A New Year's toast

Packers have many decisions to make this off-season

As we reflect on a disappointing 2005 season for the Green Bay Packers, the impulse is to try and find the reasons for the lack of success this year. Those reasons will be reviewed by General Manager Ted Thompson immediately after the season ends and he will hopefully make the changes necessary in the off season to make the Packers contenders again in 2006. Thompson will have a lot of decisions to make regarding the coaching staff and players that may or may not be back in 2006. The biggest question of course is Brett Favre. The Packers immediate future is dependent on Favre's status. I still say he returns. Either way, Thompson also needs to prepare for the 2006 NFL draft and to look at other unrestricted free agents in the NFL. But that can wait. Right now as 2005 is about to leave us, I want to toast an organization that has had an incredible run at success in the National Football League for almost a decade and a half.

Since 1992, up until this year, the Packers never had a losing season. That is remarkable in today's NFL. Other elite organizations in the NFL have had their ups and downs during that time. The Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos have all suffered through losing seasons after winning the ultimate prize, the Super Bowl. The Cowboys and the 49ers pretty much hit rock bottom in terms of putting out a competitive squad at times. The Packers in 2005 are suffering through a similar season, but injuries, more than a lack of talent, have been their biggest enemy in 2005. There is no doubt that the talent level needs to improve for the Packers, but they are not far away from being competitive again, especially in the NFC North.

The Packers have had three head football coaches since 1992. Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman. Very few teams have had that lack of turnover. That is one reason why the Packers have been very successful over the last 13 years before this season. In fact, Ray Rhodes was unceremoniously fired after "leading" the Packers to an 8-8 record in 1999, his only season as head coach. They take their winning and losing seriously in Green Bay folks. That's why there will be some serious changes after this season.

The one constant, besides Favre, since 1992 is team president Bob Harlan. Harlan has been a steady leader who lets his football people do their thing. In addition to helping the Packer organization stay a winner up to this year, Harlan also played a huge part in getting Lambeau Field renovated. The "new" Lambeau has been a huge success. The Green Bay Packers take a backseat to no one in the NFL when it comes to team facilities. The Atrium, Packer Pro Shop and the Packer Hall of Fame are contained in the magnificent facility. Because of Harlan's leadership, the Packers will remain a team that can compete in the NFL of today where signing bonuses are so prominent.

The real football architect for the organization turning things around in 1992 was Ron Wolf. Wolf was the guy that hired Mike Holmgren. Wolf was the one who traded for Favre. So little known at the time that his last name was pronounced "Favor" when he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991. Wolf was the one who brought players like Reggie White and Keith Jackson to the squad. That all led to winning the Vince Lombardi trophy after the dominant 1996 season. That team had the number-one offense in the NFL, as well as the number one defense. They also had a pretty good special teams unit with a fellow by the name of Desmond Howard returning kicks. The team should have won back to back Super Bowl titles. The Packers lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII 31-24 in a game that Mike Shanahan clearly out coached Mike Holmgren. Holmgren was and is a great coach, but that day he had issues. In the 2nd half of that game, Holmgren went away from the running game that had been so effective in the 1st half. It was badly needed as well because the Packers defense was getting tired and they badly needed some ball control from the offense. Had Holmgren stayed with the running game, there is no doubt in my mind that the Packers would have been back to back champs.

Holmgren deserves a lot of the credit though in the Packers resurgence in the 1990's. He was the coach that DID deliver a Lombardi trophy to Green Bay. It was under his leadership that Brett Favre won three straight MVP titles. There are many who think that the Packers would have been back to more Super Bowls had Holmgren stayed in Green Bay instead of moving on to Seattle. Holmgren wanted a chance to run the whole show. He wouldn't be able to in Green Bay as long as Ron Wolf was in charge. Holmgren left after the 1998 season and had he remained a little more patient, he would have had the responsibilities he wanted in 2001 when Wolf retired.

Mike Sherman came on in 2000 to take over a team that some saw on the decline. Sherman refused to let that happen as his teams never had a losing record until this year, and he also coached three NFC Central/North champions. He also took on the responsibilities of General Manager from 2001 until this season. That was probably his downfall. Harlan and Wolf should have realized then that one man CANNOT do both jobs. Harlan came to that realization before this season as he brought in Thompson. Thompson now has the biggest challenge in front of him since Wolf transformed the Packers to winners again in 1992.

But the biggest ingredient to winning over the years has been Favre. In the 14 years Favre has been in Green Bay, the team has won 138 games. That puts Favre third on the all-time list, only behind John Elway (148) and Dan Marino (147). Favre has also won 78 of his 100 starts at Lambeau Field. Up until this year, Favre led the Packers to the best overall winning percentage in the NFL since 1992, winning at a .659 clip. No team was in the playoffs more often either as Favre led the Packers to the post season 10 times. Favre also had put up magnificent personal numbers over that time to the point where he has a chance to break almost all of the significant QB records if he continues playing beyond this season. The biggest stat of course is the 220 game consecutive starting steak at QB. As I said earlier, I expect Favre back in 2006. He still has the physical skills needed to play at an elite level. He needs Thompson to get him some help from both a coaching and personal standpoint in 2006. We will know soon enough whether or not Favre will be back.

The bottom line is that although the Green Bay Packer organization has hit some tough times in 2005, the success that it has had over several years deserves recognition. All good things come to an end. The Packers finally had their first losing season since 1991. But in the 13 years in between the Packers gave their fans winning and successful football. No losing seasons. 10 playoff appearances. 6 divisional championships. 2 NFC titles. 1 Super Bowl championship. Hall of Famers like Favre and White. Now that deserves a toast!

Bob Fox is a freelance writer from the Tampa, Fla., area. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.

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