Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers Football
No NFL franchise has a more storied history than the Green Bay Packers. The team has won more NFL titles (12) than any other ballclub. The league’s Superbowl championship trophy, the Lombardi Trophy, is named for a legendary Green Bay coach. Brett Favre has most of the NFL’s passing records.
The Green Bay Packers are unique in many ways. Green Bay has a population of 100,000, far smaller than any other NFL market. The team is owned by the Green Bay Football Corporation, a publicly-owned company. Many Green Bay residents own stock in the organization. The organization is run by a Board of Directors, while other NFL franchises typically are owned by a majority owner who ultimately makes all the decisions.
This form of ownership is actually illegal according to NFL by-laws, but the Packers were grandfathered into the league rules. Therefore, no other National Football League franchise will ever have the same ownership structure as the Packers.
The Early Years
The Green Bay Packers formed in 1919, and played in a now-defunct league in 1920. In 1921, the Packers joined the NFL in its second year of existence. Only the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals have been in the NFL longer. The Packers won NFL championships in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939 and 1944. Curly Lambeau was not a player and founder of the Packers, but he coached the Packers from 1921 until 1949, collecting all six championships. This explains how the Packers home field is known as Lambeau Field, and not named for Vince Lombardi.
Throughout the 1950′s, though, when the NFL was becoming a major television event, the Green Bay Packers struggled. The struggles ended when the Packers hired Vince Lombardi as their head coach in 1959. Lombardi had been the offensive coordinator for the successful New York Giants franchises of the 1950′s.
Lombardi built the Green Bay Packers into one of the classic franchises in NFL history and collected the unofficial title of Team of the Decade for the 1960′s. The Packers would reach the NFL Championship game six times during the 1960′s, winning five of those six championship games.
Three of these titles came before the Superbowl, so the Packers are credited with three NFL titles in 1961, 1962 and 1965. After the inception of the Superbowl, the Packers won Superbowl I and Superbowl II in 1967 and 1968, respectively. In recognition of the Packers dominance in the early years of the Superbowl era, the winners of the Superbowl every year collect the Lombardi Trophy.
Packers stars during the Lombardi years were Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Jerry Kramer, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley and Ray Nitschke. Vince Lombardi left the Green Bay Packers in 1969 and took over as head coach of the Washington Redskins. Within a year, Lombardi would die of cancer.
The Post-Lombardi Years
From 1969 until 1991, the Packers had only five winning seasons and two playoff appearances. They team continually drafted badly, while a succession of coaches struggled to succeed. Two former Lombardi players, Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg, were brought in to coach the team, hoping to restore some of the Lombardi magic.
Fan support waned in these years, as other NFL teams were identified as the premeir NFL franchises. In one stretch of the Eighties, the Packers even played half their home games outside of Green Bay in Milwaukee. This would be considered unthinkable these days.
Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf
This would all change in 1992, when the Packers hired Ron Wolf as the team’s new General Manager. Wolf had been in the front office of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders for most of the past 25 years, though he had been a New York Jets executive in 1991.
Wolf hired Mike Holmgren to be his head coach. Holmgren had been the quarterbacks coach for their San Francisco 49ers from 1986 until 1998, and their offensive coordinator from 1989 until 1991. Holmgren and Wolf would bring new blood into the franchise, each coming from seperate winning traditions. Holmgren was expected to bring with his the West Coast Offense, then (as now) one of the trendy offensive schemes in the NFL.
On the field, the Packers brought in Brett Favre from the Atlanta Falcons. Favre had been a 2nd round draft choice for the Falcons in 1991, but Falcons coach Jerry Glanville was no fan of Favre’s. With Chris Miller leading the Falcons on a 1991 playoff run, the Falcons decided Favre was expendable, and Ron Wolf decided to take a chance on the young passer.
At the time, Favre was expected to be the quarterback of the future. Don Majkowski was the Packers opening day starting quarterback. Majkowksi tore a ligament in an ankle in a September matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, making way for Brett Favre.
Favre came into the game and led the Packers to a comeback victory. He has started every Green Bay Packers game since then, an NFL-record streak 253 straight starts by a quarterback. This record will presumably be snapped at the start of the 2008 season, as Brett Favre has announced his retirement from the NFL following the 2007 season.
