Everything, we are frequently reminded, is relative...
Like the perspective of success, for example.
In 2001, the Green Bay Packers forged to a 12-and-4 record - a victory total surpassed by only four other teams in the organization's 81-year NFL history.
And, beyond that, they made the league's playoffs for the first time since 1998, advancing to the second round.
Commendable achievements, assuredly. Yet not quite good enough for the Green and Gold's exacting head coach and general manager, Mike Sherman.
Thus, soon after the playoffs had abruptly ended for the Packers in St. Louis last January, he set the tone for the 2002 season, asserting, "This team will be back next year for bigger and better things."
Accordingly, Sherman soon moved toward making his prediction a reality.
First and foremost, he upgraded the talent level with the acquisition of impact players on both sides of the football.
He launched this project by elevating the receiver corps, trading for the New England Patriots' Terry Glenn, generally conceded to be one of the top five wideouts in the league and, presumably, soon to be quarterback Brett Favre's most frequent target in the Green and Gold's passing game.
Subsequently, Sherman further enhanced the aerial attack by dealing a second-round draft pick to Seattle so he could move up to select wide receiver Javon Walker of Florida State in the first round of this year's NFL draft.
The Packers' enterprising major-domo also bolstered the defense appreciably with a foray into free agency, signing former New Orleans Saint Joe Johnson, one of the premier all-around ends in the game, as well as five-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson to fill the vacancy created by the release of veteran Bernardo Harris.
Most recently, addressing the need for a proven punt returner to replace the departed Allen Rossum, he also acquired free agent Darrien Gordon, the NFC's 2001 leader (14.1-yard average) and possessor of an imposing 12.3-yard career average.
Starting Saturday, July 27, with the launching of the customary two-a-days practice regimen for all hands, Sherman and his staff will begin the daily on-field assessment of those and other off-season personnel maneuvers while priming their squad for the '02 National Football League season.
For the record, the Packers will officially open camp for their 82nd NFL campaign Tuesday, July 23, when rookies and first-year players are scheduled to check into St. Norbert College, their training base since 1958. The newcomers will practice Wednesday afternoon, July 24, and twice on Thursday, July 25 - the day Packers veterans are due to report. There will be no practices on Friday, August 26, which will be devoted to physical testing for all players prior to the beginning of two-a-days the following morning.
Sherman, in touching upon the additions of Glenn, Johnson and Nickerson in a pre-camp overview, pointed out, "All three of these players have played in the Pro Bowl and have shown the ability to be impact players.
"Their true value to our team, however, will be best be defined on how well they adapt to the way we do things and how quickly they are accepted by the players. I fully anticipate them to succeed in both these areas of concern.
"Terry Glenn has demonstrated in the past, including our recent mini-camp, that he has extremely quick hands and feet. He is truly our lone veteran receiver...He has the ability to make the big catch.
"Joe Johnson's past performances demonstrate a player who plays the game with intensity and toughness. He should bring a physical dimension to our defensive front that will make it difficult for opponents to run the ball against us.
"Hardy Nickerson is someone we in Green Bay are very familiar with, especially during his career at Tampa facing him at least twice every year and three times in 1997. He brings with him a wealth of experience, knowledge and leadership to our defense. He is a master at dissecting offensive plays."
With such significant additions - and a prediction of "bigger and better things" even prior to their acquisition - does this suggest the potential of a trip to the Super Bowl?
"I do believe we are headed in that direction," Sherman acknowledged. "But with our youth and so many new faces at critical positions on our team at the present time, we can not take for granted we are one cohesive team, one 'big happy family.' The process has already begun with our mini-camps and will continue through our training camp. Every time the team gets together perpetuates that process.
"It will be a work in progress, however, during the course of the season, but I do believe our team will prevail and be a successful team this season."
Documenting his conviction, Sherman volunteered, "I believe in the character and will of this football team. We have a lot of work to do and many challenges to undertake, but I do feel we will put our best foot forward to make a run at this."
At the same time, with the "many new faces" on the roster, he admitted, "As I said previously, team chemistry is a work in progress. Team chemistry - along with the talent and mental toughness - are the three cornerstones of success in my mind in the National Football League. Team chemistry sometimes can be the most evasive component, however. Bill Russell, former Boston Celtic great and a boyhood idol of mine while growing up in Boston, has said, ''When you have it sometimes you do not know you have it, but when you do not have it, it is very obvious to even the casual observer."
It had been Sherman's professed goal, following the '01 season, to make improvements in "every aspect of our team." Asked if he feels he has been able to do that, he replied, "I think the goal of every general manager or head football coach is to improve from year to year. Some of our improvements will pay dividends this year in the short term while others will be more obvious over time. But, overall, I do think we improved our talent; whether we improved our team remains to be seen how well they work together."
