About 24 hours after Johnny Jolly's indefinite suspension left the franchise with a black eye, the 40th Packers Hall of Fame induction delivered some much-needed first aid.
No franchise in football has the Packers' history. And no franchise in football embraces that history like the Packers.
On Saturday night, Mark Chmura, Greg Koch and Marv Fleming were added to the Hall of Fame. There was plenty of reason to be jolly.
"All I can do is thank the Hall of Fame, thank the fans of Green Bay for making this a truly magical place to play," said Koch, a Houston native who grew up a Packers fan because of his dad, who frequently visited Neenah/Menasha for his work at Kimberly-Clark.
"Dallas calls itself America's Team. That's a bunch of baloney. You go anywhere across this country and there are Packer fans. They talk about Green Bay, they talk about this team, they talk about the fans' loyalty. And for you to be able to be in that small fraternity, to be a part of that, is truly a blessing from God. And a lot of times when you're in that fraternity, you're in that 1,500 people that play in the NFL, you don't notice what you have. You can't see the forest for the trees. But you get away from it a little bit, because when you're drafted … I was 21 years old. I basically grew up in Green Bay. You're not a man when you're 21. When you leave when you're 30, you discover how blessed you truly were. And I can't thank everybody enough."
Reporters aren't allowed to attend the enshrinement ceremony, but the players provided a sneak preview of the stories they planned on telling.
And, oh, the stories they told.
For Chmura, there are favorite games (the playoff win at San Francisco following the 1995 regular season and the NFC title game victory over Carolina the following year). There's the thrill of victory that doesn't feel quite as good as the agony of defeat feels bad. ("I'll always hate Dallas but Denver's right behind them.")
But those highs and lows — and his Hall of Fame career — almost never happened.
A sixth-round pick out of Boston College in 1992, Chmura was such a nobody in the locker room that nobody noticed when he decided to quit following a morning practice early in his rookie training camp because of severe back pain.
"I could do it in college. I just couldn't do it," Chmura recalled. "In the NFL, you have to be at the top of your game, you have to be in the best shape to play in this league. It just got to the point where the pain became too much. I couldn't handle it anymore. Young, immature, didn't know how to work.
Mark Chmura scores in Super Bowl XXXII.
Timothy Clary/Getty Images
Stunk? After spending the season on injured reserve and strengthening his back with trainer Dominic Gentile, Chmura turned into a three-time Pro Bowler who was a favorite target of Brett Favre as the Packers went from pretenders to contenders to the kings of football.
"Most organizations would have said, ‘Let him go.' That's why this place is so special," Chmura said.
The only pain Koch felt in his career was the pain of losing.
A standout offensive tackle during the all-offense/no-defense Bart Starr era, Koch quietly went about his business on the football field. Well, maybe not quietly. His presenter, former teammate Larry McCarren, said he didn't like Koch at first.
"One reporter here called me ‘The Texan with the Ten-Gallon Mouth.' So, I was kind of in-your-face," Koch recalled.
The Packers didn't win a whole lot during Koch's nine seasons in Green Bay. The only playoff appearance came in the strike-shortened 1982 season. But with Koch and McCarren blocking and Lynn Dickey throwing strikes to James Lofton, John Jefferson and Paul Coffman, the Packers owned one of the most entertaining offenses in the league.
Too bad the defense stunk.
"You know, we talk about that a lot," Koch said. "I mean, you can't help but go, ‘What if we would've had the Reggie White defense? How many rings would we have on our finger?' I've said this to a lot of people, my career, I'm very proud of the offense we put out, but I was very frustrated with the results we got. Every year, we'd be 8-8. I think we still hold the NFL record for overtime games. But I'm not going to point fingers at our defense because I really don't believe our front office gave us the people we needed to win at the time. We wouldn't sign Mike Butler, we wouldn't sign Bruce Clark, our No. 1 draft choice, and we didn't have a guy like Ron Wolf. I don't know how to break it down any more than that.
"Offense brings people into the stands, but defense wins championships. And we just couldn't stop anybody. If we scored 43, the other team scored 46. Made for an exciting game, but didn't make for many playoff appearances."
The pinnacle of that was the famous 1983 Monday night game against Washington at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 48-47, with the offenses combining for 1,025 yards and 56 first downs.
