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MT5: Packers, NFL face difficult decisions

Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy

Lambeau Field
Lambeau Field

On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown

With training camps set to start in less than a month and with COVID-19 showing no signs of slowing down, the Packers will have to make several difficult decisions in the coming weeks. Since the pandemic arrived earlier this year, NFL teams have had the benefit of time. Unlike professional basketball, hockey and baseball teams who were either in the middle of their seasons or about to start, we were in the beginning of our offseason. NFL teams were able to handle free agency, the draft and their entire offseason programs virtually. We've made decisions along the way, but the major ones we've been able to put off until we have more information. With so much uncertainty, it has made sense that we have not made decisions until we absolutely have to. As we near the start of training camp, though (rookies will start practice on July 21 and veterans on the 28th), time is no longer on our side. We announced this week that we would not hold training camp at St. Norbert College for the first time in 63 years. The decision was based on NFL protocols established to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We greatly value our relationship with SNC (the longest continuous relationship between an NFL team and a university) and it was difficult to break the news to SNC President Brian Bruess. We made a donation to SNC to help compensate them for the revenue they will lose this summer. We also recently announced that our shareholder meeting would be held virtually on July 23. Yesterday, we sent a letter to all season ticket holders updating them on our plans for the season during the pandemic and will be asking them to either opt in or opt out for attending games this season. The league will determine soon how many preseason games to play. As I look to the future, we have numerous challenging decisions that await us, including whether fans will be allowed to attend training camp and whether to hold Family Night (and whether to allow fans and if so, how many). The biggest decisions will be regarding attendance at our preseason and regular-season games (and whether games should be held as scheduled – this would obviously have to be a league decision). Because of the wide variety of state and local ordinances regarding large gatherings across the league, it was determined that these decisions should be made by the clubs. The league owners did vote, however, to tarp over the first eight rows in every stadium this year. This decision was made to protect the health of our players, and to help teams offset some of the revenue they will lose this year by putting advertising on the tarps. The league and the NFLPA are currently negotiating the protocols that will be in place for stadiums, and this will also help inform our decisions. There are many factors to take into consideration in making these decisions, including the economic impact of our games on the local community, but most important will be the health and safety of our players, coaches and fans.

Now, on to your questions…

Carmen from Switzerland

Dear Mr. Murphy, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for your and the Packers' players messages supporting equal rights for everyone. I'm not an U.S. citizen, but racism and discrimination of any kind are problems that affect humanity as a whole and our answers must come as individuals, communities and as humanity as a whole. I, too, will spend more time to do my part.

Thanks so much, Carmen. I appreciate your comments and agree completely regarding the impact of racism. I'm very proud of the way that our players responded to the killing of George Floyd. In 2017 during the national anthem issues and during the recent racial issues, I thought it was important to support our players. I have tremendous respect for our players (and know that playing professional football is a very challenging occupation) and want them to know that the organization supports their right to peacefully protest.

Bill from Raleigh, NC

Hi Mark, you played college and pro football when many teammates were black, but quarterbacks, coaches, and GMs were not. Was your bond with white and black players about the same? Did white players hang out amongst themselves, and the black players the same? Is it the same or different today? Do you see the success of more black quarterbacks and becoming the faces of their franchises as leading to more diverse head coach hirings in the medium term?

Excellent questions, Bill. One of the great things about sports, and football especially, is that they bring together people from diverse backgrounds to work toward a common goal. I think football players bond over a number of things, including where they're from, the college they attended, their religious background, sense of humor and, importantly, their position on the team. For most of my years with the football team from Washington, I was part of a defensive backfield that had only one or two white players. Given how much time you spend with your position group, I formed strong bonds with many of my black teammates who also played in the secondary, and these days I'm still friends with about an equal number of former teammates of both races. I truly hope that things are better for black players now. I remember a black teammate that I had, and the press and coaches would always say how athletic he was and how smart I was. The truth was (and we both knew it) he was smarter than I was and I was a better athlete than he was. Those stereotypes linger and we need to continue to work to avoid them. Diversity among head coaches and GMs is obviously a major issue for the league. The league recently hosted a QB summit for the reasons you suggest. The league has come a long way with regard to the number of black quarterbacks since I played, and the hope is that the success of these franchise QBs will lead to more diverse offensive coordinators and head coaches in the future. We need to make it a priority.

A question from Thomas

Mr. Murphy, I was wondering if the league ever gave thought to increasing the size of the practice squad to between 10-15 players. That would allow teams to keep more good potential players. Perhaps if there are significant injuries, this would enable a team to have additional players to fill in slots. I realize cost could be a factor, but would this be beneficial to the league and teams? Thank you for taking the time to read my epistle.