Launching his overview with an appraisal of the defense, he asserted, "Defensively, I believe everything starts up front - you have to be solid there. These guys on your front line of defense have to be the tough guys on your football team who are willing to play with extraordinary effort. I believe you can generate more success in this group by playing more people here because of what we are going to ask of them; they are going to get tired. Although we lost some fine players here (Santana Dotson, John Thierry, Jim Flanigan) we do have some youth that need to play (Cletidus Hunt, Steve Warren, Jamal Reynolds and Rod Walker ) as well as our returning veterans (Vonnie Holliday, Gilbert Brown, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Billy Lyon) and new free agent Johnson.
"With the addition of Hardy Nickerson and the return of Na'il Diggs and Nate Wayne along with the emergence of Torrance Marshall, the linebackers should be a faster and more seasoned group. In our gap conscious-based defense, our backers play a pivotal role in our overall scheme. Our defensive backs should be the strength of our defense if we can stay healthy. Year in and year out, this position usually suffers through the highest attrition rate throughout the season.
"I feel fairly comfortable with our secondary as a whole - it is a talented group that has a fair amount of game experience. The obvious concerns this year are at the safety position. LeRoy Butler's unfortunate retirement as a result of his career-ending shoulder injury certainly adds tremendously to the concerns I have at that position. The knowledge he had at the position along with his game savvy and experience will be missed along with his leadership.
"On the positive side, however, is that Antuan Edwards appears to have made great strides this offseason in recovering from his knee surgery. He has worked extremely hard and is looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity. I have tremendous confidence in his ability and work ethic. He still has to gain experience at the position, however...
"Marques Anderson, our third round pick, along with Matt Bowen, will also be in the mix to help fortify the position. We do lack experience, but we do have some talent here - it will take some time."
Assessing the other side of the football, Sherman observed, "Offensively - as with our defense - everything begins with ours front guys and that's our offensive line. With he signing of Mike Wahle, we were able to keep that front intact, which should allow us to have the necessary consistency. But the key players here are our backup linemen, who have to be able to step in when asked. Quality depth here is critical and are of concern for us.
"Our backs have the task with our line of establishing the running game. Again, the key players here are our backup players behind Ahman Green and William Henderson. If injury does occur, we cannot afford to miss a beat. I fully expect us to be a tough, hardnosed running team who can run the ball consistently on any down, or in any situation on the field."
With this modus operandi in mind, Sherman brought in a pair of prominent free agents - former Cincinnati Bengal Ki-Jana Carter and ex-Baltimore Raven Jason Brookins - to compete with returning Rondell Mealey and Herbert "Whisper" Goodman for the primary backup role behind Green.
Moving on to a favorite subject, the Packer coach acknowledged, "Obviously, our quarterback will be a key factor in our success, as usual, and Brett Favre is coming off one of his finest seasons. He continues to amaze us with his consistency and passion for the game.. He is the ultimate competitor. I believe when you think of the Green Bay Packers, the first thought that comes to everyone's mind is Number 4. He is backed up by a stronger unit at quarterback this year than last. Doug Pederson is much improved over this time last year and a more than competent backup...and I believe (rookie) Craig Nall will prove to be a solid NFL starter in the league at some time.
"Brett has demonstrated no diminishing skills in throwing the football or in performing any of his duties as our starting quarterback in the 'West Coast' offense," the Packers coach noted, adding in tribute to the remarkably productive field general, "I do not feel we will truly appreciate all he brings to his position until he is no longer there. Hopefully that day is well off into our distant future."
With respect to the passing game, Sherman acknowledged a lack of experience at wide receiver - following the off-season departure of veterans Antonio Freeman, Bill Schroeder and Corey Bradford - gives him a modicum of pause.
"It concerns me to a degree," he said. "But I've always felt quality with a will to work will eventually pass by pure experience. The talented player can gain experience but the experienced player very seldom can become more talented. (But) we will have some growing pains here, until our quarterback and receivers all get on the same page. Fortunately, however, we do have some talented players.
"Both Javon (Walker) and Robert (Ferguson) are young, inexperienced players with quite a lot of promise. They are both big receivers that also possess excellent strength for their position. I believe they both bench press over 350 pounds. They also both exhibit excellent athleticism in going after the football. Donald Driver and Charles Lee - two players who haven't played much but are talented and working toward playing more - also add to and compliment that group. I'm anxious to see this group compete."
In addressing the kicking game, Sherman conceded, "It was obvious that Ryan Longwell struggled at times with his consistency last season, both on his kickoffs and field goals. I do believe, however, with his present training routine along with future modifications of his practice kicks during the preseason and regular season, he will regain the consistency that typified his career and identified him as one of the top kickers in the league.
