Principals for the fourth time in their history in what is proclaimed "Football's Greatest Weekend," the defending NFC North Division champion Green Bay Packers will make their preseason debut against the Kansas City Chiefs on national television (ABC) in the annual Hall of Fame Game at Canton, Ohio, Monday evening (Aug. 4).
Kickoff for the contest, only the second of the National Football League's young 2003 preseason, is set for 7 o'clock , CDT (Wisconsin time), in sold-out Fawcett Stadium (22,364).
It will be an anniversary of sorts for the principals, who last met almost precisely five years ago – in an American Bowl matchup at Japan's Tokyo Dome Aug. 2, 1998, a game which saw the Packers prevail by way of a Ryan Longwell field goal in overtime, 27-24.
The Green and Gold enter Monday night's game as the most successful team in the NFL over the past two years (24-8-0) following a pair of back-to-back 12-4 seasons and consecutive postseason appearances under GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, are beginning their third season under the direction of venerable Dick Vermeil who has led Kansas City to 7-9 and 8-8 records over the past two years – after escorting the St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV following the 1999 season.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Al Michaels, launching his 18th season in the ABC-TV booth, will call the play-by-play for next Monday night's Hall of Fame contest, and John Madden, beginning his second year as Michaels' broadcast partner, will handle the analysis. They will be joined by a new member of the broadcast team, Lisa Guerrero, who replaces Melissa Stark as the sideline reporter. Fred Gaudelli is the producer and Drew Esocoff directs.
WTMJ, which has been airing Green Bay's games since November of 1929; launches its 75th year of broadcasting Packers contests as flagship of the Packer Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee handling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren the commentary and analysis. For the '03 season, the Radio Network is comprised of 62 stations in 50 markets and five states.
THE HOF RECORD: The Packers, who last were involved in a Hall of Fame matchup in 1993, have posted a 1-1-1 record in their three previous appearances at Canton, registering the victory in their very first HOF visit when they outscored the Atlanta Falcons, 38-24, on Sept. 13, 1969.
The Packers have good reason to remember their second competitive trip to Canton – on Aug. 2, 1980. The game, played amid recurring thunder and lightning, ultimately was called by order of then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle with 5 minutes and 29 seconds remaining – as an 0-0 tie. It was one of only a few times in league history that any contest between two NFL teams has been called because of weather conditions.
Things were atmospherically back to normal for the Packers' most recent appearance at pro football's shrine on July 31, 1993. It was 79 degrees, with 72 percent humidity, as they fell to the then-Los Angeles Raiders, 19-3.
LOFTON BECOMES NO. 20: Monday night's game will provide what is annually billed as "Football's Greatest Weekend," in large measure because the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies are always scheduled in conjunction with the HOF game.
The latter will be held Sunday afternoon (Aug. 3) and will have special interest for the Packers because one of their own, wide receiver James Lofton, will be among the five former NFL greats to be enshrined during ceremonies emceed by ESPN's Chris Berman.
Lofton, who will be inducted by the oldest of his three children, Stanford student David Lofton, thus will become the 20th former Packers player and/or coach to be installed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lofton's fellow inductees will include Marcus Allen, Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure and Hank Stram.
Only the Chicago Bears, with 25 enshrinees, have more representatives in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than the Packers.
THE SERIES: The Packers hold a 5-4 edge over the Chiefs in 10 preseason meetings, including one tie, the latter a 21-21 standoff played at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1988.
Kansas City has had the better of it in their regular-season competition, having won five and tied one of seven encounters with Green Bay.
The Packers, however, prevailed in the most significant meeting in their mutual history to date – Super Bowl I – when they dispatched the Chiefs, 35-10, at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Monday night's principals last met in regular season play in 1996 when the Green and Gold were en route to a second straight NFC Central Division championship and Super Bowl XXXI. The inhospitable Chiefs spoiled the Packers' Nov. 10 visit to KC's Arrowhead Stadium that year, dealing them the second of only three defeats en route to a 13-3 record, 27-20.
THE HEAD COACHES: Mike Sherman, the 13th head coach in the team's storied annals, has presided over more victories in his first three seasons (33) than any other head coach in the Packers' 84-year history – more than team founder Curly Lambeau, more than legendary Vince Lombardi and more than Mike Holmgren – the other winning head coaches in the existence of professional football's most successful franchise.
In that productive three-year span (2000-2002), Sherman has proceeded to entrench himself in what has become a substantially expanded role (he added executive vice president and general manager to his résumé after one season as head coach), escorting Green Bay to three consecutive winning seasons and, in 2002, to its first division championship since 1997 en route to a second consecutive playoff appearance, earning Staples "Coach of the Year" honors for the '02 season en route.
Shouldering the additional duties with typically total commitment, and literally without missing a step, he led the Packers to back-to-back 12-4 records in 2001 and 2002 – the former a single-season mark exceeded by only four teams in the club's 82-year NFL history and the latter only the second such parlay in team annals.
