1993 Flashback: The great White hope

Reggie White doesn't mess around.<p>

He gets into his three-point stance, explodes off the ball and — 124 times in the last 121 games — finishes on top of the quarterback.

And the Packers didn't mess around either. Using a no-nonsense, low-key, personal approach, the Packers landed the biggest fish in this year's free agent pond.

That approach, combined with a $17 million contract, heavily loaded toward the near term, convinced White to sign on for four years.

"No clowns and no balloons," said Packer President Bob Harlan. "It was strictly, 'These are our facilities, this is our team and this is what we're trying to accomplish.'"

Said Coach Mike Holmgren, "I think the people he met here, our players, were the best salesmen. Last year they had fun, we enjoy playing and I think he sensed that. He also realizes we're a young team on the rise.

"For a young team to be able to add a Reggie White, it's almost too much. It's hard to believe. But we did it and we'll be better because of it."

Holmgren did the NFL's most personable job of wooing White. After the league's most sought-after free agent had been in Green Bay on his "recruiting" visit, Holmgren and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes flew to Knoxville, Tenn., visiting White at his off-season home. Agent Jimmy Sexton later called that visit a "brilliant stroke of genius."

Staff, organization, direction impress

White said he was "really impressed when I came up here the first time. I said that Green Bay was the farthest thing from my mind (before the visit). But I was impressed with the coaching staff and total organization and the direction the team was going. This team has always been in the back of my mind. I really enjoyed my time here. I wanted to sign after I completed the trips. But we had to work the situation to see if it was right for me.

"The situation came down to that I had to feel at peace about where I should go. I've gotten a peace and a sound mind about being here."

Now that White is here, he's very clear about where he wants to go with the Packers; "Me and coach (Mike) Holmgren made an agreement, we're going (to the Super Bowl) this year, right?" White said during his April 6 news conference at Packer headquarters. "If this team can get back to the championship, it can capture the heart of America."

White, 31, sees Green Bay as a rising team behind Holmgren and third-year quarterback Brett Favre, 23. The Packers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker in 1992, Holmgren's first year as head coach and Favre's first in Green Bay.

"It's going to happen a little sooner with this man," Holmgren said of White. "But there's no way I'm going to burden this man by saying he'll do it himself."

Concerned with helping others

An ordained minister, White said at one point that he would pick the 49ers but wanted to let the Lord make the decision. Green Bay doesn't have the low-income and black community White wants to help most with his ministry, but the Packers have assured him of their help in making an impact in Milwaukee, 120 miles away.

White and his wife, Sara, are especially concerned about the pregnancy rate among teenagers and were stunned to learn Milwaukee has this country's highest teen pregnancy rate. They have spent more than $200,000 building Hope Palace, a home for unwed mothers, next to their home in Knoxville.

"At first it was a negative," White said of Green Bay's lack of inner city. "But as I talked to friends I began to realize the ministry would take care of itself.

"I asked somebody why he was dealing drugs, killing people, and he said, 'If you get me a job I'll stop.' That stopped me.

"People will say I went for the money — and the money does have something to do with it. But it gives me the opportunity to build businesses, create housing and create opportunities for the people in the inner city. I want to do that all over the country."

"I'll work in Milwaukee but I also want to work in Philadelphia. I don't want to stay in one area," White said.

Front-loaded contract important

The money is definitely good: He receives $9 million this year — before the salary cap is expected to kick in next season. Half the $9 million is base salary, the other half is a signing bonus. His base salaries will be $3.15 million in 1994, $2.85 million in 1995 and $2 million in 1996.

The Packers offered more money than their final two competitors, San Francisco and Washington and structured it differently than the others were willing to.

The Packers also fit other criteria. They play on a grass field — White's preference — and improved dramatically last year.

And Green Bay has been active in the off-season, signing free agents Bill Maas and Harry Galbreath and acquiring quarterback Ken O'Brien and running back John Stephens in trades.

Said Maas, the nose tackle who will likely start next to White, "Am I the luckiest guy in the world, or what?"

"It means a great deal to our defense, no question about that," General Manager Ron Wolf said. "What this is all about is a player generally recognized as the best player out there in the free agent market."

Harlan, who presides over the only publicly owned team in the NFL, said signing White would be well worth the costs. "We felt so, that's why we kept pursuing it," he said. "We knew how important it is to Mike and Ron and what they felt it would do for the team. We try to do and give them everything they need."

White agreed to the deal about 1 p.m. CDT April 6, some 12 hours after Wolf and Chief Financial Officer Mike Reinfeldt hammered out final terms with White's agents, Sexton and Kyle Rote Jr.

"We went long and hard last night," Wolf said of the negotiations that lasted into the early morning. "I think he can help us dramatically. There's no question he's been the cornerstone of one of the finest defenses in the NFL."

Sexton passed up NCAA to do the deal

The night Wolf referred to was April 5, when Sexton sat at his New Orleans hotel room with tickets to the NCAA Championship basketball game in his hand. Rather than use them, he negotiated with Reinfeldt on the phone — until approximately 1 a.m. April 6.

Later that morning, Sexton got on the phone with White.

"I was up and down," White said. 'I thought I had a decision made. I changed, and I changed it again. I had to have some peace of mind. That's what I was looking for … I think every team is shocked, but I made the decision."

White said his first priority in finding a team was on that would give him a chance to win a Super Bowl before he retires.

Those choices included Washington, San Francisco and Dallas. The Cowboys had financial limitations, while the Redskins offered $14 million over four years. Washington's concern was the salary cap.

The 49ers were limited by free agent restrictions because they were among the league's final four teams this year. The 49ers had a $19.5 million, five-year deal on the table, but most of the money was at the end of an unguaranteed contract.

"He was afraid that they'd wake up one morning saying, ‘We can't afford a 34-year-old defensive lineman making $5 million and cut him." Sexton said, explaining why the pact is so heavily front-loaded.

"In the end, it came down to him wanting to play somewhere where he knew he would finish his career," Sexton said. "It was the best choice for him with money and they did an incredible job impressing him. It was hard, really hard."

White was impressed with Lambeau Field and the new indoor facility. The Packers are planning a $3 million facility with completion set for April 1994).

White will wear No. 92. Incumbent nose tackle John Kurmovic was happy to voluntarily relinquish that number. "There a Porsche outside for you," White told Jurkovic after Jurko presented him a No. 92 jersey at White's press conference.

"I look at this like a Charles Barkley situation," he said of the basketball star who is thriving with the Phoenix Suns after being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers. "Hopefully, my career can be rejuvenated."

Editor's note: This story appeared in the April 1993 issue of Packer Report.

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