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100 Things Packers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Rob Reischel
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Rob Reischel
All rights reserved.
Brett Favre is the greatest Green Bay Packer of all time.
Chew on that for a second and see how it tastes.
Don Hutson certainly merits consideration. So does Bart Starr. But when the accomplishments of every Packers great are placed under the microscope, it's Favre by a whisker.
Favre set virtually every NFL passing record during his 16 seasons in Green Bay. He was the NFL's first player to win three MVPs. Favre is the game's all-time leader in wins with 186 and 160 of those came with the Packers. Favre never missed a start with Green Bay, and he played in more games (255) than any other Packer. Favre also led the rebirth of an organization that had gone through more than two decades of despair.
Perhaps what separates Favre more than anything is he thrived during an era when football has never been more sophisticated. Hutson (1935–1945) played at a time when football was a weekend event and many of the league's greats still left for war. Starr (1956–1971) played with 225-pound linemen at a time many players got off-season jobs. Today, players get bigger, faster, and stronger by the year. And, remarkably, Favre maintained his greatness and never left the lineup.
Favre's popularity among Packers fans took a hit when he chose to play for the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. Still, what he did in Green Bay may never be equaled. So by the narrowest of margins, Favre gets the nod.
"One thing, I think it's by era," said Ron Wolf, the Packers' former general manager and the man who traded for Favre in February 1992. "I don't think you can pinpoint, but I think certainly in his era he'd be in the top five. When you think of somebody now, you think of the great tradition you guys [have] up there, you're part of that great tradition of the Green Bay Packers. So for Brett Favre to be now said to be the greatest player ever to play for the Green Bay Packers, that's rare air."
Wolf had the courage to trade a first-round draft choice to Atlanta for Favre, who was a second-rounder himself the previous year. But Wolf's deal will go down as one of the most lopsided in league history.
Favre replaced an injured Don Majkowski in Week 3 of the 1992 season and made his first NFL start the following week. Between then and his final start in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, Favre never missed a game — a remarkable run of 275 games, including playoffs. If ever the term "Iron Man" was invented for a player, it was Favre.
"I was fortunate I got to play with Brett Favre for nine years," said former Packers guard Marco Rivera. "His presence in the huddle, his leadership, it forced everybody to play better. You had to bring your 'A' game when you were going to be in Brett Favre's huddle."
Favre certainly brought his "A" game most weeks.
Favre and Mike Holmgren — who coached him from 1992 to 1998 — butted heads early as the stubborn coach tried taming the young gunslinger. But as Favre matured, the Packers took off. Favre led the Packers to their first postseason win in 11 years in 1993, and another the following season.
His game then reached new heights from 1995 to 1997. Each of those three seasons, Favre was named the Associated Press' MVP. In that time, Favre threw an NFL-best 112 touchdown passes against just 42 interceptions. The Packers were 37–11 in that stretch, including a remarkable 23–1 at home. And Green Bay went 7–2 in the postseason, highlighted by a win in Super Bowl XXXI and a trip to Super Bowl XXXII.
"He truly was as gifted a player as I have ever seen," Holmgren said.
Favre accomplished this all despite developing an addiction to Vicodin, one that led to a 46-day stay in a rehabilitation facility before the 1996 season. But he came back stronger than ever and led the Packers to their first Super Bowl win in 29 years.
"I learned a lot through the '90s of [Favre's] ability to take a receiver who's not even open and putting the ball in a spot where that guy can catch the football," former 49ers quarterback Steve Young said of Favre. "Instead of kicking field goals, Brett Favre was throwing touchdowns when most weren't."
When Holmgren left after the 1998 season, there was an enormous adjustment period for Favre. But he had the Packers back in the postseason by 2001 and led Green Bay to NFC North championships from 2002 to 2004.
Aside from the Super Bowl loss in 1997, Favre's most devastating moment probably came in the 2007 NFC Championship Game. There, he threw an interception on the second play of overtime, which helped the Giants topple the Packers 23–20.
Six weeks later, Favre announced his retirement. He later changed his mind, which led to his controversial trade to the New York Jets on August 6, 2008. Many fans were livid with general manager Ted Thompson for trading Favre — despite the fact Favre began hinting at retirement as early as 2002 and almost seemed to make it an off-season game. But public sentiment swung back in Thompson's direction the following year, when Favre was released by the Jets and signed with archrival Minnesota.
