McCarthy: Tragedy has touched entire team
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers has proved he can handle anything a defense throws at him on the football field.
But this week's wrenching events have dealt the Green Bay Packers family a tragedy that the Super Bowl MVP admittedly is not prepared for: the death of 21-year-old Michael Philbin, son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.
"I don't know the right words to say to him to try to comfort him," Rodgers said of Philbin. "I have zero experience. I have never dealt with anything like this before. I've never been to a funeral in my life."
Michael Philbin drowned early Sunday morning in a partially ice-covered river in Oshkosh. Packers spokeswoman Sarah Quick told FOXSports.com that the team doesn't have an official plan for Friday's service and attendance would be up to individual players, but Rodgers said "a number of us are going to make it."
The funeral will mark another deviation for the Packers, whose preparation for Sunday's second-round playoff game against the New York Giants has proceeded minus Philbin in recent days.
"We miss Joe, obviously," Rodgers said. "We miss his presence. We miss his friendship. We miss his coaching. There are guys who can pick up the slack to make it as close to a normal week of preparation as possible."
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said during a sometimes emotional news conference that he had planned to take over all of Joe Philbin's responsibilities himself (McCarthy already calls the plays on offense). But the other offensive assistants insisted on breaking up Philbin's usual tasks among themselves this week so McCarthy could go about his job as normal as possible.
"They have adapted," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. "Everybody has to take on some of the role that Philbin would have, but bear in mind we have a smart team. Coaches aren't going to force the issue and overthink things. We are still business as usual."
The Packers say they will bear the responsibility together.
"It's similar to what we do when a player goes down," Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. "You have to adjust. We want Joe to be able to take as much family time as he needs. Coaches have to step up, do more and pitch in. It's something you would like to never have to deal with, but things happen. I'm sure they have it all under control. Today's meetings went smooth, and I didn't expect anything else."
McCarthy described Wednesday's practice as one of the best of the season from an energy and execution standpoint. Still, his thoughts of what Joe Philbin and his family are enduring this week aren't far away. He gave no timetable on when Philbin might right return.
"He's with family, and he'll return when he's ready to return," McCarthy said.
Philbin has been an assistant with the Packers since 2003, the last five seasons as coordinator. His attention was whisked from football on Sunday after his son failed to return to a friend's residence in Oshkosh. A missing person's report was filed Sunday evening.
Meanwhile, divers — both from the Oshkosh fire department and the Winnebago County sheriff's office — searched the Fox River after a security guard at a manufacturing plant reported he saw somebody in the frigid water and that he heard pleas for help.
A body that would soon be identified as that of Michael Philbin was recovered from the river Monday afternoon.
"It was a punch in the heart," McCarthy said as his eyes teared up for a moment. "It lets everybody know how fortunate we are to be where we are."
On Wednesday, Oshkosh police said a preliminary autopsy found drowning was the cause of death. A toxicology report won't be available for several weeks.
Oshkosh police spokesman Joseph Nichols said in a news release that "detectives are continuing to investigate a timeline of events leading up to the tragedy."
Love and sympathy for the Philbin family flowed from the Lambeau Field locker room Wednesday. Expect the same Sunday from this insular community of Packers fans.
"It really goes in line with our family-first philosophy," McCarthy said. "Everybody is feeling it."