"The thing about that game, as magical as it was, and how much I love to think about that being the highest-scoring ‘Monday Night Football' game of all time, we should've lost that game," Koch said. "I mean, Mark Moseley kicks four field goals, and 12 seconds left, has a 36-yarder and misses it. We would've lost 50-48. That stuns you a little bit. You put 48 points up on the board and you should've lost the game? That's a microcosm or our teams there for about four years."
Koch never played in a Pro Bowl or was named All-Pro, though Starr helped Koch get over feeing "truly depressed" about the lack of recognition during an offseason workout.
"He put his arm around me and he said, ‘You're All-Pro in my book,'" Koch said. "And this is my hero. I was 10 years old when the Ice Bowl was played. And when a guy tells you that, you'll run through a wall for him."
In a day and age when winning a championship is seemingly the only marker of success, Koch has no problem finding solace in what he accomplished individually and in helping fuel one of the most explosive offenses in franchise history.
"People say, ‘Oh, you didn't win any rings and you're in the down period of the Packers,' sometimes I want to punch them right in the face," Koch said. "Because you didn't see our offense. Nobody wanted to play us on offense."
Courtesy Green Bay Packers
And even now, the competitive fire burns within the 68-year-old Fleming, who several times wondered aloud what took so long.
"My mom would say right now, ‘Shut up and say thank you,'" Fleming said. "I'm thankful to be here. It's a little bit like, ‘Why didn't you call me like how many years ago?' This day means a lot to me because I'm part of Lombardi's legends. Being a part of that team, it was unbelievable. He taught me how to win, how to be successful. He gave me lots of character. That's what you see now. The things that I do, I try to — like Lombardi said, ‘Don't run the race just to run it. Run it to win it.' Whatever I get involved in, I try to do the best. I try to win it. I'm very happy to be here. Question mark, though. They should have called me a long time ago. You look at my track record. I didn't catch that many passes but I blocked the hell out of people."
That he did. Four decades later, Fleming's blocks leave lasting impressions.
"Just a couple months back," Fleming recalled, "(Vikings legend) Jim Marshall from afar, down at the end of the table, said, ‘Fleming! There's something I've wanted to tell you for years. One time you hit me so hard, you hurt me. If I would have had a bat or a gun or a rock, I would have killed you.' I said, ‘I'm sorry. I just wanted to block you.' It made me feel good that this man would tell me that, that he did have respect for me."
From 1963 through 1969 with the Packers and 1970 through 1974 with the Dolphins, Fleming caught only 157 passes with 16 touchdowns. It was a different era, with tight ends like Antonio Gates catching that many passes in about a season-and-a-a-half.
Not that Fleming cares. He's got a lot of jewelry.
"Look at me, I'm OK," Fleming said with a sly smile. "I'm OK because, if you look at my wins, not my catches, if you look at my blocks, you say, ‘Hmm, I'd hate to be hit by him.' I was OK if I caught three or four passes and I made first downs out of them. One of the worst things is catching a great one-handed pass and not get the first down. I would say I caught 85 percent of the balls that were thrown to me. I was OK with that. If I played again and they said, ‘Marv, you have to block,' I'd say, ‘Well, we've got to win if we're going to block.' Winning is the big thing for me."
So is a little recognition. The genius of Lombardi was how he coached each individual. Some players needed a kick in the butt. Others needed a spoonful of sugar to swallow Lombardi's medicine. Fleming was the latter, and Lombardi went out of his way to make Fleming feel special. It worked, with Fleming being a key cog of the famed Packers sweep.
"When you get those pads on and you play for the Green Bay Packers and you look over at Lombardi and the coaches are expecting things from you and you complete them and you walk off the field and on Tuesday morning, Lombardi passes your chair and says, ‘Marrrrrrr-vin!' and he hits you on the shoulder, you know you're playing football," Fleming said. "I'm here because of Lombardi and the rest of my teammates."
As the saying goes, the new Hall of Famers felt like a million bucks. Well, maybe Chmura and Koch did. Fleming felt more like 10 bucks — like that $10 bill he found in the end zone after catching a touchdown pass for the Dolphins.
"When I caught a touchdown and everybody jumped on top of me and kicking me and beating me and telling me how much they loved me … right in front of my face was something green," Fleming said. "I was more happy about the money than catching the touchdown."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.