UPDATE: Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported today that the Packers will take their official team photo on Friday during Super Bowl week, which will allow injured players to be included. The original plan called for the team picture to take place on Tuesday, but injured players weren't scheduled to arrive in Dallas until Thursday.
GREEN BAY – The first official distraction of Super Bowl XLV arrived for the Green Bay Packers on Tuesday. And, like most such off-the-field stories that tend to take on a life of their own, with the help of Twitter – something teams didn’t have to worry about the last time the Packers were in a Super Bowl.
It all began when injured Packers linebacker Nick Barnett, followed by injured tight end Jermichael Finley, Tweeted about the injustice of the Packers’ decision not to bring the players on injured reserve to Super Bowl XLV until Thursday. The Packers have 15 players on injured reserve, including six starters.
The team photo is taken on Tuesday, the same day as media day.
Barnett got the faux controversy started, Tweeting, “Kinda sad... Found out basically IR guys can not be in team picture... It's kinda sad to think.. Just goes you injured yourself you not part."
Not sure if the end of that makes much sense, but you get the point.
Finley then followed suit, Tweeting, “We got hurt playing for the team. Its not like we got injury bs'in around.” … “And its a team rule! Shame” … “I never trip abt anything, but the way IR players are getting treated not cool” … “I guess its what have u done for me lately!”
That set the Twitterverse ablaze, with followers of both players voicing their displeasure with the team’s decision. An unscientific review of fan reaction put roughly 85 percent of the Tweets being in support of the players’ opinions.
It was enough of an uproar that Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette contacted the team’s public-relations department, and PR director Jeff Blumb told him: "It was a team decision driven by the sheer number of players on IR. Our primary focus is to get the team ready to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Every decision we make is about trying to win a world championship."
Blumb stood by that statement when reached later in the day, adding that the “sheer number” of players on injured reserve were a factor.
The 15 players on injured reserve are Barnett, Finley, safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Brandon Chillar, running back Ryan Grant, defensive end Justin Harrell, tight end Spencer Havner, linebacker Brad Jones, safety Derrick Martin, defensive end Mike Neal, offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse, linebacker Brady Poppinga, safety Anthony Smith and right tackle Mark Tauscher.
The last two times the Packers went to the Super Bowl, following the 1996 and 1997 seasons, noteworthy players on injured reserve did accompany them. For Super Bowl XXXI, wide receiver Robert Brooks and linebacker George Koonce were among the players interviewed on the annual Media Day the Tuesday before the game in New Orleans. For Super Bowl XXXII, running back Edgar Bennett and cornerback Craig Newsome traveled with the team to San Diego and also took part in the week’s festivities.
Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Finley said the players voiced their concerns to the team on Monday.
“They wouldn’t budge,” Finley said.
There are logistical reasons that the injured reserve players won’t be part of the team picture, according to Blumb. For one, their temporary medical facilities away from Lambeau Field won’t be able to accommodate 53 active roster players, eight practice-squadders plus 15 players from injured reserve. Injured players in the midst of their rehabilitation assignments can’t afford time off from their work.
The players aren’t being excluded from game-day festivities. Although some of them did not attend games after their injuries, all 15 will be allowed to be on the sideline for the Feb. 6 game and will take part in the various pre-game festivities once they arrive in town the Thursday before the game.
Barnett later posted what read like an apology: “I was not trying to be a distraction nor was I downing the organization they have done so much for me over last 8 years.” … “Just saying I am sad that it worked out the way it did.. This game is bigger then my feelings and my body of work.. It's about "One Goal"!
Finley followed suit later, Tweeting, “I think about it this next two weeks is about the unbelievable success of my teammates and last thing I want is to be distraction. I was little disappointed about not bein in the photo because I feel as much a part of team today as I did back in September but it is what it is.”
As Kevin Seifert, the NFC North blogger for ESPN.com, pointed out, our very own Bill Markut (No. 32 on “The D-List) suggested that the 15 guys on injured reserve get together and pose for their own picture once they get down to North Texas, and then sell copies of that photo to benefit Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer. Perhaps that would give an otherwise oddball story a happy ending.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.