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Mike McCarthy laughs, wells up about return to Green Bay: ‘This is bulls***’

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FRISCO, Texas. Mike McCarthy was trying to say that this week will not be emotional.

The head coach of the Dallas Cowboys was trying to say that his return to Green Bay was “just like that,” four years after the end of his 13-season tenure as head coach of the Packers.

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McCarthy insisted that “You must be ready to win” and “I’m going there to win.”

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But gradually, over the course of his nearly 22-minute press conference, he allowed his tough exterior to crumble. Reality and the sentimentality that goes with it may have triumphed. And McCarthy provided a glimpse into how much the city in which he’s built a Super Bowl-winning legacy and family means to him – for better and for worse.

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“These are bulls ***”, McCarthy said, during one question about what he misses most about the birthplace of his wife and daughters. You guys are trying to make me cry.

McCarthy’s eyes filled with tears, and his voice choked, and soon it happened.

“What do I miss the most?” he asked. “People. Only people.”

The Cowboys are heading to Lambo Field this weekend to improve the score to 7-2. They will face a Packers team that looked completely disheveled Sunday in a 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions. Rodgers hit two goals into the end zone, his first career performance in 215 is starting to hold that offhand distinction.

Current Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy (right) has spent over a decade coaching Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.  On Sunday, he returns to Lambo Field to face Rodgers and the Packers.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Current Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy (right) has spent over a decade coaching Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. On Sunday, he returns to Lambo Field to face Rodgers and the Packers. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

McCarthy still praised the quarterback whose first 13 years of his career and the first 11 starting years he coached and called games. Under McCarthy and Rodgers, the Packers qualified for eight consecutive postseasons, advancing to the NFC Championship game three times. Their Super Bowl victory followed the 2010 season. During this stretch, Rodgers earned seven Pro Bowl berths, including two MVP awards.

McCarthy downplayed the poignancy that reportedly ruined their last stretch together.

“We had great communication,” McCarthy said. “I have nothing for him but love and gratitude. I think, like everything in life, I think personal relationships are private and you have to remember: I was born in the 60s. I express myself better in public. Just a huge gratitude not only to him, but to all the players, the team that we had there. We had a great time”.

McCarthy recalled his one-on-one conversations with Rodgers, especially in the early years of the quarterback’s pro career.

“It always ended with hugs and ‘I love you,'” McCarthy said. “When I think about our relationship, I think he made me a much better coach. You are talking about a man who is one of the best professional athletes of his generation.

“I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

McCarthy’s journey through the backstreets of memory caused more than just smiles. On Monday, he acknowledged the pain of his December 2018 ouster and the shame he endured while living in Green Bay during the 2019 season away from coaching.

“To be honest, the exit left a dent in our family,” McCarthy said. But it’s been four years. We are much better for it. We’ve had time to process it all and it’s a bit unique. I mean, I don’t recommend anyone going through this to stay there in the city while you’re going through this. But I remember on my vacation I had several knee surgeries and my rehab was there in Titletown Orthopedics, right next to Lambo Field. I don’t recommend this either. Four days a week.

“But it’s all part of it, and obviously our family has strong ties there. And always will be.”

McCarthy acknowledged his history in Green Bay at a team meeting on the Monday after saying goodbye to the Cowboys, opining that “I don’t think I would be doing my job if I wasn’t doing it.” But his message was not about his own fame or pain, nor about his descent into the past. Rather, he showed the players how his past and their past affects their present.

McCarthy’s experience in organizing pranks and building relationships shaped the coach under whom the Cowboys improved their winning percentage from .375 in their first year to .706 in their second year and now .750 in their third year. Playoff success remains elusive, but McCarthy loves how the shooter is trending — and heeds the lessons learned in Green Bay when building the fund.

“Many times throughout your journey, you return to many places to show how much you have grown,” veteran security Malik Hooker recalled McCarthy’s motive. “Obviously we all feel like this is a mandatory win at this point in the season we are in. It probably means a little more to him, because at some point this is where his heart was.”

Rookie left tackle Tyler Smith said he thought returning to Lambo would “definitely give McCarthy a lot of emotion.”

“I always want to win, period,” Smith said. “But, of course, only with his history, the great things that he did there, it means a lot. I know that this victory will mean a lot to him among others. The whole team, the whole mood here is that we will have to beat them with all our might, break them to get a dub.

“It’s a big game for the organization.”

Cowboys became favorites with 5.5 points. on the road after the Packers fell to 3–6, four games behind the Vikings in the NFC North. Dallas ranks third in the conference rankings, even as undefeated Philadelphia maintains its hold on the NFC East.

So starting at 4:25 pm ET Sunday, McCarthy will put aside thoughts of friends and family, trophies and past colleagues. He will look to capitalize on his vast knowledge of Rodgers and several other former players to lead the Cowboys to victory in what could be a very special season for the defense.

Would McCarthy venture a glance at the road across from the stadium, adjacent to the Packers’ driving range, a road renamed in 2014 from Potts Avenue to the “Mike McCarthy Way”?

“I just drive by from time to time,” McCarthy chuckled, “to make sure the sign is still up.”

Follow Jori Epstein of Sportzshala Sports on Twitter. @JoriEpstein


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