GREEN BAY – Seventy-three times Mike McCarthy led the Packers out from the Lambeau Field home tunnel to regular-season victory, more than any other head coach in the stadium's history.
This Sunday, however, McCarthy will return from the narrow visiting tunnel inside Lambeau's iconic bowl as the third-year head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
From an X's and O's perspective, McCarthy looks at this Week 10 matchup with Green Bay and sees a "dangerous" opponent standing in the way of the Cowboys' seventh win of the year.
But as someone who spent a great deal of time learning the history of the Packers organization, McCarthy acknowledges how meaningful it will be to step back on the field he shepherded from 2006-18.
"I'm looking forward to it," said McCarthy on a conference call with Green Bay media Monday afternoon.
"As I told the team today, we're blessed to have a premier stadium, AT&T Stadium, and coming back to Lambeau Field, it's one of a kind. I just told them to embrace the opportunity, but at the end of the day we're focusing on the team we're competing against."
McCarthy enjoyed one of the most successful head coaching tenures in team history, a 13-year run that produced nine playoff appearances, six NFC North division titles and a Super Bowl XLV victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. His 125 victories are second only to Curly Lambeau.
Yet, when asked about what he's most proud of, the former Packers head coach recalled a conversation with former general manager Ted Thompson and team president Bob Harlan during his first months on the job in 2006.
It centered on receiver Terrence Murphy, a promising second-round pick who sustained a career-ending neck injury three games into his rookie season with the Packers in 2005.
"The organization just didn't feel like it was in his best interest to continue playing," McCarthy said. "Out of that conversation (Ted) was like, 'Hey, I don't have children, but we're gonna treat these men as if they're our own children.' And that was a consistent message of how we tried to do things and obviously we had a lot of success, but I think the consistency and the way we did it. … I thought we did it the right way."
On a personal level, McCarthy built deep roots in the area. It's where he met his wife, Jessica, and raised a family. It's where he forged a multitude of close friendships that caused McCarthy to get choked up during his media session in Dallas on Monday.
McCarthy has maintained a residence in Green Bay, including the year he spent away from football in 2019. Now in Dallas, McCarthy joked about still getting updates from friends on the road bearing his name on the southeast side of Lambeau Field.
While the Packers and McCarthy parted ways in December 2018, there was never any doubt he'd continue coaching and considers himself fortunate to have guided two of the NFL's most celebrated franchises.
"This is who I am," McCarthy said. "I'm extremely blessed and extremely grateful for all these opportunities. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I never once dreamed about being the coach of the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers.
"Obviously, very fortunate with opportunities but I'm also in tune with the fact I'm here for a reason. God put me in this place for a reason and I try to make sure I do everything I can to honor him and maximize this opportunity."
Current Head Coach Matt LaFleur said he's had a few conversations with his predecessor in Green Bay. The two haven't sat down for beers, but LaFleur joked that "hopefully one of these days we'll get an opportunity to do that."
As two of only 15 head coaches in team history, LaFleur and McCarthy are members of a unique fraternity. After leading the Cowboys to 18 wins over their last 25 games, McCarthy's coaching credentials speak for themselves.
"Certainly got a ton of respect for him," LaFleur said. "Shoot, I've worked with a lot of guys who worked under him and they all have the highest amount of respect for him as a man, as a football coach. Obviously, he's done a lot of great things over the course of his career. … Anytime somebody's able to win a Super Bowl, I think you can't ever take that for granted."
McCarthy said he's looking forward to seeing many of his former colleagues in Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with whom he's recently had "great communication."
McCarthy is the fourth former Packers head coach to lead another team against Green Bay after their departure, joining Mike Holmgren (Seattle), Lindy Infante (Indianapolis) and Curly Lambeau (Washington).
McCarthy was actually the Packers' quarterbacks coach in 1999 when Holmgren returned to Lambeau Field for the first time and remembers the crowd greeting its former head coach graciously.
While he doesn't "have any expectations" for what his reception will be on Sunday, McCarthy holds Packers fans in high regard and still considers Green Bay home.
"It's a fanbase that loves their team," McCarthy said. "I thought the crowd treated him with respect. It's a really special place that way. I would be all for a very positive reception."