Brett Favre had a series of primary targets during his years with the Packers. Often, a receiver would come in as the second receiver, then move up to the role of the primary target after a few years. In this way, Favre’s #1 receiver transferred from Sterling Sharpe to Robert Brooks to Antonio Freeman to Donald Driver. This past season, Greg Jennings became Favre’s big play receiver, though Driver remained the possession guy.
Sterling Sharpe might have been Favre’s primary target throughout the Nineties. Sharpe played for the Packers from 1988 until 1994, when a neck injury ended his career prematurely. Sharpe was a 5-time All Pro Selection and led the NFL in receiving in 1989, 1992 and 1993.
The Lambeau Leap
During the later years of Sharpe’s career, Robert Brooks was the Packers’ #2 receiver. During this time, Brooks started the tradition of leaping into the stands at Lambeau Field after scoring a touchdown. This became known as the Lambeau Leap, and many Packers players continue the tradition to this day. After Sharpe retired, Robert Brooks became Favre’s new favorite receiver.
The Cheesehead phenomenon gained nationwide fame during these years, as vendors sold styrofoam hats which looked like chucks of Swiss cheese. Green Bay Packers fans showed up at games wearing these ridiculous hats.
Reggie White had been a star defensive end in the USFL. When the USFL closed its doors, he joined the Philadelphia Eagles, who owned White’s NFL rights. Reggie White would be a Pro Bowl selection every year of his career in Philadelphia, which lasted from 1986 until 1992. In 1993, though, Reggie White became a free agent.
Few considered Green Bay a serious contender for Reggie White’s services. The Packers were considered a small market team where no free agent would consider playing. The Packers had been bad for the better part of a generation. Despite these facts, Reggie White signed with the Packers, signing a large contract.
Reggie White was not the dominant force he was with the Eagles, though he went on to anchor the Green Bay Packers defense for many years. He would continue his string of Pro Bowl appearances, going to the Pro Bowl as a Packer from 1993 until 1998. The Packers would add other players around White, and the Packers eventually had one of the best defensive lines in football. In their Superbowl year, the defensive line consisted of White, Gilbert Brown, Santana Dotson and Sean Jones.
Struggles Against the Cowboys
In 1993, the Green Bay Packers made the NFC playoffs for the first time since 1982, which was a strike-shortened season when the playoff bracket was expanded. The Packers had last made the playoffs in a non-strike season in 1972. In the 1993 postseason, Green Bay qualified as a wildcard and defeated the Detroit Lions. The next week, the Packers traveled to Texas Stadium, where they lost to the defending champ and eventual Superbowl repeat champion, the Dallas Cowboys, by a score of 27-17.
The next year, the Packers once again made the playoffs as a wildcard entry. Once again, Green Bay defeated Barry Sanders and the Lions in the wildcard game, and advanced to play the two-time defending champion Cowboys. This time, the Cowboys blew out the Packers by the score of 35-9 to end their 1994-95 season.
In 1995, the Packers believed they had improved to the point they could contend for the title. Favre led the team to their third straight wildcard entry, where they defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the wildcard week. The Packers were a major underdog the next week when they traveled to Candlestick Park to face the defending Superbowl champion, San Francisco 49ers.
Green Bay pulled off the upset by the score of 27-17 to advance to the NFC Championship Game. For the third straight year, the Packers would face the Cowboys in Texas Stadium. This game was much closer than the year before, as the Packers offense kept pace with the Cowboys’ production. On a drive late in the game, Brett Favre threw an interception which would end their hopes. After the Cowboys added a touchdown to finish them off, the final score was 38-27.
1996 Superbowl Season
The Green Bay Packers left nothing to chance the next season. Instead of making the playoffs via the wildcard route, Favre led them to the best record in the NFC. This meant the Packers would host games throughout their NFC playoff run, and the Pack had never lost a playoff game in Lambeau Field. The Packers would once again defeat the Niners in the divisional round. They missed playing the defending champion Cowboys, when the Cowboys were defeated the week prior by the upstart Carolina Panthers. The Packers easily defeated the Panthers to advance to the Superbowl.