Have you been listening in on some of our recent league meetings, Thomas? We are absolutely considering increasing the practice squad this year to give teams more roster flexibility during the pandemic. The practice squad has steadily grown over the years. It was set at 10 last year and goes to 12 under the new bargaining agreement (and then increases to 14 during the term of the agreement). These discussions are part of our negotiations with the NFLPA, but I do anticipate that the practice squad will be increased this year (it is a positive for the players and teams). We are also considering changing the eligibility rules for the practice squad, again to provide more flexibility, especially for teams to sign more veteran players to the practice squad.

A question from Jim

Just finished watching the last of the "Legacy" series, 2010-2019, "Eye on the Prize." The one most striking "goosebump" moment for me came during Charles Woodson's postgame locker room speech (one heartbeat) after the conference championship against the Bears. Very powerful display by him. Anyone who hasn't yet seen this entire series is absolutely missing out on a true historical treasure for Packer fans. Was there one (or more) moment in your time with this organization that was a "goosebump" moment for you, and have you ever given any thought to writing a book?

I'm glad you enjoyed "Legacy," Jim. I agree with you regarding it being a true historical treasure. I think I know Packers history pretty well, and I learned a lot from the series. In terms of a "goosebump" moment, the Rodgers-to-Rodgers Hail Mary pass to beat the Lions in 2015 was it for me. I was up in the press box getting ready to pack up and head down to the locker room, when all of sudden there was a facemask penalty against the Lions, and I knew that we had a chance because Aaron could now reach the end zone with the Hail Mary pass. It was one of the most miraculous plays that I have ever seen, and to see it in person was really special.

Matt from Chicago

Mark, what are your favorite football memories? Perhaps one favorite from each of your football career chapters?

In order not to bore you, Matt, as well as our readers, I will only focus on my college and pro football memories, although the Clarence Central Red Devils had some big wins in my senior year. My favorite memory as a player at Colgate was the last game of my career in 1976. We played Rutgers on ABC TV on Thanksgiving night in the brand new Meadowlands Stadium. Believe it or not, Rutgers was Colgate's biggest rival back then. They were undefeated and we were 8-1. Rutgers was ranked in the top 20 and it was a big deal to play in a nationally televised game. We ended up losing 17-9 due to a very controversial penalty (we blocked a punt and then pushed the Rutgers punter in the back while trying to pick up the ball. The officials called us for clipping – which was a mistake since you can't clip when there is no possession). The penalty cost us over 50 yards and Rutgers retained possession. Ironically, my first game as a professional was in the Meadowlands Stadium. One of my teammates on the football team from Washington, Donnie Harris, played for Rutgers in that game. We drove up to Hamilton together to see Colgate exact revenge and beat Rutgers in the opening game the next season.

With the football team from Washington, it has to be the win over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. That was the strike-shortened season in 1982 and the whole season was a blur for me. What made the win special was that I was able to celebrate in the locker room with my father ("Big Murph"). I still don't know how he was able to get through security.

During my first years as AD at Colgate, the football team was really struggling. In 1995, we went 0-11. After the season, I decided to make a coaching change and hired Dick Biddle as head coach. Dick had a long history with Colgate football and was an excellent coach, but he had never been a head coach. In his first year as head coach, though, Dick completely turned around the fortunes of the team. We played Bucknell for the Patriot League championship in the last game of the season. We lost (we scored a touchdown to come within one point in overtime, but Dick decided to go for the win … he didn't want to put all the pressure on our kicker), but it was clear that the football program was back. My favorite memory came the next year when we beat Lehigh to clinch the Patriot League championship and earn a berth in the NCAA playoffs. The program was back on top and it was great to be back in the playoffs. For many years, Colgate and the Patriot League didn't allow football teams to participate in the NCAA playoffs, and I had worked hard to make this change to help our football program. In 2003, Dick led Colgate (a non-scholarship program) to a 15-1 record and the NCAA Championship game.

At Northwestern, there is no question that my best memory was the victory over Ohio State in 2004. Ohio State was Ohio State, a very dominant team and ranked No. 6 in the nation, and we were having an average season. As the game went on, though, it was clear that we could play with Ohio State. We ended up winning 33-27 in overtime, with Noah Herron, a future Packers player, scoring the winning touchdown. The Northwestern students stormed the field after the win. It is not often that Northwestern beats Ohio State.

Finally, my favorite memory with the Packers is winning the Super Bowl in 2010. We overcame so much adversity that season, and it was really inspiring to watch our team come together during the playoff run.

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