Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lambeau Field: Where's the magic?

When I was growing up in the 1990's, there were a few things that were just accepted as simple truths:  if you talked back you'd get spanked, if you didn't brush you'd get cavities, and, oh yeah, if the Packers were playing at home they were going to win.

Indeed, during this era, Lambeau Field was more like a fortress than a football stadium, with the Green and Gold apparently capable of imposing their will on visiting teams. Entire seasons would pass without yielding a home defeat ('96, '97, and '02, with a certain game disregarded because it occurred in 2003). I'd go as far as to say that the phenomenon of the Packers' inability to lose at home bordered on the supernatural.

However, in recent years, it seems that the luster of Lambeau has begun to fade. While certainly the building is still a shrine to football, a veritable cathedral of all things holy to pigskin, these spiritual attributes do not seem to be translating to W's for the Pack, at least not in the way they used to. One only needs to think back upon recent embarrassing home defeats, such as the humiliating loss to the Vikings following Lambeau's rededication in 2003, or the 2006 26-0 shellacking at the hands of the Bears, to see that this is true. Such atrocities would never have been allowed in the 90's.

But were these just anomalies, or part of something bigger? Curious to see if the Packers' recent track-record at home has been as bad as it seems, I decided to do some number crunching. I came to this shocking realization: It's been far worse.

From 1994 to 2002, the Packers were nearly invincible within the confines of Lambeau, losing a total of just 9 home games (an average of only one per year) during this entire stretch. Of course, they were really, really good during this time, and didn't lose many games, period, with a 105-50 overall record (including playoffs). However, even when controlling for overall team success, we discover that the Packers had a decisive edge when playing in Green Bay.
Home/Away Losses Breakdown 
 The above chart isolates home and away losses and considers them in proportional terms, rather than absolute ones. This is an important distinction, which will allow us to make comparisons between different segments of time, when the performance of the team, overall, was quite different. So while it is helpful to know the Packers' overall home record during this period (69-9), as well as their winning percentage at Lambeau (88%), I believe what the chart above tells us is more useful.

Here's what it indicates. From 1994-2002, the Packers lost 50 total games. 41 of those occurred outside of Lambeau, while only 9 occurred in it. As the pie chart indicates, the proportion of home losses is much smaller compared to the proportion of away losses. Less than 20% of the Packers losses during this period occurred at Lambeau. In other words, the Packers were four times less likely to lose at Lambeau than they were anywhere else. If that's not a home-field advantage, I don't know what is.

But for some reason, everything changed in the year 2003. Mind you, not the 2003 NFL season, but in the calendar year itself. The date was January 4th. The Packers, fresh off a highly successful regular season (including a perfect home record), were hosting Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons in a NFC Wild-Card match up at Lambeau Field. The Packers lost 27-7. Not only were they eliminated from the playoffs, but they also lost their first postseason game at Lambeau, EVER. Prior to that day, the Packers had been 11-0 in the playoffs at all-time at Lambeau, dating back over 50 years. Since then, they've been a pathetic 2-3, including a humiliating defeat to "Full Moon" Randy Moss and the Vikings and, of course, the agonizing overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC Conference Championship.

Of course, post-January 4th, 2003 the Packers haven't reserved their mediocrity at home for just the playoffs. As mentioned before, they went on to lose the season opener to the Vikings the following August, and have put together a disgraceful overall home record of 32-28 over the past seven years. From '94-'02, the Packers had just two seasons with more than two home losses. Since, they've lost at least two home games each year, including three seasons ('04, '05, and '06) in which they lost more games at home than they won. These statistics are noteworthy in their own right, but to truly magnify the differences in home performance between pre-2003 and post-2003, we need to look at the data in terms of proportion.

Home/Away Losses Breakdown 2003-2010
From January 4, 2003 to the present day, the Packers have lost a total of 55 games. 28 losses have been within the confines of Lambeau, while 27 have occurred elsewhere. So essentially half of the teams losses occurred at home, and half away. Compare this with the previous graph. The differences are absolutely astounding. Whereas less than 20% of the Packers losses from '94-'02 took place at home, over 50% of their losses from '03 onward have occurred at Lambeau. In other words, the Packers are just as likely (if not a little more likely) to lose at Lambeau than they are anywhere else. Home-field advantage has vanished. The magic is gone.

