Stories and personal recollections of White brought to light his leadership, which along with Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf, brought the Packers back to championship form in 1996. Ten years later, it is clear the Packers have been missing a true leader on their roster since White left Green Bay and that, as much as anything, held the Packers from getting back to the Super Bowl even amidst a run of winning seasons and playoff appearances.
While White's ex-teammate, Brett Favre, has been the face of the Packers since 1992 and still is today, he has been more of the strong, silent type who leads by example. Like White, he is an icon and has the respect of his teammates and the players around the league, but is not necessarily one to speak up in the locker room. The "Minister of Defense" was a coach when no coach was around and would say something when someone was out of line.
"He would get on guys. There's no question about that because that's a part of leadership," said former Packers' tight end Keith Jackson. "He was the first one to come up to you and say, ‘Hey, it's going to be alright.' And that's if you did something off the field or on the field because guys make mistakes off the field, too, but he was always there."
Added fullback William Henderson: "Reggie was one for challenging you on the football field to be the best player that you could be, but he also took it a step further. He was a devout Christian and we all knew that. He wanted all the people around him, on the team and in the organization, the people we fellowshipped with every Saturday night it seemed, to be better men. He encouraged you and challenged you, not to just do what you do and walk the walk on the field, but walk the walk off the field. Take that, be a better family men, be better community people, be the best player and create the whole package. Don't just do it for the cameras or for the team, but do it because that's what you want to be. He encouraged you and held you accountable. If you said you were going to do it, he expected you to do it. That accountability made its transition over to the field."
White had far-reaching effects on players above and beyond what Favre, Holmgren, or even Mike Sherman could ever have. When the Packers made a controversial move and signed outspoken wide receiver Andre Rison in the middle of the 1996 season, White was the first to set the new Packer straight before Holmgren could get to him.
As Rison made his first appearance in the Packers' locker room, it took all but 10 seconds for a large group of reporters to surround him for an interview. White, just a few lockers away, politely intervened before the first question was asked, pulling Rison into a corner of the locker room to talk. With no one around, White made his point clear to Rison that the Packers were all about winning and laid out his expectations for the wide receiver in a 5-10 minute discussion. Rison's situation with the Packers would not be the same as other teams he played on. It did not take long for him to oblige and become an integral part of the team for the remainder of the season.
The Packers miss that type of locker room presence. Other players have tried, but the leadership quality White had was inherent. As talented as the 1996 Packers were, rosters in subsequent years were as talented and not able to reach the highest level. An ingredient was missing, and now, White's long-term effect is all but gone.
"I think people were afraid to let him down because maybe they thought there were consequences you paid later on," said former Packers' center Frank Winters. "You have those leaders that kind of don't say much, not a rah-rah guy, but they're the guys who are going to go out and kind of play and perform, kind of like Brett, he's kind of a quiet leader. Reggie was more of the spokesperson for the Packers during his era."
White got younger players on track early in their career, like wide receiver Antonio Freeman, so they knew how things were going to be done.
"He was the glue in the locker room and everybody in there knew that," said Freeman. "For as many guys as we had, Sean (Jones), LeRoy (Butler), Edgar (Bennett), those who were established, everybody sunk their egos. There were no egos. It all goes back, I think, to the respect that Reggie demanded. He was a man of a certain sense of respect."
There may never be another player quite like White, which makes his time in Green Bay so special, but there will be another leader someday that changes the culture of football in Green Bay. That player just has to be found, and when he is, it will be a special time again.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.