Still, an entire generation of Packers fans grew up on Favre and was spoiled more than they'll ever know.
"He's a tremendous player. He was a joy to coach, day in and day out," said Mike McCarthy, who was Favre's head coach in 2006 and 2007 and his position coach in 1999. "[He has a] unique personality, the way he could affect people, the way he can walk into a room, the effect he had on the room, regardless of the age or the type of people in that room. Clearly one of the most unique individuals I've had the opportunity to work with."
Green Bay played in three postseason games between 1968 and 1991, then played in 22 during Favre's brilliant career, going 12–10 in those contests. Favre led the Packers to seven division titles, and Green Bay had just one losing season during his stint. Favre was named to nine Pro Bowls as a Packer and was a first- or second-team All-Pro selection six times. He was also the NFC's Player of the Year five times and named the quarterback on the 1990s All-Decade team.
Favre holds virtually every Packers passing record, highlighted by touchdown passes (442), completions (5,377), and yards (61,655). Favre also holds the team record for interceptions (286), but he also threw nearly three times more passes (8,754) than any Packer ever. Perhaps what stands out most, though, is the Packers had a 160–93 regular-season record under Favre (.632), and went 172–103, including the playoffs (.625).
"Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of professional football," said Mike Shanahan, who coached the Broncos past Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII. "You're judged by winning, and he's won more games than any other quarterback who has ever played. He was the face of the Packers and a great credit to our game."
On top of that, Favre was a Hall of Fame teammate, as well. Those that played with Favre marveled at his ability to bring people together, no matter their walk of life.
"Here's why they'll never be another Brett Favre," former Packers safety LeRoy Butler said. "When Brett Favre got there, you had black guys playing a game of spades, white guys playing backgammon, the younger guys playing video games, the older guys playing hearts. And Brett fit in with every culture.
"He'd go over to the brothers and listen to hip-hop. He'd go over to the white guys and listen to country. He'd go hang out with the hunters, he'd go hang with the young guys. There was no guy that ever did that. Hell, I never did that.
"When he came in the locker room, he didn't wait for people to come over to him. He went over to people. And that wasn't publicized. He didn't want the publicity of that. But he was an unbelievable teammate. I'm telling you, no quarterback has ever done that, to realize there are so many different cultures in the locker room and he could fit in with all of them."
And he fit perfectly in Green Bay.
That's why No. 4 is No. 1 on this list.CHAPTER 2
The greatest coach in the history of the National Football League has been gone for more than four decades now. But good luck going more than a few minutes before the name Vince Lombardi comes up in any discussion regarding the Green Bay Packers.
Take a trip to Lambeau Field, and you'll see a 14-foot statute of Lombardi. The Super Bowl trophy itself has Lombardi's name attached. There's even a man named Saint Vince that roams the parking lot and the stadium on game days. After winning five NFL championships in seven years, it's easy to see why Lombardi will always be revered in the NFL's smallest city.
"He was the best coach ever, and I think few would question or argue that," said Jerry Kramer, a Packers guard from 1958 to 1968. "He always had you ready to go, mentally and physically. All you had to do was watch him and emulate him, and you'd be ready to play. Plus, he was just a tremendous teacher, very thorough. It was an honor to play for him."
Lombardi was beginning to wonder if a head coaching job would ever come his way back in 1959. The Brooklyn native had been a standout guard at Fordham University, part of that school's legendary "Seven Blocks of Granite" offensive line. And when Lombardi's playing days ended, he was an assistant coach at Army and then with the New York Giants. He had built a reputation as one of the top assistants in football and was seen as a potential successor to Jim Lee Howell when the Giants' coach retired. But in January 1959 all Lombardi knew was he was beginning his off-season job at Federation Bank and Trust, and deep down, he feared he was destined to remain a lifelong assistant coach.
Green Bay was in the market for a head coach, though, and Jack Vainisi, the team's personnel manager, soon came calling. It didn't take long for the two sides to work out a deal that paid Lombardi $36,000 per year for five seasons.
