The Pack Is Back
The packers last lost on Nov. 5 at Minnesota, due in part to third-string quarterback T.J. Rubley's inexplicably audibling out of a third-and-one quarterback sneak to a pass that was intercepted. That led to a game-winning field goal by the Vikings. Chalk it up to "the curse of Vince Lombardi" is all Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren could say afterward to general manager Ron Wolf. Who could blame Holmgren and Wolf if they half believed that the patron saint of Packerland was not smiling upon them? Their luck has been that bad.
In the four years that Holmgren and Wolf have been running things in Green Bay, the Pack has suffered more setbacks than most other teams. The trouble started with the 1992 draft, when Wolf selected cornerback Terrell Buckley with Green Bay's first pick and linebacker Mark D'Onofrio with its second. "We have two real cornerstones for the next 10 years," Wolf said that day, mistakenly, as it turned out. Buckley, a failure in man-to-man coverage, was traded to the Dolphins last April for a seventh-round pick; D'Onofrio ripped his right hamstring from the bone in his second pro game and never played another down.
Last year the Packers lost three other starting players in their prime to severe neck injuries: Pro Bowl receiver Sterling Sharpe, linebacker Johnny Holland and cornerback Roland Mitchell. The first-round picks in '93 and '94, linebacker Wayne Simmons and guard Aaron Taylor, respectively, had serious knee injuries as rookies. And this year, as if losing Sharpe wasn't bad enough, Wolf traded for tight end Keith Jackson, who refused to report until the eighth game and has only seven catches in four games this season.
Last Saturday, Wolf sat behind his desk in the Packer complex—not far from the two Lombardi trophies in the lobby—and said: "You always feel the history here, even when you leave the building. When I go home at night, I drive down Lombardi Avenue, past Lombardi Shopping Plaza and past Lombardi School. When I open my mail, I get people writing, 'Lombardi wouldn't have done that.' "
Lombardi, however, would be proud of this Pack, even though Green Bay can't run the end sweep with the same power it did when Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer led the way three decades ago. Many NFL observers believed Sharpe's loss would be the death knell for these Packers. Instead, Green Bay leads the NFC Central with an 8-4 record after its 35-13 rout of the Buccaneers on Sunday, and quarterback Brett Favre is directing an offense that is playing better than it did a year ago. "Everyone in this room knew we'd be fine," wideout Anthony Morgan said Sunday after the Pack's third consecutive victory. "No one here cares who gets the ball. I mean that. I think we've gone away from being focused so heavily on one player."
The Packers haven't shown a running game or the defensive consistency required to win the NFC championship. But their sweepable December schedule (Bengals, Bucs, Saints and Steelers) makes at least one home game in the playoffs probable. And not many teams want to come to the stadium on Lombardi Avenue in January, especially with the way Favre is playing.
Let the Minuet Begin
The NFL will have its customary five or six coaching vacancies after this season—the openings could be with the Browns, the Bucs, the Cardinals, the Dolphins, the Giants, the Lions and/or the Saints—and as usual, there's no shortage of candidates.
After consultations with NFL general managers, personnel executives and former coaches, here are the best candidates for owners to choose from come January (Jim Mora, currently with the Saints, and Dan Reeves of the Giants aren't included on this list, although they'll probably get jobs if they're fired).