THUMBS UP: Green Bay Packers fans are used to spending March — the month in the National Football League calendar when the top free agents can sign with the team of their choosing — with their faces pressed to the glass, watching the train of experienced players speed past to the other 31 league teams. Former general manager Ted Thompson disdained free agency, for the most part, preferring to build the team through the Draft later each spring. There were notable free-agent signing exceptions, such as Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers and Jimmy Graham, but for the most part, fans of the Green and Gold watched rookies learn on the job … and watched the team frequently get off to a slow start despite having Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
So Tuesday was a bit of rush for Packers fans: In one day, Brian Gutekunst, Thompson’s successor as GM, signed four experienced players, three on defense, the side of the line of scrimmage that clearly needs the most help. Last season, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith were more productive in putting pressure on the other team’s quarterback than the four guys the Packers had taking turns at rushing from the edge, and safety Adrian Amos started every game for the Chicago Bears last year. That would be the same Bears who took up a position the Packers had gotten used to thinking of as their own: First place in the National Football Conference’s North Division. Gutekunst also signed offensive lineman Billy Turner, who hopefully will bolster the depth among the guys in charge of keeping Rodgers upright and free to fire the ball downfield. We’re thrilled to see the Packers spending some money on proven players.
We also can’t help but think that the all-in-one-day spree is connected to the man wearing the No. 12 jersey: Rodgers is 35, and will be 36 before the 2019 season ends. Gutekunst and team President Mark Murphy have to know that stopwatch is counting down with regard to the future first-ballot Hall of Famer, that the window of opportunity with Rodgers has gotten much nearer to closing since Feb. 6, 2011, the last time the Packers appeared in the Super Bowl. No fan of the Packers wants to see Rodgers join Brett Favre in the category of “leaving Green Bay with just one Super Bowl ring.” Tuesday’s moves suggest Packers management is serious about not letting that happen.
THUMBS UP: A local voice on “The Voice:” Racine-Kenosha area viewers of NBC’s singing competition “The Voice” are used to seeing exceptional singers on the show. They’re not used to seeing a local audition for the established musical artists; at least they weren’t until the March 5 episode, when Betsy Ade of Kenosha did so well, she was picked by John Legend to be on his team. “That was absolutely exhilarating,” Ade said of the moment when the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter signaled his choice by hitting the big red button and spinning his chair around. “He changed my life within the matter of one second.” Ade’s band, Well Known Strangers, has performed around Racine County for years, including at Party on the Pavement and HarborFest. We can’t tell you when Ade will be on the show again — NBC officials wouldn’t tell us — so you’ll just have to keep watching. Which, we suppose, is exactly why NBC wouldn’t tell us.
THUMBS UP: Come on Downtown to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day: The 13th annual Downtown Racine St. Patrick’s Day Parade steps off at noon Saturday at the corner of State and Main streets. As in previous years, the parade will proceed south on Main Street, turn west onto Sixth Street and end near City Hall. Before that, members of the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance will give a literal kickoff to the festivities at 11:30 a.m. on Monument Square. New to the Downtown festivities this year are a St. Pat’s Day 5K run and, for those not yet ready to run that far all at once, the Paddy’s 0.08ish K. (To register for the races, go to www.stpatsday.5K.run.)
This winter has been rougher than those of recent years, and while Saturday’s forecast doesn’t call for temperatures as many degrees above freezing as we’d like, the precipitation probability is low, and it’s rain, not snow. So come on down to Main or Sixth, enjoy the parade, then grab a late lunch at one of more than 45 Downtown establishments, many of which will be offering St. Paddy’s Day specials. Or stop in for a pint, alcoholic or otherwise, and raise a toast. As the Irish say: Slainte (Good health).