Wolf's Work Of Art Takes Top Prize

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*As part of the Green Bay Packers' celebration of the 10th anniversary season of the Super Bowl XXXI Championship, Packers.com is running a series of stories about the people responsible for bringing the Vince Lombardi trophy back home to Titletown.

Hiring Head Coach Mike Holmgren.

Trading for quarterback Brett Favre.

Signing defensive end Reggie White.

There's only one man who can lay claim to all those decisions, and it's none other than the brilliant Ron Wolf.

Brilliant may sound like a strong word, but in Wolf's case, maybe it's not strong enough. He was responsible for all the aforementioned moves as well as many more, and he made as great an impact on the Packers as anyone since the legendary Vince Lombardi.

Wolf, who was hired in 1991 as the Packers General Manager and Executive Vice President, put his stamp on the organization from the moment he first stepped foot in the team's offices until he stepped down 10 years later.

When he arrived on the scene, Wolf knew he had a tremendous challenge ahead of him, but he simply said the Packers "brought me here to win."

Of course, that's the goal of every organization, but it's a lot easier said than done. The team had only four winning seasons during a 24-year span and many thought it might take a minor miracle to reverse the team's fortunes.

His expertise, leadership, and incredible ability to pick just the right people to make the Packers the best they could be made Wolf second-to-none.

And it indeed put the Packers on top of the football world on January 26, 1997, when they defeated the New England Patriots, 35-21.

Though Wolf has a list of accomplishments thicker than an NFL playbook, he doesn't hesitate to think of what meant the most to him in his tenure in Green Bay.

"My favorite memory is the fact that everybody said this would never happen again in Green Bay, Wisconsin," Wolf said. "To me, that's the favorite memory. It was the opportunity to go ahead and win the (NFC) title right there in Lambeau Field.

"And the opportunity to go on and play in the Super Bowl, my whole career, that was the most exciting time that I ever experienced."

Wolf may have reached the mountaintop with the Packers, but he was no stranger to what it took to survive and succeed in the NFL. Prior to Green Bay, he worked for 25 years in the front office of the Raiders. He also spent time in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' organization as well as a brief period with the New York Jets.

The Packers trusted Wolf with authority and responsibility over hiring and supervising the head coach and coaching staff, as well as conducting the draft and making all football decisions for the organization.

Needless to say, Wolf went above and beyond the call of duty, and winning the ultimate prize was even more gratifying because he had the opportunity to experience it in Titletown, U.S.A.

"It was a culmination of a lot of work," Wolf said. "When I got there it was the worst team in football, record-wise. And when I left, 10 years later, it had the best record in the NFL.

"Those are all fond memories about being in Green Bay and being a part of the Green Bay Packers. I don't think anyone can really appreciate what that's like until they become involved with Green Bay."

Packers Undergo Image Makeover

Wolf knew Packers' fans were unlike any other in professional sports, and he was certain that if he could achieve his ultimate goal, Green Bay would be the envy of the league.

However, even he couldn't put into words what it meant to bring the Lombardi Trophy home to where it belonged.

"I don't think I could accurately describe that," Wolf said. "But it was a great thrill to me to be able to be a part of something like that. And I think in '95, '96, '97, '98, we lost a grand total of 16 games in those years, which is incredible.

"We had a streak of 25 or 26 straight at Lambeau Field. We restored that, brought that back. We couldn't have done it without the players who did it, and the belief of the players, and the job that the coaches did. But to be able to restore that franchise, and to bring glory back to Green Bay, is a wonderful, wonderful experience."

That kind of success was something the Packers hadn't experienced since the '60s and according to Wolf, there was more to it than just making over the roster.

"To me, the thing was changing the entire image of the Packers," Wolf explained. "As I said, when I got there, it was the worst record and when I left, it was the best record. And I think that is an amazing accomplishment.

In fact, until this very year, the Packers had the best won-loss record in the National Football League in all of free agency, which is incredible because everybody said when free agency came, the Packers would disappear. But they didn't. And that is something that I did take great pride in."

Another factor that perhaps was a little understated during Wolf's tenure was his ability to work so well with the people around him. And in turn, their ability to have complete faith in Wolf.

Bob Harlan, the President and Chief Executive Officer, for one, didn't think he could have picked a better man for the job.

"I think Ron is the best general manager in the National Football League and he obviously did a remarkable job to put us back on top of the league," Harlan said.

The feeling was mutual for Wolf, who actually insisted the Packers "were a year or two late" despite winning the Super Bowl in his fifth season at the helm.

