GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy called it a “punch in the heart.”
Then the typically stoic Green Bay Packers coach briefly lost his composure, pausing for several seconds as he choked up with emotion.
It was another sign of how hard the team has been hit by the death of Michael Philbin, the son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.
With Sunday’s playoff game against the New York Giants to prepare for — and a Super Bowl repeat to strive for — real life has knocked the Packers back.
“I think the reality of this just gave everybody a punch in the heart to let you know the reality,” McCarthy said, pausing and looking downward as he gathered his emotions. “How fortunate to be where we are.”
Philbin wasn’t with the team Wednesday and will be away indefinitely as he and his family deal with the loss of Michael, whose body was recovered from an icy Wisconsin river on Monday.
McCarthy said he and the rest of his offensive assistant coaches are dividing up Philbin’s responsibilities, and will continue to do so as long as they need to.
“Joe Philbin is where he’s supposed to be,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, Joe and I haven’t even talked about his responsibility — and will not. He’s with his family and he’ll return when he feels he’s ready to return.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin passed along his condolences.
“Our heart goes out to the Philbin family,” Coughlin said. “When we first heard this the other night, the whole coaching staff, the room went absolutely silent. Many guys know Joe Philbin. You have tremendous empathy, but you can’t (have) anywhere near the feeling that his family’s going through. Just tragic. The sympathy of the Giants organization goes out to the Philbin family.”
Although police didn’t publicly confirm Michael Philbin’s death until Tuesday morning, players were told Monday afternoon.
After a day off Tuesday, McCarthy talked to the team Wednesday about separating their personal challenges from their professional challenges.
“It really goes in line with the family-first philosophy,” McCarthy said. “Everybody’s feeling it. There’s no question on what level. That’s really for the individual (players) to speak on. But professionally, I’ve been very pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish. We had a very productive day Monday with everything going on on Monday. And today just a ton of energy.”
The Philbin family will hold a visitation Thursday and the funeral is Friday afternoon. Wide receiver Greg Jennings hopes he’ll be able to attend.
“Definitely,” Jennings said. “Obviously, he’s a part of us, he’s a part of our family and we’re a part of their family. When you work with a guy every single day from morning until late night, it’s like you become a part of them and they become a part of you. So we definitely want to support (them) if that will allow us.”
Aaron Rodgers also wants to attend the funeral — something he apparently hasn’t done before.
“I don’t know the right words to say to him to try and comfort him,” Rodgers said of Philbin. “I have zero experience and have never really dealt with anything like this before. I have never been to a funeral in my life, knock on wood. So this is a tough time.”
This week is especially tough for Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang, who already was dealing with the recent death of his father.
“Today I think was definitely tough, being the first day back, but I think it will get better,” Lang said. “With everything going on around the organization, it’s been pretty rough. I think times like these, when guys are going through some personal struggles, that guys really rally up and get behind you. I’ve had a lot of support, and I know everyone’s shown a lot of support for Coach Philbin as well.”
But while players are taking the Philbin situation hard, they’re also using it as a rallying cry for Sunday.
“I think this will only make us tougher as a group and even more family-oriented,” Lang said. “We’ve always had a great family feel to this team. I think when people go through some things like this, I think it will only strengthen it. Nothing’s ever going to heal it, but if we accomplish our last goal, I think that will take a little of the pain away. It’s good to be back with the guys.”
Players know that winning a game in Philbin’s honor won’t really do anything to take away the family’s loss — but at least it’s doing something.
“Being in the team meeting, when everything was relayed to us, you could just sense that, ‘OK, we’ve got to do this for Joe,'” Jennings said.
“If he can’t be with us to experience it, he’s with the people he should be with, which is his family. We need to make sure that he knows that we’re thinking about him and the one way we can definitely show that is going out there and performing and executing the way he would want us to perform and execute.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report from East Rutherford, N.J.