That is the challenge facing Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who is set to lead his sixth training camp when, or if, the NFL lockout ends.
For the time being, the 2011 Packers roster is in prime shape. A Super Bowl hangover, despite the cancellation of all offseason organized team activities and the minicamp, would not appear to be imminent. That feeling starts with a leader who has constantly preached through good times and bad about the importance of being able to handle success.
"It's here. It's right here," began McCarthy, just days after his team's victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. "It will start with our whole organization, from top to bottom. It will start at the administrative level. It's important for everybody to stay in tune with making decisions that fully operate in the best interests of winning football games, period. Because the bottom line, it's about winning and losing.
"It's going to be a challenge for us to repeat the job that we did this (past) year. I thought our staff did a remarkable job fighting through the number of different changes in personnel that we had, and more importantly in the locker room. The competition is going to go up, with the IR (injured reserve players), new draft class, expectations. All those components are going to be very real when we come together as a football team. We'll take it one day at a time. But that's the challenge. Handling success to me is the biggest challenge in this business."
Only three Packers coaches — Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren — of the 14 in the history of the franchise, knew what it felt like to be a champion. Their immediate returns after reaching the top were impressive, to say the least.
Each of the three coaches found their way back to championship football the season after winning their first championship. Lambeau's 1930 squad and Lombardi's 1962 unit won titles fairly convincingly while Holmgren's 1997 team was on par with the 1996 team until a stunning upset in Super Bowl XXXII ended any dynasty talk.
The league was a much different animal in the early 1930s, with only Midwest and East Coast teams and no playoff system. League standing determined the champion during a time when Lambeau was in the prime of his legend. Having built a mighty squad in 1929 — a team that finished 12-0-1 in league play with the additions of future Hall of Famers Mike Michalske, Cal Hubbard and Johnny "Blood" McNally — Lambeau retired from playing in 1930 to focus on coaching. Though the roster that year featured a turnover of almost half the players, the results on the field were nearly the same. The Packers jumped out to an 8-0 record before hanging on to nip the Giants in the standings by only .004 percentage points at the end.
Lombardi's 1962 Packers were arguably the best team in franchise history. They whipped through the regular season at 13-1 and then toppled the New York Giants for the second straight year in the NFL championship game. Though the Packers posted a much less impressive championship win this time around — just 16-7 as opposed to 37-0 the year prior — surviving the brutal weather conditions on the road represented the team's will to win perhaps more than at any other time during Lombardi's first three years.
Holmgren's 1997 Packers, much like the 2011 Packers, consisted of a quarterback and a team in its prime. After early ugly losses at Philadelphia and at Detroit, the Packers won 10 of their next 11 games to storm into the playoffs at 13-3, the same mark as 1996. The Packers showed no signs of slowing with wins over the Buccaneers and 49ers in the playoffs, but then they ran into a determined Broncos team in the Super Bowl that pulled off the biggest upset in Super Bowl history at the time.
All told, the three coaches combined for a remarkable 36-7-1 record in the seasons after they won their first championship. That equates to an .830 winning percentage, which would mean McCarthy's team would have to win 13 or 14 games in 2011 to keep pace, not to mention reaching the championship game.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org