Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reflections on Bill Schroeder's "Retirement"

A trip down memory lane today, as former Packer Billy Schroeder announced that he would do the usual one-day contract and retire as a Green Bay Packer. After checking around, Sports Illustrated has not announced a special edition dedicated to Schroeder's career.

Now, no malice intended towards Billy, who certainly did pretty well for a local boy and a Division III track star trying to make it in the NFL. I certainly liked him at first, but he did have a way of getting under your skin after a while.

In 1994, I was working as an archery director at Wisconsin Lions Camp in Rosholt, and a fellow counselor was a member of the UW-La Crosse track team. He spoke volumes about Schroeder's ability and was giddy at the thought of his teammate being a Green Bay Packer. This was my first introduction to the sixth round pick of the 1994 draft, but it came with a caveat:

"He's the cockiest S.O.B I know."

Once I found out, following a couple seasons on the practice squad, that he was wearing my own old high school number, #84, I set my mind on rooting for this lanky white kid from Wisconsin. In 1997, he finally got some playing time as a returner and a reserve wideout, and we started getting a taste of the good and bad that he had to offer.

He certainly was an athletic guy, and could make some nice catches. But his lack of discipline already started to show, fumbling four times in 1997 on only 33 returns and 2 receptions.

By 1998, Mike Holmgren's last year as head coach, that cockiness started to manifest itself in other ways. I vividly remember Schroeder literally screaming at Holmgren from the playing field to challenge a catch that had been ruled incomplete. It wasn't a request, it was a full-fledged tantrum, and Holmgren knew that he was obligated to challenge it after the public spectacle. I remember that look on the Walrus's face when the play was not overturned, and Schroeder still sat there complaining about it. Holmgren was never one to be trifled with, and Schroeder had overstepped his bounds. Yet, he seemed blindly unaware of it.

Schroeder was perhaps one of the sloppiest route runners I've seen as a Packer, and finally, Holmgren had enough of the sloppy play and lack of respect when being coached. During one particular game with Schroeder's foolish penalties, Holmgren finally snapped and, while shouting at him red-faced, grabbed his face mask on the sideline.

Holmgren eventually apologized for his lack of self-control, but it was at that moment that my old buddy's words bubbled back into my head, that there was a lot more to that story than that one play.

In 1998, Holmgren left, and Schroeder began to put together a couple of productive seasons, averaging 1,000 receiving yards from 1999-2001. But, his lack of discipline continued to dog the Packers. Lazy route running, particularly on his slants, resulted in a number of extra interceptions for quarterback Brett Favre, adding to the five fumbles he had over that time period. Moreover, his hot-headed penchant for dumb penalties continued to drive coaches crazy.

In a 2001 game against the Buccaneers (perhaps the zenith of the rivalry), a close loss (14-10) was exacerbated by a foolish penalty by Schroeder. On a third and long with the Packers leading late in the game, an incomplete pass was followed by a late hit on Schroeder. With whistles blowing, beanbags flying, and yellow flags raining, the Packers breathed a sigh of relief that a game-sealing drive was kept alive.

Until, of course, Bill Schroeder decided to take offense to the late hit, got up, and decked the defender. Mike Sherman was beside himself as the Packers now saw offsetting penalties, and were forced to punt to the Bucs, who scored the winning touchdown on the next drive.

It was bonehead plays like this that led to Schroeder's departure from the Packers, as he left after that season to join the Lions, and then played his final season for the Bucs in 2004.

I don't like to diss on many former Packers, but Bill Schroeder epitomized for me the oft-bemoaned regret of former general manager Ron Wolf, who always wished he had gotten some playmaking wide receivers to compliment Brett Favre.

That's why I didn't find it surprising that following Mike Sherman's first year as general manager, he jettisoned Schroeder and drafted Javon Walker in the first round. In 2004, Favre was throwing to perhaps the best trio of receivers he had in his career (Donald Driver, Walker, and Robert Ferguson).

Schroeder also, along with Ferguson, helped me define what I don't want in a wide receiver: a player who not only makes his own careless mistakes, but compounds the mistakes of his quarterback with a "not my problem" attitude. Both Schroeder and Ferguson would watch balls sail into opposing players' hands without even a half-hearted effort to make a play on it.

Ted Thompson, the present GM, has gone one further, bolstering veteran Driver with solid young talent in Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson, all high-character guys with high ceilings to boot. They're all "Packer People" who run precise routes and go up and fight for any ball thrown their way.

Which makes it ironic that Bill Schroeder, a guy neither Ted Thompson nor Mike McCarthy would have any patience for as a player, asked Thompson this week to retire as a Packer. I'm sure that Thompson included a very specific clause in that one-day contract the prohibited him from any time on the field.

I don't hold any grudges toward Schroeder, who will be remembered by guys like my camp buddy as the local boy who made good in Titletown. I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors and I am proud that after all that has happened, he recognizes the Packer organization as the one he wants to be forever associated with.

I just hope Mike Holmgren is at his retirement ceremony to wrangle that facemask one more time, just for memories sake.


TheVegas said...

Just stopping by to let you know I read your blog nearly everyday. Good stuff. I just created a Packers blog myself, so I thought I would share it with you. I'm new to all of this, so everything is just in its beginning stage, so if you wish, check it out and let me know what you think.

kevinwayne20 said...

Good stuff LA. I agree 100% about your comments on Billy Schroeder. While he wasn't my favorite Packer because of his knack for causing INTs he was a good local WI guy that made was a good story. I didn't miss him in Green Bay and loved him as a Lion seeing how he caused more INTs than he actually scored against the Packers.

LosAngelis said...

Thanks, kevin...and good to see ya over here!