Favre saga isn't first crisis

From power shifts to long periods of losing, the Packers have endured hard times

In their 90th season of professional football (their 88th in the National Football League), the publically owned Green Bay Packers never have dealt with an issue so thorny as the Brett Favre affair.

But this is hardly the first time the organization has had to deal with a crisis.

Together with George Calhoun, Curly Lambeau helped found the Packers in 1919. Lambeau played with the team from 1921 to 1929, but it was his coaching that made him a legend. Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, winning 209 games with a .656 winning percentage and six NFL championships.

But even with that, Lambeau had issues with the executive committee. Lambeau's last two teams in Green Bay were a collective 5-19. Plus, Lambeau ticked off members by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949. The facility burned down on Jan. 24, 1950, and Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals. 

A stock sale bailed the team out of financial turmoil in 1950, but that could not prevent the bleakest period in Packers history. The Packers had a .333 winning percentage in the 1950s, and that was improved because of Vince Lombardi's seven wins in 1959. But the executive committee, led by President Dominic Olejniczak, made the right call in hiring Lombardi.

Olejniczak had to deal with Lombardi and his dominating presence, plus the Giants' efforts to bring Lombadi back to New York as their coach.

The result was five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Once Lombardi relinquished his coaching duties and was solely a general manager in 1968, the executive committee could not keep Lombardi in Green Bay any longer. Not with a relentless owner like Edward Bennett Williams of the Washington Redskins wanting Lombardi. Lombardi left the Packers for the Redskins in 1969 and led them to their first winning season in more than a decade before he died of cancer in 1970.

The Packers were like a raft floating in the ocean for the next couple of decades. The team won one NFC Central title in 1972 under coach Dan Devine, and it went through five coaches from 1968 through 1991. The Packers only had five winning seasons in that period. The darkest day was when team President Robert J. Parins fired legendary player Bart Starr in 1983 as coach after nine seasons.

It wasn't until Bob Harlan became president in 1989 that the Packers would start to recapture their glory.

It was Harlan who hired Ron Wolf, who hired Mike Holmgren, traded for Brett Favre and signed Reggie White. The result was a victory in Super Bowl XXXI and the best record in the NFL from 1992 to 2007, a stretch that included only one losing season and 11 playoff berths.

Harlan had the tough task of getting Milwaukee season-ticket holders to agree to coming up to Lambeau Field, starting in 1995. His biggest challenge, however, was getting Brown County voters to agree to a $295 million Lambeau Field redevelopment project, which made the stadium a sight for tens of thousands of visitors year-round.

Now, Mark Murphy has the task of leading the franchise, but only after a hiccup when the Packers initially groomed John Jones to replace Harlan. The transition was scrapped after Jones endured some health issues, and a settlement was negotiated.

Murphy took over for Harlan as president and CEO of the team on Jan. 28. His initial focus on NFL labor issues has been, publicly at least, put in the background because of the Favre saga.

The Favre controversy has been a challenge with all of the twists and turns, but it's not the first issue the team — and its 112,015 shareholders — have endured. The Packers don't have a George Steinbrenner, Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder running the team. The team has had some bumps in the road, but through it all, it is the most successful franchise in the history of the NFL.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com


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