Sneak preview: The football equivalent of winning a multimillion-dollar jackpot

A quick glance at some Chapter 10 highlights of the definitive history of the Green Bay Packers

2005 draft room

Packers team historian Cliff Christl is the author of "The Greatest Story in Sports," the definitive and comprehensive history of 100-plus years of Packers football, set to be published later this fall. In this weekly "Sneak preview" series, Cliff will provide various treats and tidbits from each of the book's 11 chapters.


A Bite of Text – (Ted) Thompson might have left (Mike) Sherman shorthanded in the fall of 2005, but his springtime decision to select University of California quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall choice in the draft turned out to be the football equivalent of winning a multimillion-dollar jackpot.

Robbing the Databank – Under Ron Wolf's reign as general manager, from 1992 to 2000, the Packers tied for second-best record in the NFL, behind only San Francisco, with a .639 winning percentage. In the 24 years prior to Wolf's arrival, the Packers had a .423 winning percentage, fourth worst in the league.

A Secret to Share – When Thompson drafted Rodgers in 2005, he not only stood his ground over the objections of the coaching staff, he did it again in the second round when he selected safety Nick Collins of Bethune-Cookman. Jim Bates, the Packers' new defensive coordinator, lobbied hard for Thompson to select linebacker Jordan Beck of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo instead. Collins was named to three straight Pro Bowls by the time he was 27. Beck was drafted in the third round by Atlanta, lasted two seasons and never started an NFL game.

Memory to Cherish – The night of Dec. 22, 2003, when a grieving Brett Favre passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders, a day after his father Irv died of a heart attack at age 58. It will long be remembered as one of the most emotionally charged victories in Packers history, not only for Favre but also his teammates and many others in the organization.

Deathbed Moment – A WBAY-TV poll that showed a dead heat a week before the Sept. 12, 2000, referendum on the Lambeau Field renovation project. Had the referendum not passed, it was conceivable that Green Bay might have lost its NFL franchise in the not-too-distant future.

If You Were a Fan – The Packers played 24 regular-season games in December and January at Lambeau Field during the decade from 2000-09. In the 1990s, they had played 15. In the 33 seasons from 1957-89, they had played only 21. 

Shattering Myths – When Mark Murphy was named president in December 2007, the Packers were en route to a 13-3 finish and their first appearance in the NFC championship since 1997. But Murphy didn't exactly step into a bed of roses. Not only was a decision looming on what to do with an aging Favre, but there also was a growing unease over the direction of the Packers' corporate structure. It resulted from John Jones' resignation shortly before he was scheduled to replace Bob Harlan and sweeping changes to the executive committee that had led to infighting and concerns that some members were overstepping their bounds.

Best Player – Favre. Even heading into 2006, when he was coming off what was his worst season in 16 years with the Packers, Favre was still the team's highest rated player in Pro Football Weekly's annual rankings. Based on extensive input from general managers, personnel directors and scouts, the magazine gave Favre a grade of 3.95. The highest grade a player could receive was 5.0. The cutoff for a solid to quality starter was 3.0. Other than Favre, the Packers had only six other returning veterans who fell into that category: Chad Clifton, 3.9; Ahman Green, 3.85 but coming off a ruptured quadriceps tendon; Al Harris, 3.4; Bubba Franks, 3.25; Mark Tauscher, 3.1; and Nick Barnett, 3.0. Over the previous six years, Favre had been rated the league's best player three times.

Overlooked by History – Wolf's acquisition of Favre in his first year as general manager ranks as the best trade in Packers history and maybe the best in NFL history. But Wolf also pulled off another trade before his final year as GM that might have been the second best, at least in the last half of the team's first century, when he acquired Green from Seattle for cornerback Fred Vinson. To sweeten the pot, the Seahawks also gave up a draft pick 34 spots above the one they received in return.

Among the Chapter's Rare Photos – Taken by staff photographer Jeffrey Phelps, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's photo of Chris Gizzi emerging from the tunnel carrying the American flag on the night of Sept. 24, 2001, 13 days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a plane that crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. A full-page color photo, it leads off the chapter. Gizzi, who played college football at the Air Force Academy, was a special teams standout for the Packers that season.

