Before this space heads into in-depth coverage of the NFL labor dispute as it now reaches a crescendo after two years, we close the 2010 regular season with today’s mailbag about the now-Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, a team I know a little bit about:
What does a Super Bowl championship mean to the Packers and Packer nation?
It is hard to overestimate its impact to an already-devoted fan base. It will cement the Packers in the lives of hundreds of thousands of existing fans and create new generations of fans forming an allegiance with this group of players.
The Wisconsin community wraps itself around the Packers in a way unique to professional sports. Fans truly feel that the team is part of them, not only due to the public unique ownership structure.
I was simply a front office employee but recognized and constantly asked about the team. Whether someone tapping me on the shoulder while pumping gas to ask “Is Aaron Rodgers really going to replace Brett one day?” or at my son’s parent-teacher conference being asked about Donald Driver’s contract status, the team dominates conversation.
Watching the faces of Packer fans after the game Sunday brought me back to the raw sensations that sports fandom can bring. As we head into an offseason dominated — lockout or not — by the business of football, it is good to know that the emotion and pride that being a fan can bring are still flourishing.
You've said that personal slights motivate Aaron Rodgers. What do you mean?
Aaron is quietly and internally motivated by hearing his abilities questioned. He has a memory like an elephant when it comes to these. From the moment he arrived at the Packers, he mentioned things like Jon Gruden passing on him in the Draft after promising he would take him and Ron Jaworski questioning his skills in pre-Draft coverage. Now, those two gush about him regularly on Monday Night Football.
Aaron takes great satisfaction in proving comments by critics to be folly. His is Northern California cool on the outside, but fiercely motivated. He told us from the moment he arrived that we would not regret taking him. I think there are no regrets.
You know the team and signed many of the players. For whom do you feel best?
There are many, including several back-office employees toiling in anonymity, but here are three:
Donald Driver was the only current player at the Packers when I arrived in 1999. We roomed next to each other for a while at the Midway Motor Inn and he used to stop by to chat. A seventh-round pick, skinny as a rail, was confident he would be mentioned along with the Packer great receivers.
I saw countless receivers come through that were faster, bigger, and stronger than Donald, who outlasted them all with that skinny body. Now “Quickie” is not only the leading Packer all-time receiver but a Super Bowl champion.
Chad Clifton is a mountain of a man who suffered a sever pelvic injury from a hit by Warren Sapp in November 2002. In 2004, we were signing him to a six-year deal for $32.4 million (a deal he played all the way through before re-signing this year). When he and his wife came into my office late that night to sign, there were tears in both their eyes as he signed the papers. Eighteen months prior, he didn’t know if he would walk again, let alone play football.
Chad is as much a fixture at Lambeau Field as the field itself. He is always the first in the building and the last to leave, a warm presence to all the staff. Now he’s a champion.
Charles Woodson may be one of the greatest signings in NFL free agency yet was not in demand as a free agent. Although we were offering the most money, Charles would not have signed with the Packers had more teams been interested. And when Charles came into the organization in 2006, he and Mike McCarthy clashed, as Woodson was used to a less structured environment in Oakland.
Charles and Mike worked through that and Charles became a force. In my nine years with the team, I never saw a player that looked so superior to others in his abilities. He is truly an elite talent, and a thoughtful, emotional and proud person. He’s been a wonderful influence for that position group with the Packers.
I read you were part of changing the culture in Green Bay when Mike McCarthy arrived. What does that mean?
Mike’s mantra from when he arrived was “accountability and availability.” Towards that end, I negotiated all contracts to include significant portions of their total values to include money tied to: (1) attendance of at least 85% of the team’s offseason workout sessions, and (2) 45-man game day active roster bonuses. There was certainly resistance to these requests due to the long Green Bay winters, but eventually we were able to put that language in all rookie and veteran contracts.
What do you think of McCarthy?
Mike’s a solid football coach who’s worked hard for his success. I knew him when he was a quarterbacks‘ coach with the team in 1999 under Ray Rhodes, and saw a similar guy when he was head coach. I think Mike’s best asset is “emotional intelligence” about his team and his players: knowing how to pace his use of emotion, anger, cursing, etc. so that it has optimal effect. That was obvious throughout this playoff run.
And what do you think of Ted Thompson?
Ted is a supreme evaluator of football talent, especially college players. He, like all of us who worked in the front office over the past decade, was tutored by Ron Wolf and his excellence. Ted is most in his element on the sideline of a college football practice or in a dark room watching film of football players.
His weakness, as he will admit, is in the communications aspect of the general manager position. He prefers platitudes and simple statements to more open and honest communication, which has frustrated many fans looking for reasoning behind certain decisions. It is nice to seeTed’s years of arduous scouting is getting proper recognition. The team’s player procurement is in good hands.
Ted and the Packers‘ success will continue to lead to more teams trying to adapt to the “draft and develop” strategy that has worked so well in Green Bay. To be successful, a team needs to be patient, trust their scouting and identify of the right guys to extend long-term. It is a model that, when working, leads to potential long periods of sustained success. The Packers are a shining example.
Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.
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