Green Bay Packers are Vikings role models
By Patrick Reusse, Minneapolis Star Tribune
~The Green Bay Packers went from 1968 through 1991 with two playoff appearances and one playoff victory. Ron Wolf, a master of player evaluation, was hired in November 1991 as general manager. He didn’t wait long to shake up the quarter-century of futility.
Wolf fired Lindy Infante as coach at season’s end. He then traded a first-round choice for Brett Favre, a quarterback who had been a third-stringer as a rookie in Atlanta.
Mike Holmgren, a San Francisco assistant, was hired as coach by Wolf. It took one more year and then the Packers went on a six-year playoff run from 1993 to 1998. They won nine playoff games, including the Super Bowl for the 1996 season.
The magic didn’t end until Holmgren accepted an offer to become Seattle’s executive vice president, general manager and coach after the 1998 season. The Packers missed the playoffs with Ray Rhodes in 1999 and with Mike Sherman in 2000.
Ron Wolf announced he would resign after the 2001 draft. Sherman remained coach and was given general manager powers.
Four years later, team president Bob Harlan took the GM powers from Sherman and hired Ted Thompson from Seattle in 2005. The Packers went 4-12, and Thompson fired Sherman and hired 49ers assistant Mike McCarthy.
This was a bolder move than was Wolf’s to hire Holmgren, who had been San Francisco’s offensive coordinator during the late stages of its dynasty. McCarthy had been the 49ers’ offensive coordinator for a 4-12 season in 2005.
Three years later, the Packers were getting ready to play the Vikings in a Monday night opener at Lambeau Field.
The last game that counted in Green Bay had been a 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game in January 2008.
Brett Favre’s renege on retirement and his trade to the New York Jets had taken place. In the tailgate areas before that 2008 opener, Packers fans were either questioning Rodgers’ talent, or cursing Thompson’s name, and often both.
Thompson kept stockpiling draft choices and trading down to stockpile more. “To what end?” the fans wondered.
And why – after the success with defensive back Charles Woodson – had Thompson become allergic to signing high-end free agents?
The Packers won on that Monday night, 24-19, but wound up 6-10. Do you think that fall would’ve taken place if Thompson hadn’t run off Favre? No chance. Fire Ted!
The Packers are 47-17 in the four playoff seasons since then. They lost first-round games in 2009 and 2011, surrounded by the 4-0 wild-card run to a Super Bowl title after the 2010 season.
The triumvirate of Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers has turned this into such an admirable operation that the Vikings are openly trying to emulate it.
It took owner Zygi Wilf seven years to do what he should have done all along, and name a general manager with full personnel powers. Rick Spielman was elevated to that role after last season’s 3-13 abomination.
Spielman has cited Green Bay as a role model for his emphasis on the development of young players over high-buck free agents. The results have come quickly, due in a large part to the extraordinary effort of Adrian Peterson, but also the development of inexperienced players on both sides of the ball.
Thompson’s best move in Green Bay was to see Rodgers fall to 24th in 2005 draft, to decide the flawed mechanics that had scared off other teams could be fixed, and to take him as the needed successor to Favre.
The Packers knew they had a few years to work with Rodgers, as Favre continued to be the NFL’s ironman. But they were also correct that Rodgers could be elite at the most important position in professional sports, and they continue to benefit grandly from that judgment with Rodgers, now 29.
In Minnesota, Spielman has tied his team to Christian Ponder, who had an apprenticeship of only six games behind Donovan McNabb in 2011.
Last Sunday, in his 26th NFL start, Ponder was a worthy rival for Rodgers in the Vikings’ 37-34 victory. If he gets it done again Saturday night in Lambeau, we’ll have to say the Spielman plan to surpass the Packers by mimicking them has kicked in much faster than anyone could’ve been imagined.
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