Brett Favre leaving Lambeau for the last time
Brett Favre leaving Lambeau for the last time

A Picture Worth 1,000 Words – When Favre departed Lambeau Field for the last time as a Packer, there was no mistaking that an era had ended and the divorce was messy.

Biggest Game – Antonio Freeman's improbable game-winning touchdown in a Monday night, overtime victory over the Vikings in 2000 and Al Harris' game-winning interception in overtime in a 2003 divisional playoff at Lambeau were two dramatic victories that, no doubt, many Packers still vividly recall. But despite seven winning seasons and four NFC North Division titles, the decade was remembered more for the painful losses in some of the Packers' biggest games: the first home playoff defeat in 69 years of postseason play, losing to the Vikings on the day Lambeau Field was rededicated and then again at home a year later in a playoff game, fourth-and-26, and falling to the Giants in the 2007 NFC championship. 

Unsung Hero – John Underwood, Packers treasurer from 1990 to 2005. Before anyone else and maybe more than anyone else, he recognized that Lambeau Field, despite all its charm, was becoming economically obsolete in the years prior to the stadium's redevelopment from 2000-03.

Center of Controversy – When Rodgers' name was finally called after his four-and-a-half-hour wait in the Green Room the night of the first round of the 2005 draft, he was greeted by a standing ovation when he walked on stage in New York after finally being selected by the Packers with the 24th overall pick. Meanwhile, Packers fans attending the team's draft party in the Lambeau Field Atrium booed the announcement so loudly that club officials could hear them upstairs in their war room. "The two most controversial things (with fans) when I was there was when we traded for Brett Favre and when we drafted Aaron Rodgers," Bob Harlan, who served as team president from 1989 to 2008 and worked for the Packers for 37 years in all, said in an interview only months before the book was printed.

Only in Green Bay – Within minutes and miles of each other on the night of Aug. 3, 2008, roughly 200 fans waving signs and chanting, "We want Brett," welcomed Favre and his wife Deanna's arrival in Green Bay on a private jet, while Rodgers was getting booed at Lambeau Field by a Family Night crowd of 56,600 as the Packers were launching a changing of the guard at quarterback. A year later, when Favre showed up in a Vikings uniform to face Rodgers and the Packers for the first time at Lambeau, it was Rodgers who was drawing the cheers and Favre who was booed unmercifully.

Sadly, but True – Jerry Parins, Packers director of corporate security for close to 15 years and organizer of the Cruise for Cancer motorcycle ride, said one of the most disturbing things that occurred during his long association with the team dating to his years as a Green Bay police officer was the "vicious and racist" hate mail sent to cornerback Mike McKenzie when he held out and demanded a trade in 2004.

Would You Believe? – As general manager, Mike Sherman traded two fourths, a fifth, two sixths and a seventh-round draft pick and also dropped a total of 81 spots to move up in the draft and select defensive linemen Kenny Peterson, James Lee and Donnell Washington, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, cornerback Chris Johnson and punter B.J. Sander.

Rescued from Oblivion – Cedric Benson. Troy Williamson. Mike Williams. Erasmus James. They were the four draft picks taken by NFC North Division rivals, the Bears, Vikings and Lions, before the Packers drafted Rodgers.

A Life of Mystery – Fourth-and-26! How did it happen? Where did the breakdowns occur? Was it the only reason for Ed Donatell being fired as defensive coordinator? What were other ramifications, including the loss of McKenzie, a talented cornerback in the prime of his career? Did it doom Sherman's reign as head coach? The chapter text tried to answer all those questions.

A Quote to Remember – "(Fans) said, 'Whatever you do, please save Lambeau Field. Don't build new,'" Harlan said in late January 2000 when he unveiled plans for a $295 million renovation of the Packers' 43-year-old stadium. "Today, we say, 'We agree. We will save our house. We will preserve Lambeau Field.'"

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