The Packers conducted their annual spring all-employees meeting on Monday. It’s a leaguewide ritual, but the Packers’ version was one of a kind, for at least one reason.
They are the reigning Super Bowl champions, so Monday’s meeting was more than the standard “where are we and where are we going?” get-together. Monday’s all-staff meeting was one part business, two parts celebration.
Team President and CEO Mark Murphy gave his state-of-the-franchise address, then served as master of ceremonies for what remained of the event. It included an entertaining question-and-answer session with General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy. Packers radio analyst Larry McCarren presented the bulk of the questions and one of his queries produced this humorous exchange between McCarthy and Thompson.
McCarren asked what has made their relationship so successful?
“He’s my boss,” McCarthy said.
A pregnant pause followed before Thompson said for dramatic effect, “Thatttt’s right.”
Yes, it is at the root of the Packers’ success. The GM/coach relationship is the most important dynamic in any building in the league. It has to be a partnership. They have to be two men that respect each other and understand and embrace their specific roles without crossing onto the others’ turf.
Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs had one of those relationships. Beathard told Gibbs to go on vacation and come back after the draft and I’ll hand you your football team. At that point, Beathard got out of the way and allowed Gibbs to coach, while Beathard hit the scouting trail. Thompson and McCarthy have some Beathard and Gibbs in them.
Thompson spoke a little about that on Monday. He talked about how he was reminded by Ron Wolf to never forget what you are, a scout, and during the season Thompson hits the scouting trail on Tuesdays and leaves his team to McCarthy. That’s the bond of trust that exists between the two.
There was, however, another dynamic that filled the air in the banquet room at Lambeau Field on Monday, which was also filled by employees. One look around the room made one fact very clear to someone who was in his first Packers all-employees meeting: The Green Bay Packers are a very big corporation, and that sent the newbie deep into thought.
How do they pull it off? How does a company so big, so cutting edge, so very corporate in so many ways, maintain its charm? How can something so big feel so small?
Hey, lots of companies are big, but big isn’t always pretty and it’s almost never charming. The Packers are. They’re the little team from the little town in the charming old building that, by the way, is being fitted for another expansion that will send capacity toward 80,000.
There was something in a comment Thompson made on Monday: “All the teams are working hard,” Thompson said. “That’s why it’s so hard to be successful, because there are so many dynamic people. We’ve always had an advantage because we are the Green Bay Packers.”
What does that mean? Lots of places make the same claim, but Thompson is not a boastful guy so there’s absolutely no doubt that he believes that its mere name gives the Packers a competitive edge.
Is it possible the advantage to which Thompson referred is the ability to be both big and small? Hey, this isn’t Curly Lambeau’s Packers any longer. Those days are long gone. Today’s Packers franchise is one of the powerhouses of professional sports, but it lives in pro sports’ smallest market, a town that could fit into two Big Ten stadiums with room to spare.
How do they pull it off? It’s one of the great accomplishments in pro sports, the ability to be both big and small, tough and cute, so warm in such a cold place, so powerful, yet, so charming.
It’s the Packers’ magic. It’s what they have that the others don’t.