"Josh Bidwell had a fairly consistent season for us in 2001 after struggling at times the year previous. I thought Josh made some critical punts for us at key times last season. I expect great things from him as he does from himself."
Elsewhere, what might he be expecting from the team's half-dozen '02 draft selections, among them running back Najeh Davenport, impressive defensive lineman Aaron Kampman and offensive lineman Mike Houghton...in addition to Walker, Anderson and Nall?
"At this point, I am anticipating all of our draft picks to contribute in some way," Sherman replied. "I expect no less from them than I expect from the top players on this team, Everyone shares the responsibility to be the best they can be.
"As I've said to our team, we are only as good as our 53rd player on our roster. Everyone has equal responsibility regardless of their position on the team or where they fall on the depth chart."
Is there presumably any essential element missing heading into training camp?
"I believe the obvious elements which I need to monitor closely are our return game, the development of our young receiving corps, a swing man on the offensive line who can play guard and tackle, and the health and success of our starting safety. No team has all the answers to the puzzle but the good teams, the championship teams, are able to exploit their strengths and minimize their weaknesses."
Could this team, with the significant additions he has made, be the best he has had to date?
"I do not feel you can truly measure a team as best, worst, average, etc.," Sherman said, "until after you go through the week-in and week-out challenges an NFL season presents.
"So many factors go into the makeup of a winning football team that it is presumptuous to assume a team is better simply because it may appear the talent level has improved," he continued. "Talent is definitely a part of the formula for winning, but it is only a part. Talent does not win football games, players do. Players who take their God-given talent to its highest level. Players who totally understand the concept of teamwork and the need to enhance team chemistry. Players whose mental makeup is strong enough to withstand the hazards of an NFL season, which could come in the form of either disappointment or success.
"I do believe that the character of our football team will play out during this season, and I do believe it will play out positively. And that, more than talent, will be what defines the Green Bay Packers during the 2002 season."
(Bishop's Charities Game)
(Midwest Shrine Game)
TV/RADIO COVERAGE: Three of the Packers' four preseason games - against the Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday night, August 10), the Arizona Cardinals (Saturday night, August 17) and the Tennessee Titans (Friday night, August 30), will be televised over the state Packer Television Network: WBAY-TV (Channel 2, Green Bay), the originating station; WISN-TV (Channel 12, Milwaukee); WISC-TV (Channel 3, Madison); WSAW-TV (Channel 7, Wausau) and WKBT-TV (Channel 8, La Crosse).
For a second year, the state network games also will be aired "live" in Michigan's Upper Peninsula via Charter Communications in Escanaba and Marquette.
Chris Roth, WBAY-TV sports director, will handle the play-by-play and Fox Sports Network analyst and former Packers lineman Bill Maas, new to the Packer network booth this year, will provide the analysis. Andy Kendeigh of Milwaukee's WISN-TV will report from the field.
The Packers' third preseason game, against the Cleveland Browns in Lambeau Field Monday night, August 26, will be televised nationally by ABC, with Al Michaels and new partner John Madden sharing the booth.
ROSTER CUTDOWN DATES: August 27 - Reduction to 65 players; September 1 - Reduction to 53 players (regular season limit).
COACHING AIDES: The Packers' coaching staff again will have the assistance of two NFL minority fellowship interns for the early portion of training camp. This year's interns are Mike Tuiasosopo from the University of Nevada Reno, who will be working with Jethro Franklin and the defensive line, and Charles Bankins of the University of Hampton, who will be helping Sylvester Croom with the running banks and also working with special teams coach Frank Novak.
AUTOGRAPH SESSIONS: Fans again will be provided with the opportunity to secure autographs of Packers players and coaches during training camp. GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman has announced that autograph sessions will be held following the morning practice most days, beginning with the start of two-a-day workouts next Saturday, July 27.
NEW FACE(S): One new member of the public relations department will be in evidence when the Packers open training camp next week. Leslie Ricker, a native of New Holstein, Wis., and a graduate student at Ohio University, is serving as a training camp intern. She joins Justin Varland, a Black Hills State University alumnus who came on staff May 30 as a season-long intern, and Sarah Sherman, an upcoming sophomore at Marquette University, returning for a second term as a training camp intern.
Sarah Koenig, the department's new public relations coordinator, will be staffing her first training camp after spending the last three years as director of media relations for the Milwaukee Wave of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
PRESEASON PRACTICE TIMES: With few exceptions, practice times during the preseason will be 8:45 a.m. (2:40 in length) and 2:45 p.m. (1:25 to 1:55 in length). Afternoon sessions with special teams practice will begin at 2:15 p.m. (1:00 in length). The full, day-to-day schedule is available on the internet.
TRAINING CAMP REPORTS: Audio reports as well as additional player and coach interviews will be available on the team's web site, www.packers.com.