aspects of what I do on and off the field, and just kept repeating how well I fit in here."


Cobb is 48-35 with a 3.50 in six big league seasons. Baltimore will lose its third-highest draft pick, currently No. 51, and the Rays get an extra selection after the first round as compensation.

Jose Mesa Jr. was designated for assignment Wednesday to clear a roster spot.

Baltimore opens on March 29 at home against Minnesota, but Cobb won't be ready to pitch then. He has agreed to be optioned to a minor league affiliate to help build up innings.

"I'm going to be pushing it as quick as I can," Cobb said. "That's going to be up to them. They've invested in me for a four-year period and as much as we know how much every game matters even early in April, we're going to have to look out for the overall future of this whole thing and whole contract and whatever they determine to be the way to protect me and my feedback from the bullpens I'm going to be throwing here in the next few days will probably determine the timeline."