In the overall process, the 48-year-old Northborough, Mass., native also has proceeded to rival the regular-season accomplishments of the fabled Lombardi over a comparable span, compiling a 33-15-0 mark in his first three seasons (16-game campaigns) compared to Lombardi's 26-12-0 record over a similar stretch (two 12-game seasons and one 14-game campaign while he served as the Packers' head coach and general manager (1959-60-61).
Additionally, Sherman equaled another Lombardi accomplishment by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season (2001) at the controls.
Along the way, he has made Lambeau Field an uncomfortable place for NFL rivals to visit. Since he moved into 1265 Lombardi Avenue in 2000, the Green and Gold are a glittering 21-3 in "Lambeau" under his leadership – the best regular-season record in the NFL during that span – including the NFL's only perfect home record (8-0) in 2002.
The first man in a half-century to take on his tri-cornered role – since Lambeau functioned as vice president, general manager and head coach in 1949 – Sherman brings multiple credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren coaching staff that led the Packers into Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.
It was to be the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for Sherman, who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle staff in 1999.
Now in his 26th year in the coaching profession, the scholarly Central Connecticut State University alumnus began his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He subsequently went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years, including one year as offensive coordinator at Holy Cross and terms as offensive line coach at such highly respected programs as UCLA and Texas A&M.
Dick Vermeil, the ninth head coach in Chiefs history, is a member of an elite coaching fraternity. He has joined Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves and Don Shula as the only coaches in NFL history to guide two different teams to the Super Bowl. In 1999, he led St. Louis to a win in Super Bowl XXXV and, earlier, guided Philadelphia to Super Bowl XV after the 1980 season.
Vermeil also made another kind of coaching history when he entered the league as the first special teams coach in NFL history with the then-Los Angeles Rams in 1969.
Additionally, the 66-year-old Calistoga, Calif., native has been named "Coach of the Year" on four levels: High school, junior college, NCAA Division I and the NFL.
Vermeil enters the 2003 season with a 96-95-0 won-lost record as a head coach for 11 NFL seasons.
FOR MIKE SHERMAN, Monday night's contest will provide him with the first opportunity to determine whether he has been able to successfully address two off-season concerns: The defense's linebacking corps, following the departure of veterans Hardy Nickerson and Nate Wayne, and the team's return game, a disappointment in 2002.
The former will find two new starters at linebacker – former Carolina Panther Hannibal Navies at the strong side and fleet first-round draft choice Nick Barnett of Oregon State at middle linebacker; plus former strong-side starter Na'il Diggs in a new, playmaking role at the weak side.
In the return game, mercurial Antonio Chatman, a record-breaking receiver/returner in the Arena League last season, and a leading contender for the dual assignment, is expected to make his debut on both punt and kickoff runbacks against the Chiefs.
Also competing for the return role are veteran wide receivers Robert Ferguson and Karsten Bailey and a pair of '03 draft selections, DeAndrew Rubin of South Florida and Carl Ford of Toledo, both seventh-round picks.
Elsewhere, Ferguson and second-year pro Javon Walker will formally join their pursuit of starting status at wide receiver, opposite Pro Bowler Donald Driver, the team leader with 70 catches and 1,064 yards, both career highs, in 2002. Regardless of who prevails, both are expected to be frequent targets for future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who is beginning a 12th consecutive season as Green Bay's starting quarterback.
Sherman also will be formally beginning his search for running game assistance for Ahman Green from such as second-year pros Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher and free agent veteran Lamar Smith. This season, the Packers coach wants to be able to periodically rest Green, a 1,000-yard rusher last year for the third consecutive season, who appeared to wear down toward the end of the '02 campaign.
CHEERING SECTION: James Lofton will have substantial Green and Gold support at Sunday's enshrinement ceremonies. Seven other Packers members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be in attendance, the list including, alphabetically, Willie Davis (1981), Forrest Gregg (1977), Paul Hornung (1986), Jim Ringo (1981), Bart Starr (1977), Jim Taylor (1976) and Willie Wood (1989).
RECORD REUNION: From the overall perspective, the enshrinement program will be highlighted by the appearance of 114 members of the Hall of Fame, the largest "reunion" of enshrinees in the history of the "Hall," established in 1963. All of them will be introduced during the course of the ceremonies.
The most recent such reunion occurred in 2000.
A crowd "upwards of 12,000" is expected to attend the enshrinement, according to Pete Fierle, information services manager for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
BART WAS A STAR(R): Quarterback Bart Starr was a spectacular marksman in the Packers' very first Hall of Fame game appearance in 1969. Starr, nearing the end of a brilliant, 16-year career – he was a HOF enshrinee immediately becoming eligible in 1977 – completed 15 of 18 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in Green Bay's 38-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Running back Travis Williams also had a banner afternoon, amassing 130 yards in 10 rushing attempts, an imposing 13.0-yard average, his production including a 57-yard scoring run.