That was the common perception in league circles around 20 years ago, and it was hard to argue against the premise.
Vince Lombardi's Glory Years teams wound up their five-championship run by winning Super Bowl II in 1967. Mike Holmgren was hired to be the Green Bay Packers coach in 1992. During the quarter-century in between, the Packers qualified for the playoffs just two times and posted five winning records.
But there was Holmgren, in his fifth season as coach, getting carried off the field in a shower of confetti at the Superdome after the Packers' victory in Super Bowl XXXI.
"Certainly when you get to the Super Bowl and then win the Super Bowl, everybody can feel good about it," Holmgren said in a conference call on Tuesday in which he discussed his selection to the Packers Hall of Fame.
"I can remember distinctly a moment right after we won the game in New Orleans. I was in my coaching office there at the Superdome and I asked everybody to leave. It was kind of an odd request because everyone was very happy and they left me alone for a while. I just thought at that particular moment — it was quiet and I had my own private thoughts — and I just thought of all the folks in the organization. Not just players and coaches, because we're on the frontlines, but all the people in the organization that had been there for a long time and were able to share in the Super Bowl victory. I think that in itself is something very special. It's a special organization and has been for a very long time. It got people feeling very, very good about the football team again and sharing in that victory was special to me."
Holmgren, now the president of the Cleveland Browns, will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on July 21. The man who hired him, Ron Wolf, will serve as Holmgren's presenter.
Launching his success with a 9-7 record in 1992 — a five-game improvement from the year before — Holmgren led the team to a 84-42 record (75-37 regular season; 9-5 postseason). He posted a winning record in all seven seasons at the helm and qualified for the playoffs in each of his final six years. In Packers history, his win total trails only Curly Lambeau (212) and Lombardi (98), and his winning percentage of .667 is tied with Lambeau for second-best in franchise history behind Lombardi's .766.
"During the interview process, we hit it off very, very well," Holmgren said of Wolf. "So, immediately, I was very comfortable and he made me very comfortable. But that's just the beginning. As we worked together and continued to build the team up and so on, I realized how lucky I was. I can honestly say that in the time we were together, we never had a harsh word, we never had a real argument. We discussed a lot of things but I think we were respectful of one another. He was at his very best with me after we lost a tough game, and that's hard to do. I'm learning that myself right now in my current position. You go in there, you feel bad, but it's your job to help the coach and support him as best you can. Ron was really great with me. Early on, I thought it was going to work, and every day, it just got better and better."
The Wolf-Holmgren pairing was one of the best in NFL history. Wolf gave Holmgren the tools to win, starting with his then-controversial decision to send a first-round pick to Atlanta for former second-round pick Brett Favre.
Holmgren said he would have rather not played Favre as early as he did, but an ineffective Don Majkowski in a Week 2 thumping at Tampa Bay and Majkowski's ankle injury in Week 3 against Cincinnati necessitated putting Favre into the lineup. When Favre beat the Bengals with his last-seconds touchdown to Kitrick Taylor, the course was set for Holmgren, Favre and Wolf to find immortality together.
But not without some growing pains as Holmgren tried to tame the uber-aggressive Favre, who led the NFL with 24 interceptions in 1993.
"We sat down and had a little bit of a talk and we had a decent season and we had gone to the playoffs but he threw ‘X' amount of interceptions and so on," Holmgren said of the 1994 season, the Packers' third consecutive with a 9-7 finish.
"I said, ‘Listen, your challenge next year, these type of gambling type plays, let's cut back on them because we're going to be better.' He goes, ‘Mike that's just the way I play.' And he was being honest. And our dialogs, our conversations were pretty honest all the time. And he goes, ‘That's just how I play.' I said, ‘OK, but if you play that way, we're a 9-7 team. That's what we are. Now, we want to be better than that and you want to be better than that.'
"And so, to his credit, he listened and he did that. And then the next season, I remember him distinctly coming up in the airplane after a big win at the end of the year, sitting down next to me in the airplane (saying) ‘You know what? I get it. I get it.' And so for a teacher or a coach to have your star player eventually come up and say that to you, that's about as good as it gets. Our time together was special."
After a win in Super Bowl XXXI, a loss in Super Bowl XXXII and a bitter and controversial playoff loss to San Francisco the following season, Holmgren went to Seattle to become the Seahawks' coach and general manager for 10 seasons. After a year at NBC, Holmgren was hired to be the Browns' president on Dec. 21, 2009.
Along the way, he never dared dream about joining the likes of Lambeau and Lombardi in the Packers Hall of Fame.
"There are a lot of great coaches and players who haven't gone into hall of fames but they enjoyed what they did, they made a contribution," he said. "That in itself is what we got in it for in the first place, and if something happens like this, it's kind of the icing on the cake."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.