Cedric Benson and the Five Stages of Loss
by Mike Conklin
August 12, 2012
It is now official. Cedric Benson is a member of the Green Bay Packers.
It was first reported that Benson was in Green Bay on Friday, but he did not sign with the team until Sunday. Little did we know that this brief period of time would prove to be an interesting study in human behavior. In those three days, a surprising phenomenon swept Packer Nation. We were able to witness a highly condensed version of the stages traditionally associated with grief or loss.
To understand the strong reaction to the Benson signing, we must first consider how fans felt about his predecessor. Ryan Grant was a popular player. Everyone loves an underdog story, and that is how fans first came to know him. He was a player stashed on the bottom of the Giants roster, and was virtually unknown until Ted Thompson traded a late round pick for him. He languished on the Packers bench at the beginning of the 2007 season, before bursting on to the scene and rushing for almost 1,000 yards in only 10 starts. He went on to rush for over 200 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff game against Seattle. Needless to say, Grant made a strong first impression on Packers fans. Over the next several years, he proved to be a loyal teammate, leader in the locker room, and all around good guy.
When Grant wasn't re-signed this offseason, it seemed a little curious. The Packers are a very good team with very few holes on their roster, and should contend for a championship. Without Grant, they had very little experience or depth at the running back position. Grant made some good plays down the stretch last season, highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown reception in the season finale against the Lions, so it appeared that he still had something left in the tank. As time went by throughout the offseason and it appeared Grant would be available at a reduced price, it seemed like it would make sense for the Packers to bring him back if it became necessary.
Then on Friday, the news broke that the Packers were on the verge of signing Cedric Benson. Fans didn't know what to make of the story. Twitter exploded. And that is when we first began to observe the five stages of grief among Packers fans.
On his website, noted expert on grief David Kessler describes the first stage in the grieving process: "In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on."
Packers fans everywhere were in complete denial about this story. They just couldn't believe or even comprehend it. Surely it wasn't really happening. It was just a report, right? He wasn't actually signed. Was it just an internet rumor? There was no way it could be true.
"Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process," writes Kessler. "Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless."
There was plenty of anger about this across the Twitterverse. Fans just couldn't believe that Ted Thompson would ever sign someone like Benson. It was so out of character for him. Benson was a bust in Chicago, a malcontent that pouted his way of town. He definitely wasn't "Packer People" after having been arrested four times within the past five years. He had fumbled almost twice as many times in the past two years than all the Packers running backs combined, and that would not set well with Mike McCarthy. Grant, on the other hand, was a great guy. He knew the system. He had the trust of his quarterback. What was Ted thinking?
"After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce," Kessler writes. "We become lost in a maze of 'If only' or 'What if' statements. We want life returned to what it was."
For fans, this may have taken the form of hoping that the Benson signing wasn't really happening after all. Because it was reported that Benson was in Green Bay but no official announcement came right away, many fans thought that the Packers thought better of the idea after further consideration. What if they realized it wasn't such a good idea after all? What if Starks can turn it up a notch for the rest of the preseason? (Fans didn't know at that point that Starks was going to be out with a turf toe.) What if Brandon Saine comes back from his injury right away? What if Alex Green turns out to be a great player?
"After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present," Kessler continues. "Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined."
Some fans on Twitter were beside themselves about this. If Benson came in and got arrested and suspended, or even worse was a cancer in the locker room, the season could be lost. There was no upside to the the signing. He was too old, had too low of a yards-per-carry average, was a turnover machine, wasn't a good pass catcher, and was a chronic problem child. He was a ticking time bomb. Nothing good could come of this. It was just a bad move that could derail the entire season. If things go the wrong way and this implodes, the Packers might struggle to even make the playoffs. After all, the rest of the division got a lot better this offseason.
"This stage is about accepting the reality (of the situation), and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality," writes Kessler.
In three short days, it seems that many fans have come all the way around to this point. In the time that passed between Benson's arrival in town until he actually signed on the dotted line with the Packers, fans have had a chance to process the idea. And unlike the stages of real grief, where those affected merely come to terms with the idea but could never actually be happy about their loss, many fans are actually starting to convince themselves that this is a good thing for their team. They are beginning to embrace the idea, and many people are actually getting excited about the signing. It has been noted that Benson achieved his success in Cincinnati behind a suspect offensive line and without a truly potent offensive attack like the Packers can offer. He could add a dimension that the Packers have lacked, could improve the four-minute offense, and could make Aaron Rodgers' play action game even more effective.
Maybe if the Packers hadn't won the Super Bowl and then had a 15-1 season in the past two years, the process wouldn't have come full circle quite so quickly. But with the success the Packers have enjoyed recently, fans can find the positives in this situation much more easily than they could have otherwise. After all, as fans like to say...
"In Ted We Trust."
Photo Credit: Cincinnati Enquirer