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Green Bay GM restored the “title” in Titletown with Super Bowl win
By CHRIS HAVEL
Ron Wolf’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech was pointed, smart and brief. Simply put, it bore his likeness every bit as much as the bust in Canton, Ohio, that immortalizes Wolf’s place in NFL history.
It’s funny how NFL general managers loathe the term “bust.” One too many and it’s off to the unemployment line. In Wolf’s case, this final “bust” is richly deserved. That much became apparent as he modestly recapped his life in the NFL. He spoke reverently of Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders, and he praised Mike Ornstein and the New York Jets.
Mostly, he talked fondly of Titletown, USA. Wolf thanked everyone employed by the Packers during his career from 1992 to 2001.
When he rumbled the words, “Lambeau Field!” in that baritone voice of his, the 67,000 Packers fans who were celebrating Family Night responded with a thunderous ovation.
Clearly, Wolf’s love of and respect for the NFL was the theme. He gave his entire life to football, and it was a life well spent for him and the league.
Wolf’s no-nonsense, common sense approach to what seemed like incredibly complicated situations to others stands out.
He played the draft like a virtuoso might play the piano. Kevin Costner didn’t do the GM position justice in the movie “Draft Day.” They didn’t make him smart enough. What might’ve seemed like a great movie script was nothing compared with what Wolf faced in the hot seat.
All those trades, all those decisions and all those drafts – year in and year out – is what returned the Packers to glory. There were no clever shortcuts or dumb luck trades that fell in Wolf’s lap.
He demanded total football authority and he got it.
He wanted Mike Holmgren and he got him.
He traded for Brett Favre. He signed Reggie White in free agency. He used every avenue available to build a champion, including the World League from whence Marco Rivera came.
Wolf’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Packers were simply business as usual to him. He didn’t need a pat on the back, or feel the need to make sure people liked him.
He just focused on one thing: Just Win Baby! It’s the Raiders’ expression, but it was Wolf’s personality. Everyone talks about the great players’ intensity and competitive spirit. Wolf was as competitive as anyone I’ve ever written about, and that includes the ultra-competitive Brett Favre.
In many ways, Wolf was ahead of his time. He trusted his scouts, but only after he taught them exactly what he expected. And then he allowed them to do their job. He trusted his coaches, beginning with Holmgren, and simply asked, “What do you need to build a world champion?”
Egos aside, Wolf and Holmgren worked as well together as any GM-head coach in league history. That isn’t to say there weren’t any differences because there were. What mattered though was what was best for the team. That singular goal was unchallenged.
Today, GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy are about as similar to Wolf-Holmgren as you’re ever going to see. Thompson, the football lifer, and McCarthy, the quarterback whisperer who became a great head coach, continue to keep the Packers on the path of sustained success.
Wolf charted the course at a time when many believed the Packers were a dying organization in the NFL’s world of free agency.
Today, it’s a laughable notion. The Packers have been all boon and no bust, save the bust of Wolf that sits nobly in its rightful place: Canton, Ohio.
Wolf capped his seven-minute speech Saturday night with this: “As my dad would say, “I love a good speaker, I really do. Not one who’s polished, but one who’s through.”
Then he graciously stepped aside to allow Will Shields, Charles Haley, Jerome Bettis and others to take the stage.
While observing the Packers’ practice today during training camp, one could see Wolf’s imprint throughout. The professionalism, the talent-laden roster and the first-rate facilities all are byproducts of Wolf’s time in Green Bay.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.