Brett Favre started his first Superbowl hot, throwing a touchdown on his first drive. By this time, the Packers had a complete offensive package. Edgar Bennet had been the Packers’ starting running back early in the season, though Dorsey Levens became the key RB come playoff time. Mark Chmura was Favre’s favorite target at tight end, while Antonio Freeman was the team’s big play threat.
The Packers would easily defeat Drew Bledsoe, Bill Parcells and the New England Patriots in the Superbowl. Desmond Howard had a big game as a kick returner, while Reggie White and the defense put pressure on Bledsoe all day.
1997 Superbowl Run
After such a bravura season, many wondered whether the Packers might repeat as NFL champions. The Cowboys were getting older, while the Pack seemed to have the 49ers number. No other team in the NFC seemed able to match Favre, who was the two-time reigning MVP.
Favre would receive the NFL MVP again in 1997, which saw the team go 13-3 for the second straight regular season. In the playoffs, Green Bay defeated a young but talented Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in the divisional round, then dispatched with the Forty-Niners for the third straight postseason in the NFC Championship Game.
Superbowl XXXII Loss
In the Superbowl, the Packers were a favorite over John Elway and the Denver Broncos. The Broncos had been an offensive powerhouse for the past two seasons, once Elway was teamed with Terrell Davis at running back. The Broncos had weapons at receiver, too, such as Rod Smith, Easy Ed McAffrie and (Sterling’s brother) Shannon Sharpe.
Their defense was underrated, while Mike Shanahan came from the same San Francisco 49ers West Coast background as Mike Holmgren. With two classic offensive teams set to go, Superbowl XXXII would be one of the best Superbowls in NFL history. In an offensive shootout, the Broncos would upset the Packers 31-24. Ironically, the Broncos would go on to repeat as champions the next season, while the Packers were knocked out of the NFC playoffs by the 49ers due to a late Steve Young-Terrell Owens touchdown.
The Late Favre Years
After the Packers lost the 1998 playoff loss, Mike Holmgren left the club to take over as coach and GM of the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers would miss the playoffs in 1999 and 2000. After the 2000 season, Ron Wolf would retire. Mike Sherman, who took over for Mike Holmgren at head coach, would also succeed Ron Wolf as Packers GM.
The Green Bay Packers would make the playoffs in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, though the team never made it past the divisional round of playoffs. The team would go 2-4 in the playoffs during this stretch. Every year, people wondered how long Brett Favre would be effective, or how long he would continue his career.
But year after year, Favre not only posted solid offensive numbers, but he continued his streak of consecutive starts. Few people considered the Green Bay Packers a serious contender in these years, but Favre’s pressure and their perennial playoff contention mean they were perpetually on the verge of taking the next step.
This came to an end in 2005, when the Packers went 4-12. Many urged Brett Favre to retire, because the team appeared to be facing a long rebuilding process. Favre considered retirement in the offseason. The next season, the team went 8-8 and missed the playoffs again. Favre once again mulled retirement.
13-3 Packers in 2007
The 2007 season came as a complete surprise to even the staunchest Green Bay Packers fans, not least of which being Favre. With young coach Mike McCarthy now in control, the Packers offensive unit took a little time to gel. Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Donald Lee were solid targets for Brett Favre, while Ryan Grant took over at running back midway through the season and became a star.
The defense was the star unit much of the season, though. Aaron Kampman led a defensive line which could get pressure on quarterbacks with the four down linemen. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was another star along the line, while Al Harris and Charles Woodson gave the team a pair of big cornerbacks who punished opposing receivers. A.J. Hawk, a 1st round pick the year before, began to grow into a team leader.
The Packers would go 13-3, tying with the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in the NFC. They defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs, even after going down 14-0 in the first five minutes of the game.
When the Dallas Cowboys were knocked out of the playoffs by the New York Giants, the Packers became the hosts of the NFC Championship Game. The Packers led at times during the game against the Giants, but eventually lost in overtime after a Favre interception. Favre retired in the spring of 2008, leaving the quarterback position in the hands of Aaron Rodgers.