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A New Season


Ron Wolf

In many ways, this spring was like so many before it. Ron Wolf let his eyes wash over the young talent spread out on the field in front of him. He watched the athletes hard at work, desperate to prove themselves, desperate to make the team.

But this wasn't college football's scouting combine. This wasn't a workout for those hoping to be selected in the NFL Draft. This wasn't even football.

It was Spring Training. And Wolf, the Packers' general manager from 1991-2001 who brought to Green Bay names like Holmgren, Favre and White, wasn't scouting, he was relaxing.

For three straight weeks he took in almost a game a day at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., joint home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Montreal Expos, where he was "impressed by the ballplayers' true love and respect for the game of baseball."

He mingled with the old regime, meeting legends Mike Schmidt, Bob Gibson and Red Schoendienst, among others. A noted history buff, he made a trip to Vero Beach to see Dodgertown, the birthplace of the modern spring training facility.

"I was fascinated by that place," Wolf said. "They started in 1948 and you can see how far ahead of everyone else that they were. It was the first real training camp in the modern day setting and it's stood the test of time. I appreciate that a lot."

In years past, spring had been a busy season for Wolf with the NFL Draft fast approaching. But this year he thought about the draft almost never, and he missed it even less.

"A lot of people ask me if it's strange not to be working on the draft and I wonder sometimes if there must be something wrong with me," Wolf said. "I really and truly don't feel like I'm missing anything.

"I have no desire to do it. I don't feel like there is a part of me that wants to be somewhere else. I'm perfectly content with what I'm doing right now, which is nothing."

In his first year of retirement, Wolf followed the Packers closely from his home in Annapolis, Md., watching the team on television when he could. He made a few appearances in the radio booth at Navy football games providing color commentary, but other than that stayed rather removed from the sport that has defined him.

Since his departure in June, he's been back to Green Bay only twice. The first time was in September when he was an honorary captain for the Packers' Monday Night contest with the Washington Redskins. The second was last week when he returned for the Fifth-Annual Lee Remmel Sports Awards Banquet, accepting the 'Distinguished Service Award' last Thursday.

The program that evening boasted that in his career "Wolf made a more profound impact upon the Packers organization and its artistic endeavors than anyone since the legendary Vince Lombardi's arrival in Green Bay four decades earlier."

Considering that the house that Wolf built resulted in eight winning seasons, two NFC championship titles and one Super Bowl crown over 10 years, it's as difficult a proclamation to argue as it is for Wolf to accept.

"That's a heck of a statement," Wolf said. "I'm very proud of the accomplishments and the achievements that we made here, but it's not just Ron Wolf. So many people played a huge factor in this . . .

"But I am very proud of what we got done here, because this is truly one of the jewels in the crown of the National Football League. To take a downtrodden franchise like this was at that time and to be able to turn it around and put it back where it belongs is indeed a warm and cherished feeling I will always have."

Wolf is far away from being able to watch the Packers with only a fan's interest. He still has too much invested in this team, these players, these coaches. So even from afar he took an extra amount of pride in watching Mike Sherman lead the Packers to a 13-5 record last year in only his second season as head coach.

"He's done an absolutely phenomenal job when you consider how they turned things around," Wolf said of Sherman. "I know they were 9-7 in 2000, but they took the last four games to make it 9-7. Last year they just kept it going.

"That's a great credit to Mike Sherman. It shows the belief of the players in him and the philosophy here. The team kept getting better and better. He's just done a heck of a job."

When the 2002 version of the NFL Draft commences this weekend, it will mark the first time in a decade that Wolf won't be pulling the trigger from inside the Packers' war room. However, even in retirement and his self-titled new career as a "domestic" it seems there are critical decisions to be made.

Making his acceptance speech at the Remmel banquet, Wolf stated with unwavering confidence, "The Oreck beats the hell out of the Hoover."

Now there's something for your draft board.

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