For the past three years, Green Bay Packers president and chief executive officer Bob Harlan has finished his workdays by driving around the outside of Lambeau Field and admiring the ongoing stadium renovation, which now stands just weeks away from completion.
The historic venue, originally dedicated in 1957, will be re-dedicated at the Packers' 2003 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, Sept. 7. And by then, Harlan will have a permanent place within the hallowed grounds.
Wednesday, as part of their 'Rebirth Of A Legend' festivities announcements, the Packers revealed that the main entrance to Lambeau Field will be named the Robert E. Harlan Plaza, with a dedication planned for September 2, at 5:00 p.m.
The decision to so honor Harlan was made by the Packers' executive committee and board of directors, paying tribute to a man who in his 14 years as president led a movement that returned a struggling franchise to greatness.
Committee member Don Harden said that numerous suggestions were made proposing possible ways to recognize Harlan, but "it soon became apparent that the naming of the main entrance plaza, which will include statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi, is how Bob should be recognized and remembered by Packers fans everywhere, for all that he has contributed to this storied franchise."
Named team president and chief operating officer in June of 1989 after 18 years with the organization, Harlan took over the reins of a franchise that had seen but two winning seasons in its last 16. Fourteen years later, the Packers have had only two losing seasons in Harlan's tenure, fewer than their number of NFC Championship appearances, equaling their number of Super Bowl appearances in that span.
En route to that success, Harlan hired Ron Wolf as general manager, who in turn hired Mike Holmgren as football coach, traded for quarterback Brett Favre, signed free agents like defensive end Reggie White and eventually hired current head coach and general manager Mike Sherman.
Harlan also guided the team through the stadium referendum that allowed for the current $295 million redevelopment, without which there wouldn't have been a Harlan Plaza at Lambeau Field in 2003, because there wouldn't be a Packers team in the stadium.
"Bob's leadership was the turning point in bringing our franchise back to glory," said John Jones, Packers vice president and chief operating officer. "He reestablished this franchise as a premier football organization, and that's an identity that we didn't always project in the '70s and '80s.
"Having Robert E. Harlan Plaza as the site of the Lombardi statue and the Curly Lambeau statue, that was not just fitting, it was meant to be."
Typical of the self-effacing Harlan, Wednesday he reserved most of his enthusiasm for the upcoming stadium grand opening and rededication, but he also expressed appreciation for his specific recognition.
"I'm honored and humbled," Harlan said. "The stadium is as important to me as the franchise. To be a permanent part of it is just very difficult, almost, for me to accept. I'm just thrilled."
Watching the stadium redevelopment unfold over recent years, Harlan said, was like watching his children grow. And soon Lambeau Field will realize a form that once was just a vision.
"To see it closing through to the end is huge for me," Harlan said. "We're on time, we're on budget, we're about 96 percent of the way through this project.
"I am just delighted ... This has been my life for about the past six years, this stadium, so to be this far along means a great deal to me."
As much, it's safe to say, as Harlan has meant to the Packers and Lambeau Field.