What might have been, and what has to be

An era ended when Rob Davis and Brett Favre retired. The failure to win more than one Super Bowl under Favre shows just how everything must fall into place, and shows the challenge that awaits Aaron Rodgers and Ted Thompson, PackerReport's Steve Lawrence says.

With the retirement of Rob Davis and Brett Favre, the final players with ties to the Packers' Super Bowl years are gone.

That the Packers won only one title with Favre — and a cast of stars like Reggie White, Antonio Freeman, LeRoy Butler and Ahman Green, to name just a few — is stunning and disappointing. It's something that will be more painful with every passing season if this championship drought lingers through the Aaron Rodgers era and well into the next decade.

This isn't meant to dredge up old news. It is meant to show how so many things must fall in just the right way for a good team to become an immortal team.

Look at the Packers of the mid-1990s. Guided by Favre, coach Mike Holmgren and one of the finest general managers in NFL history, Ron Wolf, the Packers were a juggernaut that reached three consecutive NFC championship games and two Super Bowls.

When the Packers won the Super Bowl following the 1996 season, it was in large part because practically all of Wolf's moves that year worked brilliantly.

He took a flier on a failed former No. 4 overall draft pick, Desmond Howard, who wouldn't have even made the roster had he not returned a punt for a touchdown in the final preseason game. With receivers dropping like flies and the offense sputtering, Wolf signed Andre Rison off the street.

We know how much those signings helped, with both scoring exhilarating touchdowns in the Super Bowl XXXI victory over New England.

The Packers, with monster seasons by Favre, Dorsey Levens, Freeman and Robert Brooks, should have won back-to-back championships but lost to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII. Instead of becoming one of the legendary teams in NFL history, the Packers were upset in part because of, in Wolf's eyes, the "pig-headed" approach of Holmgren in that game.

The Packers had another chance to become a legendary team the next season. Instead, the Packers lost a wild-card game at San Francisco 30-27. Niners fans will remember Terrell Owens' last-second touchdown catch. Packers fans will remember the officials ignoring Jerry Rice's fumble moments before the winning score.

The Packers' chance of being a dynasty died that day. Holmgren left for Seattle and Wolf — a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, mind you — made perhaps his worst decision by replacing him with Ray Rhodes.

That mistake doomed the 1999 season, and while Mike Sherman tasted plenty of regular-season success, his teams came up short in the playoffs because of Favre (seven interceptions at St. Louis to end 2001 season), injuries (first Lambeau Field playoff loss, vs. Atlanta, to end 2002 season) and bad karma (fourth-and-26 and Favre's up-for-grabs interception in loss at Philadelphia to end 2003 season).

Turn ahead to Ted Thompson's Packers. They reached the NFC championship game probably ahead of schedule. Between the team's season-long health, Favre's rebirth, the emergence of the young guns and an unexpected home date for the title game, everything seemed to be going the Packers' way. But Favre and Co. weren't mentally tough enough to handle the brutal cold and what was at stake.

Looking ahead, Thompson seems to have a championship-caliber team in place. The players are young and talented and coach Mike McCarthy is a rising star, just like Holmgren was in the mid-1990s.

As Favre, Wolf and Holmgren learned, however, great teams don't necessarily win championships. From the health of the players to their willingness to play for the team and not themselves, to the moves by the general manager, everything has to fall into place. Everything.

In Green Bay, we know where "everything" starts. It's your turn, Aaron Rodgers. It's your turn to replace a legend. It's your turn to bring the title back to Titletown.

No pressure.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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