"Just to go through that experience was marvelous and I can't say enough about the people who were working there," Wolf said. "Everybody wants to give it to me. I'll always have some of it, but those guys believed in what I was doing. Bob Harlan, the executive committee, and we were able to pull it off."

Of course, the Packers did more than just pull it off. They established a legacy that will never be forgotten, even in a storied franchise that has experienced several quality seasons. And Wolf's penchant for grabbing the right players, albeit some unknown ones, placed the Packers at the top.

Certainly, one of those moves happened to be trading for Favre, who was a virtual unknown to most people at the time of the trade in 1992.

Still, that didn't bother Wolf.

"I thought he was the best player in the draft the year before," Wolf insisted. "And you know what? As it turns out, he was. And all that worked out to the benefit of the Green Bay Packers and more importantly to my benefit because everything I thought he was, he was even better than I thought he was.

"He was a cinch for a Hall of Famer. I did give a one (first-round pick) for him, but he was a second. I mean, all those things, he was just a great, great player."

So did Wolf ever have thoughts of saying, "I told you so," to all the people who initially doubted his bold move to obtain Favre?

"No, I never did, because he did it," Wolf explained. "I mean, he proved certainly what he is capable of. The performance he's had has just been remarkable."

Obviously, Favre wasn't Wolf's only significant transaction. In fact, agreeing to a contract with White when he was an unrestricted free agent in 1993 may have been the best signing in team history.

"I think it just showed we're now in the big league as far as player procurement," Wolf said. "We had some good players there, but you add a player the caliber of Reggie White, they don't walk down the street every day.

"In fact, the whole time in free agency, Reggie White and Deion Sanders were the two best players to ever be available in free agency. And both of those guys played significant roles with the teams they were with. White with us, and Sanders with the 49ers and the Cowboys winning Super Bowls."

Wolf Filled Talent Base Around Favre, White

Wolf acknowledged that he "never really did a good job with first-round draft choices but the Packers were able to piece in the other ones. They just kind of fit."

He added that he was more or less banking on Favre and Mike Holmgren, the man for whom he sent a second round pick to the 49ers.

And while everyone speaks of moves that made Favre, White, and Holmgren a part of the Green Bay Packers, there were other significant signings such as Desmond Howard, Santana Dotson, Eugene Robinson, and even Andre Rison for the stretch run of 1996.

"Signing Robinson, that was an ongoing process," Wolf said. "We were looking for someone to play that position and we narrowed it down to a few guys and he was the one guy we targeted and we were able to get that done. And I think that was very, very vital because he was a good player. He helped immensely.

"Andre Rison, we were kind of sliding. I'll never forget that. He was on waivers over the weekend and we were playing in Dallas and as everybody knows, we didn't have any success whatsoever with the Cowboys. It was a pretty easy situation. We're sitting there talking about claiming a guy when we got back. And we claimed him and got him and he made a big difference."

The Rison acquisition may have raised a few eyebrows at the time, but according to Wolf, he never had any doubts about how the receiver nicknamed "Bad Moon" would fit in.

Instead, Wolf put his trust in his coaching staff, particularly Holmgren.

"Mike Holmgren did a really good job controlling that," Wolf said. "I mean, he had an excellent staff. That was one area I was really never concerned with.

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"Mike had been with those zanies out there in San Francisco. So he understood what this was all about and how important this whole thing was. Guys had to buy into the program and he bought into it."

It also didn't hurt that the camaraderie of the team was so strong.

"We had a great group of guys," Wolf said. "We had the right guys leading us. LeRoy Butler, Keith Jackson, Sean Jones. Those were all pretty good leaders. Plus, you've got Reggie White and Brett Favre."

Clearly, Wolf, who is now 67 years old, knew how to assemble a football team unlike any other, and he's also very happy with where his life has gone since he gave up his general manager duties with the Packers in 2001.

Wolf now enjoys retired life with his wife Edie in Annapolis, Md. He recently came back to Green Bay for Fan Fest in March and a part of training camp last summer.

Wolf, whose son Eliot has been with the Packers as a pro personnel assistant for two seasons, said he has no itch to get back into football, and although he still is a fan of the NFL, he doesn't follow it like he used to.

Instead, Wolf does a lot of traveling to foreign countries as well as within the United States, and when reached in March, he was down in his family's vacation home in Florida watching his favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training.

"They've got a lot of top-notch people within their operation," Wolf explained. "Walt Jockety, Tony LaRussa, a great bunch of guys on their coaching staff, and a good group of players.

"I just like to watch how they put it all together."

It's a process Wolf knows a thing or two about.

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