For 34 years, Bob Harlan has given his heart and soul to the Green Bay Packers.
On Saturday, the Green Bay Packers organization gave back, honoring Harlan -- the club's ninth president and CEO -- as the 131st member inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
"The enormous pride that I'm feeling tonight will last forever," said Harlan, who was hired June 1, 1971, as assistant general manager by then-head coach Dan Devine. "And I can promise you that in the future you are going to be selecting people to this wonderful Hall that deserve this more than I do, but you will never ever select anyone that appreciates the honor more than I do."
Under his guidance, the Packers have posted a .500-or-better season 12 straight years and have been to two Super Bowls -- in 1996, when the Packers defeated the New England Patriots, and in 1997.
In his acceptance speech, Harlan spoke of some of the decisions that he's had to make during his 15-year tenure as president and CEO, including the hiring of Ron Wolf in 1991 to preside over the club's football operations -- a move Harlan called his best football decision.
Since 1993, the dawn of free agency and the salary cap -- a period many observers predicted would send Green Bay into a downward spiral -- the Packers own the NFL's best record, 117-59.
The toughest decision, Harlan said, came in 1994, when the Packers left Milwaukee, ending a 62-year stay, to play all home games in Green Bay.
"We had been playing there for over 60 years," Harlan said, "and the people in the stands, and their parents and their grandparents had supported this franchise, they had helped save this franchise.
"But we were leaving $2.5 million dollars on the table by playing four games in Milwaukee every year and we had to make the move. So we developed the theme, 'We're going to abandon the stadium, but we're never going to abandon the fans.'"
In what could have been a public relations nightmare, Harlan said, ended up a public relations plus.
The Packers offered Milwaukee fans a three-game ticket package at Lambeau Field, in which 96 percent of them enjoy today.
But the crowning achievement of Harlan's tenure, fittingly, is the very site in which he was honored.
In an effort to save the franchise from financial despair in the late '90s, Harlan conceived the idea of transforming Lambeau Field into a 365-day-a-year tourist destination -- the first such operation in NFL history.
In 2003, the Packers unveiled the results of the three-year, $295 million redevelopment project -- the 366,000-square-foot Lambeau Field Atrium, which houses numerous dining options, the Packers Pro Shop and the Packers Hall of Fame.
"I don't know if people really believed in 2000, when we were going through the referendum, that this was a necessary step if we were going to keep up with the other teams," Harlan said prior to the induction ceremony. "We could just see ourselves falling tremendously after the building boom in this league started and clubs were moving into new stadiums.
"I'm so proud today that the stadium is doing exactly what we told people it was going to do. It's elevated this franchise in revenue and it's going to keep us a viable part of the National Football League."
Harlan's vision not only ensured that the Packers remain competitive financially -- the organization ranked 10th in revenue for the second straight year in 2003, after being 20th as recently as 2002 -- but has since transformed Lambeau Field into the envy of the league.
"One of the things that I'm most proud of was when (chairman and co-CEO of the New York Giants) Bob Tisch came to me and said that they were looking to do something with Giants Stadium," Harlan said. "He told me that he sat down with the architects and said, 'Give me what they've got in Green Bay.' I think that's a great tribute to the Packers that New York wants what Green Bay has."
In addition to Packers legends Paul Hornung and Bart Starr, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was on hand, Saturday, marking the first time that a sitting National Football League commissioner has attended a Packers Hall of Fame ceremony, as Harlan joined the likes of team founder Curly Lambeau and Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi as one of the most influential figures in Green Bay Packers history.
"He and his board and his team of executives and coaches not only have maintained, preserved and savored the Packers tradition," said Tagliabue, "but they've enhanced it and they've done it with class. They've done it with a focus on the game and a focus on the fans.
"When I think about Bob and what his legacy is, obviously there are some really tangible pieces of legacy such as the stadium and the performance on the field, but in many ways it's the intangibles of what he represents.
"When you use the word intangibles in football you think of Vince Lombardi. He certainly had the intangibles in his own right, but when I use that term with Bob, what I mean is that he has a very difficult position as the head of this organization. He has to build consensus. If you own 51 percent of an NFL team, what you say goes because you own it. In Green Bay, the president doesn't have that prerogative, doesn't have that source of influence. But Bob's ability to build consensus and most of all his ability to lead, I think, is really phenomenal. I really do think that what he's accomplished in the last 15 years is tremendous."
"Very, very smart, astute, classy, professional," added Starr, when asked for words to describe Bob Harlan. "We could go on and on, I could keep you here for thirty minutes talking about him. I think (the success of the Packers organization) is a strong indication of the person that I was just describing. He's always been extremely well prepared, quality, has high morals and character. All of the fundamental groundwork pieces of a foundation that you are looking for he possesses, so I think the rest, as they say, is history."
During the ceremony, awards were also given to linebacker Nick Barnett, who was recognized as the Packers' rookie of the year, and running back Ahman Green, who was selected as the Miller Brewing Co. MVP of the year.
Sister Isaac Jogues Rousseau, an educator at Mount Mary College from Milwaukee and a "Packer fan from birth" -- who was named the sixth annual honoree to the Packers FAN Hall of Fame in December -- gave the crowd an unexpected laugh when she opened her speech with, "Let us play."
Jessie Garcia, sports reporter and anchor for WTMJ-TV (TODAY'S TMJ4), the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee, was emcee of the 2004 Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet, while Packers Hall of Famer Larry McCarren was Bob Harlan's presenter.