The Green Bay Packers don't have an owner. They have 111,613 of them.
As one of the most unique stories in all of sports, Green Bay Packers, Inc., has been a publicly-owned, non-profit corporation since Aug. 18, 1923, when original articles of incorporation were filed with Wisconsin's secretary of state.
On several occasions, loyal fans -- none of whom receive any dividends on the initial investment -- have come to the team's financial rescue, first in 1923, and again in 1935, 1950 and 1997.
On Wednesday, the Packers, governed by a board of directors and a seven-member executive committee, addressed nearly 3,000 stockholders inside the Resch Center in Green Bay, outlining the team's status both on and off the field.
In addition to the annual state of the team address delivered by GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman, vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt gave the annual salary cap report.
Breaking away from numbers, Brandt offered a different side of contract negotiations, telling the story of when he asked Chad Clifton, who was about to sign his six year, $34 million contract this offseason, if he ever thought he would sign anything like that.
Clifton, who started all 16 games last year after returning from a season-ending pelvic injury he suffered in 2002, replied: "I never thought I would walk out of that hospital in Tampa, Fla."
Calling the Packers a "go-to" team, executive vice president/COO John Jones told stockholders that the playoff game vs. Philadelphia was one of the highest rated shows on television a year ago, outdone only by the Super Bowl.
"Think of our game in Philadelphia having a greater audience than the Academy Awards," Jones said. "I think you begin to understand the power of our team because of the power you bring to it as our viewers, our shareholders and our fans."
The Packers will be featured on Monday Night Football three times in 2004, including the season opener at Carolina because, as Sherman said: "of what the Packers represent to the league, especially after what happened at the halftime of the Super Bowl last year."
The stockholders later were surprised by President/CEO Bob Harlan's offer to follow him through the tunnel to the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field, followed by an ice cream party outside the stadium.
"It just adds a closeness," Harlan said. "Last year we opened the Don Hutson Center and this year we let them out onto the field. It makes them feel like they're a real part of this organization.
"I had people who told me that they had been season ticket holders since the '50s and it was their first time on the field. It just adds to the meeting and I've got something in mind again for next year."
Among the topics in his address, Sherman discussed the team's offseason acquisitions and goals, draft day strategies, how players that were injured last season were recovering and what he thinks the Packers must accomplish in order to win a championship.
Packers.com is pleased to offer complete audio of Sherman's football report, in addition to Brandt's salary cap report, John Underwood's treasurer's report, Carl Kuehne's Packers Foundation report and John Jones' management operations report.
Some of the highlights of Sherman's address appear below.
Sherman opened his report by discussing the team's disappointment with how the 2003 campaign ended and encouraged the fans to put it behind them, as the team has done, and begin looking forward to the 2004 season -- one which sees the Packers returning more starters than any other team in the National Football League.
"It was a disappointing game, there's no question about that," Sherman said of the loss to Philadelphia, "and I felt your disappointment when I came back to Green Bay. But we need to put that to rest. Disappointment is different than discouragement. There's no need to be discouraged because you should be encouraged by the team we have coming back. We finished the season winning seven out of the last nine games, sweeping December, winning our division -- all things that are very positive, things that I think are very encouraging and I'm very excited about."
"I can't wait for this team to come back in a few days, to talk to them and to meet with them. They excite me. They motivate me. They're passionate about playing football and they're passionate about being Packers and they will show you that when they play the game on Sundays."
With the signing of Chad Clifton, Sherman said that the team accomplished one of its most important offseason goals -- to keep the offensive line in tact.
He pointed out that the success of Ahman Green -- who rushed for a franchise record 1,883 yards -- was due in large part to the strength of the offensive line, the fullback and the tight end.
On defense, the Packers re-signed key free agents Grady Jackson, Larry Smith and Michael Hawthorne, in addition to adding Mark Roman to the mix in determining the starting safety. Sherman said the Packers will continue their search for a pass rusher -- either by free agency or developing one of their own -- to compliment Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
In planning for the future, Sherman said the Packers' strategy entering the draft was to be aggressive and to be flexible.
The team accomplished the yearly goal of drafting an offensive lineman (Scott Wells) and a cornerback (Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas) in each draft.
In B.J. Sander, Sherman said the Packers get a consistent placement punter, something that could be crucial in the inclement weather that Lambeau Field so often sees.
Addressing depth issues along the defensive line, the Packers drafted Donnell Washington and Corey Williams to contribute to the Packers' philosophy of stopping the run. The Packers were 10th in run defense in the NFL last year, up from 21st in 2002.
Of last year's nine draft picks, three ended up on the injured reserve list before training camp was over and will again look to compete for a position on the team.
Wide receiver Carl Ford (knee) is back and will compete for the fourth receiver position, while defensive tackle James Lee returns from a back injury.
Sherman said cornerback Chris Johnson (knee) will begin the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.
Several players had minor post-season surgeries, including wide receiver Javon Walker, guard Marco Rivera, defensive ends Aaron Kampman and Chukie Nwokorie, linebacker Na'il Diggs and defensive tackle Grady Jackson should be ready when training camp begins.
Outlining the keys to winning a championship, Sherman began with the running game.
The Packers in 2003 were third in the league in rushing, up from 12th in 2002. In run defense, the Packers improved to 10th, up from 21st a year ago, but are looking to improve even further.
A key element to winning football games, Sherman says, is winning the third-down battles.
On defense, Sherman said the Packers were close to last during the first half of the 2003 season in forcing offenses off the field, but improved over the latter half, ranking as the second best third-down defense in the NFL in the second half of the season.
On offense, the Packers were eighth in the league in converting on third down, their best ranking since the Super Bowl years.
Protecting the football was another key element on which Sherman said the Packers must continue to improve. The Packers ranked 25th in 2003, due to turnovers early in the season, but as Sherman pointed out, Ahman Green had no turnovers in his last 246 touches.
As a direct result of ball protection, the Packers are 17-2 overall, including 4-0 (Dec.) last year, in the months of Dec. and Jan., since 2000. During that span, the Packers posted a plus-32 turnover margin.
Sherman's Goals For The 2004 season:
*Be a better fourth quarter team
*Emphasize ball security and turnovers early in the season
*Keep the "chemistry" and confidence that the team had in the second half of 2003
*Continue to improve on third down production
*Continue to emphasize the importance of the run game on both offense and defense
Mike Sherman's closing statement:
"I want to tell you how much our players appreciate playing in Green Bay and playing in front of the greatest fans in football. The reason why the Packers have been successful in December is because of the expectations, the faces, the looks and the cheers that they get when they take that field in Lambeau, when that white stuff starts falling down to the ground and they know that you expect them to be in the playoffs. They're going to do amazing things because of that. And they did do amazing things last year.
"When you're three games out at the halfway point, very few teams have the character to be able to win a division. People said to me many times, 'boy, you must be very thankful of what transpired down in Arizona.' I really didn't give much thought to that because if we didn't take care of business in the second half of the year, if we had stumbled in Minnesota or if we had stumbled in Tampa, that opportunity at the end of the season, when we beat Denver, and Minnesota lost, would not have presented itself at all.
"So our players won the division, they were not given anything. They had to take care of business to do that. That same group of men is going to come back here and they're going to fight like heck to do the same thing and go even further. They're very excited. The thing about this football team that I've noticed, more so than anytime that I've been here, is the hunger that they have and they displayed that in the mini camps.
"They're tremendously hungry to start the season. They're tremendously hungry to win football games and they're tremendously hungry to win championships. And you can count on that."
Additional notes: In the treasurer's report, John Underwood outlined the organization's performance over the past fiscal year. For a related story, click here.