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Hatley remembered as Packers get back to work

As Packers vice president of football operations Mark Hatley is remembered at funeral services this weekend in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., it's a fitting time to weigh in with the highest compliment I can give a sports fan:<p> Hatley "got" the Green Bay Packers.<P>

He understood why Green Bay is special, and once he arrived he talked about just how fortunate he was to be a part of it.

Hatley, who passed away unexpectly early Tuesday, is part of a distinguished group. It is comprised of sportsmen who, as mentioned above, understand the Packer mystique. He joined Mike Holmgren, Bob Harlan, Brett Favre, Brian Noble, Ray Nitschke, Edgar Bennett, Willie Davis, Bart Starr and a long line of others who showed in various ways that they knew what this organization is all about. Some, like Favre, Noble and Bennett, distinguished themselves by wanting to maintain their ties to Green Bay as a player or beyond. Bennett left and came back. Nitschke and Noble never left. Favre has given the Packers the great honor of spending his Hall of Fame career right here.

Others - and this is where Hatley comes in - became part of this elite group by taking exactly what makes Green Bay special and making it work on the football field. Holmgren and Harlan knew that embracing the past is not a bad thing if it is the foundation for returning the team to that prior excellence. They expected it at every level. And so did Hatley.

Hatley's too-short tenure in Green Bay was made even sweeter by the path he took to get there. He was shown the door in Chicago after he drafted back-to-back rookies of the year and after a team loaded with his players went 13-3.

"This is the best place I've ever worked," Hatley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in April. "Everybody's always told me that, but I never did realize it. To come to work and be able to get done what you need to and not have to worry about this owner or that owner ... it's the damnedest thing I've ever seen."

That's what we want to hear.

Hatley didn't just talk the talk. He walked the walk through the work he's done in Green Bay in three short years. With his close vantage point as a Bears' staffer, Hatley observed the Packers and must have liked what he saw because once he got here he didn't waste any time making his scouting acumen into payoff for the Pack. So far the draft legacy Hatley leaves is strong. The three No. 1 draft picks with Hatley on board were Javon Walker (2002), Nick Barnett (2003) and Ahmad Carroll (2004).

He showed his love for his new team by working tirelessly and helping right a draft legacy that had been tarnished over the previous years by Jamal Reynolds, John Michels and Fred Vinson. Hatley reaped the fruits of his labor by watching the draft class of 2002 - including Walker, Marques Anderson, Najeh Davenport and Aaron Kampman blossom.

The Packers showed their appreciation for Hatley's reputation and work ethic in two ways; first, they knew that the Bears let a good man get away. Second, Green Bay gave Hatley a contract extension that was mostly symbolic, but a gesture of appreciation nonetheless.

This weekend, Hatley was memorialized by representatives from all over the NFL. If the Packers turn the talent Hatley helped put on their depth chart into a successful run, that would be the kind of remembrance that Hatley would probably have liked best of all.

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