GREEN BAY — There were chants of “USA! USA!” as the oversized American flag was unfurled. There was a contingent of active military members in camouflage uniforms on the field along with the traditional color guard.
And there were no boos as the Green Bay Packers’ players and coaches locked arms along the west sideline, as promised.
Whether the unifying moment the Packers had in mind occurred, that’s hard to say. But it certainly appeared that after all the heated debate over the past week over NFL players’ behavior during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” nothing overly controversial occurred before the Packers and Chicago Bears kicked off Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
The Packers players had released a statement Tuesday, asking fans to join them in interlocking arms during the national anthem in what they called a “moment of unification.”
There was plenty to talk about after the anthem, too, as a heavy storm — featuring lightning, wind and rain — swept through the Green Bay area in the first half, forcing stadium officials to clear the stands in what resulted in a 47-minute delay. The Packers went on to build a 21-0 lead by halftime. The game was not finished as of Tribune press time.
During the national anthem before Sunday’s victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, many of the players locked arms on the sideline but a handful of players stood apart from the sideline chain while three players — tight end Martellus Bennett, tight end Lance Kendricks and cornerback Kevin King — sat on the bench.
President Donald Trump’s criticism last Saturday of NFL players who had chosen to protest during the anthem led to a groundswell of opposition throughout the league last weekend. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bennett, along with a host of other players, talked at length earlier in the week about how to approach the anthem before Thursday night’s game, feeling that it was important that the entire sideline do the same thing.
As he said he would, Packers coach Mike McCarthy — along with his staff — joined the players in locking arms.
“I think it’s like anything in life: You’re never going to have everybody feel 100 percent the same way,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “But it’s just something we’ve talked about a lot as a football team because I always want to make sure the why — Why are we doing this? — is explained. You want them to just have the opportunity to disagree.
“The process that they’ve gone through, I’m proud of them. The approach is one of a positive nature, and that’s definitely the preference. Locking arms and honoring the flag, I think it’s a very good thing.”
While the CBS and NFL Network cameras captured small groups of fans locking arms during the anthem, it appeared at least in the sections beneath the seventh-floor press box that most fans merely stood as they normally would during the anthem, many of them with a hand over their hearts.
Rodgers has become increasingly vocal about the issues that led to the ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest last year. Rodgers was also among the driving forces behind a team meeting earlier this week that led to the statement and the decision to lock arms to show unity against social injustice, racial inequality and police brutality.