"I want it understood that I am in complete command here," Lombardi told the team's executive committee upon his arrival on February 2, 1959.
Technically, he wasn't, but two days after accepting the head coaching job, Lombardi was also given the vacant general manager position.
"He had prepared for that job for a long time," former Green Bay tackle Norm Masters said of Lombardi. "He came in and he had a plan, and we used his criteria as a leader. He demanded that people respond to his program, and he convinced us that we'd be successful if we listened to him. And we were."
That's for sure.
Lombardi did all he could to reverse the losing culture established under Scooter McLean (1958) and Lisle Blackbourn (1954–1957). His system was predicated on organization and structure, and he demanded perfection. That didn't come easily, of course. But by late in the 1959 season, there were signs of progress as the Packers won their final four games and finished 7–5 for their first winning season in 12 years.
By 1960 Lombardi had guided Green Bay to the NFL Championship Game, where the team fell to Philadelphia 17–13. But the Packers made amends the following year, defeating Lombardi's old New York Giants team 37–0 for the title. In 1962 the Packers not only repeated as world champions, they produced one of the best years in NFL history. Green Bay went 13–1 that season, then toppled the Giants 16–7 for the title.
"His philosophies weren't just those of a football coach," former tackle Bob Skoronski said. "He was like a father and a teacher. We were all part of something special and didn't even know it was happening."
After a two-year drought, Lombardi's Packers defeated Cleveland 23–12 for the 1965 NFL championship. The Packers repeated in 1966, defeating Dallas 34–27 for the NFL championship, then hammering Kansas City 35–10 in Super Bowl I.
"Coach Lombardi was so special, and the biggest reason why was his ability to always motivate people," said Boyd Dowler, a Packers wide receiver from 1959 to 1969. "He motivated the same people over a nine-year period, and the nucleus was almost always the same ... you never saw a real letdown."
Lombardi knew his aging team could easily let down in 1967. So, before that season, he had a message for that group.
"The one thing that really stands out is when we were going for three straight championships, that was something that had never been done before," said Tom Brown, a Packers cornerback from 1964 to 1968. "He told us we wouldn't appreciate it until we were 50 years old. And the Old Man — we always used to call him 'the Old Man' — was right."
Winning that third straight championship was a challenge like no other. The Packers appeared to have tired legs when they lost their final two regular-season games that year. But they defeated Dallas 21–17 in arguably the greatest game ever played — one known simply as the Ice Bowl. That gave Green Bay its third straight NFL championship, and two weeks later, the Packers defeated Oakland 33–14 in Super Bowl II.
"We were a group of men who were always together," said former wideout Carroll Dale. "The offense was not geared toward one individual. We took what the defense gave us, and that helped us rise to another level."
"He created a profile for high performance and leadership," added former cornerback Doug Hart. "He told you to figure out your target, then commit yourself to that. His role was to be a highly demanding leader, and he knew how to play his role."
At the end of the 1967 season, Lombardi resigned as head coach but stayed on as general manager. Needing a new challenge, Lombardi accepted the head coaching job in Washington in 1969 and took over a team that hadn't had a winning season in 14 years. To the surprise of no one, Lombardi's first Redskins team went 7–5–2.
It proved to be Lombardi's only team in Washington, as he died of cancer in September 1970.
"He altered my life dramatically and for the better," said Bob Long, a Packers wide receiver from 1964 to 1967. "He changed my football life and my business life, and I learned a lot from him. I learned to be mentally disciplined. I learned that, in business, everything needs to be done correctly. I learned that when I had a meeting, you get there 20 minutes early. I learned to set goals. I learned so much from Lombardi, it's incredible."
Lombardi finished his Green Bay career with a 98–30–4 record (.766), including a remarkable 9–1 mark in the playoffs. And in 1971 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Lombardi always preached that whole team concept," Masters said. "He was the kind of guy who pushed you hard, and you didn't realize it until afterward, but he made you better than you thought you could be."
"He was easy to work for as long as you did your job," added former linebacker Dan Currie. "He was a guy you couldn't BS. He was exactly what he was. He was an educator and he was very smart."
Excerpted from 100 Things Packers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Rob Reischel. Copyright © 2013 Rob Reischel. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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