What's the cause of this? Practically speaking, it could be a number of things. For one, Brett Favre got noticeably worse in cold weather as his career went on, descending from "fantastic" to "horrible." This could explain why home losses became more prevalent in the latter half of his career, which incidentally lines up with the '03-'10 time-frame we've just examined.

Another possible explanation is the change in coaches and their pre-game preparation for home games. Perhaps Mike Holmgren knew something about psyching the team up for home games that Mike Sherman didn't and Mike McCarthy has yet to figure out. Afterall, McCarthy's preparation for cold games has been called into question more than once.

Those explanations all sound perfectly plausible, and may very well have something to do with it. However, if you're looking for something with a little more mystery and intrigue, here's a theory: Stadium renovation has caused the Packers to lose their home-field advantage.

 Are you to blame, Renovated Lambeau?
Interesting angle, right? I don't think it's any coincidence that the majority of the renovation project took place in 2003, the same year the Packers home-field advantage began to disappear. "But wait!", some will exclaim. "What about the loss to Vick and the Falcons? That occurred in January 2003, before the renovations were completed!"

Well right you are. But here's my response. The loss to Atlanta was allowed by the spirit of Lambeau Field in an effort to warn the Packers management of completing the renovations. It was an omen of things to come if renovation should continue. Sure enough, renovation went on throughout the summer, was completed in time for the 2003 season, and the Packers have gone on to more or less have no home-field advantage at Lambeau since then. And that, my friends, is the truth.

So what does this all mean? Is the edge Lambeau once gave the Green and Gold permanently gone? Will the Packers be doomed to hover around .500 at home from now until infinity? I don't think so. I think the problem is that we took home-field advantage for granted when we had it, and have dismissed its importance since we've lost it. This is the issue we're faced with. We need to come clean. We need to admit that playing in Lambeau is special, that winning there matters, and that we'll probably never reach another Super Bowl without reestablishing the special connection with the stadium we play in. Do this and hopefully we can bring back the magic.

*Note: Because the Packers played more home games from '03-'10 than they did away games (5 home playoff games vs 2 away games [from '94-'02 they had 6 postseason games at Lambeau and 6 away, so it's a non-factor]), they've had a couple more opportunities to lose games at home than they have on the road. (I probably should've examined the proportion of home winning percentage vs losing winning percentage[I did: 31-27 away, 32-28 home = 53.4% chance of winning on the road, 53.3% chance of winning at home. So, yep, same thing]). However, 3 games is not enough to alter the findings in a significant way, and I believe the data presented above paints an accurate picture of the Packers track-record at Lambeau. Argue with me if you disagree.

Oh, and I'm not sure how the Packers overall performance at home was prior to 1994, and indeed, it'd be interesting to compare this era to the two examined here. However, the point of my study was simply to determine if the Packers have gotten worse at home since my childhood, and, indeed, they have.


  1. Don't forget the famous "Bwoah Jue play" in the 2004 Playoffs. Fourth and 28, and another embarrassing home loss.

  2. I appreciate the professionalism of this article much more than your article about our favorite "Big Brown Marshmallow".

  3. 2004 game was in Philly. And i like to mix it up, Willa.

  4. First time reading your work. Very good. And thank God that "lambeau expansion" thing was sarcasm, because it could've ruined the whole article...

    Anyway, I agree with the "home-field" sentiment explanation, and I believe it got back after the AZ loss, with MM or Rodgers saying that if we were at home the calls would've been different, and that that's what we get for not winning the division.

  5. hey why does Padget never post anything?

    oh ya cuz he's probably lifting a gang of weight and becoming a fuckin barge while you do this stuff.

  6. I think the graphical representation of historical W/L statistics would have been improved with a bar graph showing winning PERCENTAGES over the period in question. Raw wins is somewhat misleading due to the fact that you might not be directly comparing 'apples-to-apples' as a result of home/road playoff games.

  7. How about the fact that they have a indoor training facility? that kills any advantage the Packers have in cold weather by not being prepared for it.