There have been times in the storied history of the Packers that the franchise was on the verge of succumbing to the riches of deep-pocketed owners in their big-city markets across America. Tiny Green Bay has passed the hat among its "owners" to keep the franchise going in the form of four stock sales, ranging from 1923 to 1997. The Packers, in their latest stock sale, had to convince the league that all money raised through the fund-raiser was going to be used toward a redeveloped stadium.
Packers president Bob Harlan and then-treasurer John Underwood had their work cut out trying to convince other NFL owners that Green Bay wouldn't use the money toward signing more talent. After all, the Packers were coming off a Super Bowl XXXI victory and had a team capable of winning another, though, the Packers fell short in Super Bowl XXXII.
However, interest by Packers fans was at an all-time high after their NFL title victory over the New England Patriots in New Orleans, so what a better time to raise money to improve the stadium. Without the support of Tagliabue, however, the Packers may never have been able to conduct the stock sale of 1997.
"Fortunately, the commissioner stepped forward and gave me a lot of defense for Green Bay," Harlan recalled. "I promised him from Day 1 that whatever money we made from that stock sale will go into a redeveloped Lambeau Field or new stadium. … Every time I talked to him, I got tremendous support.
"I've always said to people - and I mean this very sincerely - that the two things that saved the Green Bay Packers are that, first of all, Commissioner Pete Rozelle convinced the other owners in the early '60s to share revenue. Believe me, if this franchise didn't have revenue sharing, we would never be here. The other thing, and I give Paul Tagliabue credit, but we knew free agency was coming (in the early 1990s). Our biggest hope was that there would be a salary cap in that Collective Bargaining Agreement, so that Green Bay again could continue to exist, and he got us that. That means the world to us. That's why this franchise exists.
"I compliment him for everything he has done for the National Football League. It has been enormous."
Tagliabue presided over the league's third CBA extension in early March. It wasn't till the 11th hour that he stepped in and willed the players union and owners to work together for the goodness of the league. That's probably the essence of what Tagliabue has achieved during his tenure as commissioner, which began in 1989. Entering a league that was in chaos upon his arrival, he has displayed a genuine concern for every team in the league, from the franchises in big cities like New York to big cities without a franchise (Los Angeles) to little Green Bay.
Under Tagliabue's leadership, the NFL has grown from 28 to 32 teams, revised its divisional alignment and scheduling formula, and maintained its preeminent position in sports television. He has presided over a league in which parity rules and that has triggered a popularity among fans like no other sport.
"He has been a tremendous asset to our league and the direction we have taken," New Orleans owner Tom Benson said.
"We have experienced very positive growth in the area of revenue sharing and broadcast contracts, we have secured long-term labor peace and have also even encountered some of the worst of times following 9/11, but through it all Paul has been a leader, a friend and a voice that many others within our league and other leagues have followed."
Include Green Bay. The Packers will always be king in the eyes of Cheeseheads, but they may not even be around if not for Tagliabue.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.