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Holmgren turned Packers back into winners

Posted Jul 21, 2012

The head coach who resurrected the Packers’ winning ways joined Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi in the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

Mike Holmgren, who Ron Wolf hired as the team’s head coach in 1992, took his place among Packers immortals as 2012’s lone inductee to the Packers Hall of Fame. Holmgren turned more than two decades of losing into one of the best winning percentages in NFL coaching history with seven consecutive winning seasons and six consecutive playoff seasons, including a Super Bowl XXXI championship.

“The most unselfish guys I’ve ever been around. That’s how you win. When you have that, you can do great things,” Holmgren said of the 1996 team, which posted a 13-3 record in the regular season on the way to a 35-21 win over the New England Patriots and Bill Parcells in the Super Bowl. Parcells was one of three candidates Wolf considered for the head coach’s job when Wolf hired Holmgren.

“You folks, with this evening, have just put the frosting on the cake,” Holmgren said in capping the evening’s festivities, which included:

  • The Bart and Cherry Starr Recognition Award being presented to formers Packers president Bob Harlan.

  • Packers wide receiver Donald Driver being presented the Northwestern Mutual Memorable Moments in Packers History Award.

  • Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb being presented the Ariens Company Rookie of the Year Award.

  • The Miller Lite Most Valuable Player of the Year Award being presented to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Holmgren, of course, was the evening’s headliner, and he delivered a heart-felt address to those in attendance that distinguished his seven seasons as Packers coach.

“The first person I have to thank is Ron (Wolf). He took a chance on a young coach who was five years removed from coaching in high school. Then you go to Bob Harlan. You could not ask for a man to give you more support from the business side than Bob Harlan. Ted (Thompson) is doing a wonderful job in Green Bay and it shows,” Holmgren said.

Holmgren began his career as Packers coach with consecutive losses, the second of which was by a 31-3 score in Tampa.

“It was a hot day in Tampa. I was thinking to myself as I got on the airplane, whoa! I went 0-14 in Tampa and we’re going to go 0-16 in Green Bay,” Wolf told reporters of that 0-2 start in 1992. Wolf presented Holmgren for induction to the Packers Hall of Fame.

The following week, Holmgren inserted Brett Favre at quarterback and Favre rallied the Packers to a 24-23 win with “two of the most beautiful passes I’ve ever seen and we win the game,” Holmgren said.

An era in Packers football was born.

“We changed a lot of the culture in this building. That will mean the most,” Holmgren said in thinking back on his years in Green Bay. He left the Packers following the 1998 season to become the head coach and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.

“It was hard to see him leave but it was inevitable because all of his peers were getting these kinds of jobs,” Wolf said, referring to the dual position of head coach and general manager.

The culture Holmgren and Wolf changed has effected a sustained era of winning in Green Bay. Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ most recent head coach to have won a Super Bowl title, was in attendance to applaud Holmgren’s induction to the Packers Hall of Fame.

Another Packers legend, Bart Starr, delighted the audience with his appearance on Saturday night at the Lambeau Field Atrium. Starr’s wife, Cherry, did the speaking honors in presenting the couple’s recognition award to Harlan.

“Bart’s salary was $6,500 a year and he earned every penny of it,” Cherry said of Starr’s rookie season with the team in 1956. “You were the greatest experience of our lives,” she told Packers fans.

In receiving his rookie of the year award, Cobb said: “We’re gonna chase this goal and I’ll see you in New Orleans,” the sight of this season’s Super Bowl.

“They’ve really got it going and they’ve set the bar high for the rest of us,” Holmgren, currently the president of the Cleveland Browns, said of the Packers. “The respect I have for the job they do here is really quite something.”

With his induction to the Packers Hall of Fame, Holmgren stepped up to a higher level of career achievement and respect and joined the immortals in Packers history.

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