Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Off-Again, On-Again Love Affair With The Wide Receiver Position

I used to be the guy that loved the wide receiver.  You see, when I began as a fanatical follower of the Packers back in the 1980's, there were two guys that I was enamored with.  Their names?  James Lofton and John Jefferson.

They opened my eyes to what explosive offensive football could actually be.  Hey, before the acquisition of Jefferson, the running joke was Bart Starr's gameplan consisted of four plays: 1. Run 2. Run 3. Pass  4. Punt

But when Lynn Dickey was able to open up with Lofton, Jefferson, and tight end Paul Coffman, it was electrifying.  Images of that era are forever burned into my memory:  seeing Coffman hurdle a defender for the first time.  It was something I never imagined happening on a football field, and it blew my mind as to the boundaries of human limitations.

I remember Lofton running in open space, sometimes just baiting people in and maneuvering around them.  With the game clock ticking away, Lofton caught a pass and made a dash for the sideline with a defender closing in.  Just as he reached the sideline, he stopped short, allowing the now-relaxed defender to waltz by him, then turned on the jets up the sideline for a long gainer.

And I remember Jefferson, who was unfortunately never used as much as he should have been, often acting as the decoy drawing double coverage to open up the field for Dickey favorites Lofton and Coffman.  Every now and then, however, he would do something amazing that made you remember his glory days with the Chargers.  I remember Dickey throwing up a jump ball to Jefferson, who was standing in between three defenders.  All four went up for the ball, with JJ snatching it away mid-air, then landing with his wheels turning, squirting out as all three were still returning to the ground and into the end zone.

The television commentator: "Well, three-on-one: that's an even matchup for John Jefferson!"

There something about the position of wide receiver, working out there in open space--relying on speed and grace and agility instead of pure power.  Those players inspired me to play wide receiver in high school.

Caveat #1: My high school team didn't actually have a WR position, but a wing-back position in a wishbone offense, so the position was never really thrown to very often.

Caveat #2: the term "play" when I say "play wide receiver" might be better defined as "pretended" moreso than "actually saw time on the field".  Just sayin'.

No, given my lack of size, speed, strength, agility, coordination, and athletic ability, I'd never follow in the footsteps of my heroes, but I would continue to idolize them.  And I don't think there was a player I idolized more than when the Packers drafted Sterling Sharpe.

Again, he was graceful and speedy, but brought a new level of strength and cockiness to the position.  He dared people to stop him, not afraid to run through them as much as around them.  And, it didn't hurt that he wore the same number that I had when I played in high school (again, see Caveat #2 above).

He made Don Majkowski look a heck of a lot better than he was.  And he was Brett Favre's crutch in his tumultuous formative years, when having Sharpe there to catch 100+ balls a year might have been the difference between Holmgren sticking with Favre and not going with Mark Brunell.

He demanded the ball.  This was also something new that I hadn't seen before in my wide receiver heroes, but heck...he was darn good, and good things happened when he had the ball.  He had an infectious smile and made it look like he was having a blast on the field.  I still remember the play against the Lion in the playoffs one year where he caught the ball so far ahead of every defender, he walked up to the goal line and tried to just reach over the plane of the goal line.  A Lion defender snuck up behind him, and an uncomfortable instant replay was averted when Sharpe picked the ball up himself in the endzone, smiling like the cat who had caught the canary.

But my adoration of Sharpe--and my love affair with the wide receiver position in general--came to a screeching halt in 1994.  Sterling Sharpe's neck injury ended his playing career, and no one was giving the Packers a chance to even reach 8-8 without their Most Talented Player.  I fiercely defended Sharpe from his detractors and also believed the Packers were going to suffer a huge setback without him.

But 1995 was the year everything changed.  The Packers weren't a worse team without Sharpe, they were a better team without him.  Favre, no longer pressured to feed the ball into a WR who kept demanding the ball, saw his quarterback rating jump nearly ten points.  The ball was spread out evenly between new team leader Robert Brooks, Mark Ingram, and the running backs and tight ends...basically, whomever was open.

If you can remember back to that time when the Packers (unexpectedly) made the playoffs, you might remember a feature by NFL Countdown where Favre, Brooks, Bennett and all the gang openly talked about how Sharpe had held the team back with his "me-first" attitude.  They gushed about the team-first attitude that had propelled them into being perhaps the only team with a chance to prevent the Cowboys from making it a three-peat that year.  There wasn't even an inkling that the players remotely missed Sharpe.

Chris Berman cut to Sharpe, who had been a part of the studio team in his first year away from football, and you could see the tension and anger in his face and body language.  He yelled his response (surprise!), saying he wasn't a me-first player and he had always been committed to the team above all.  The words seemed to echo in the empty studio where was was being filmed.

At the end, Berman attempted to mend the fences by telling Sharpe, "Sterling, all the guys I talked to miss you, wish you the best, and they wish you were there to be a part of this."  It was in stark contrast to everything we just heard the players actually say in their interviews.

I wanted to rise up to defend my old hero, Sharpe, whose jersey I proudly wore and cheered every time he caught a pass.  But reality set it, as the Packers went deep into the NFC playoffs that year, farther than they had ever gone with Sharpe.  And, of course, the next year the Packers won it all with guys like Antonio Freeman and Andre Rison playing at the wide-out position.

Meanwhile, this coincided with the time when the me-first wide receiver began taking over the league.  Guys like Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Keyshawn Johnson made no bones about being "the guy" and demanding the ball.   The showboating, the grandstanding, the obnoxious behavior all started turning me off to the "Highlight Wide Receiver" that ESPN now seemed to love and give 24/7 attention to.

But ever since the departure of Sharpe, the Packers have employed the team-oriented wideout.  Who can forget the day after Favre's father passed away, when Donald Driver, Javon Walker, and even Robert Ferguson (of all players) swore that whatever Favre threw that Monday Night against the Raiders, they would catch for him?  And they did it.

Wideouts with attitude problems (Koren Robinson, Terry Glenn, Bill Schroeder, even Walker) were quietly excised from the team.  The Super Bowl-winning stable of receivers--Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones--were a case study of ego-less, team-oriented talent.  When Jennings, the clear primary threat, was essentially a non-factor early in the 2010 season, many rushed to his interview podium to ask how upset he was at not getting the ball enough.

Naturally, even if Jennings was upset, he never let on.  And as the season progressed, and the injury-riddled Packers found their footing offensively, Jennings again assumed his role as the #1 receiver.  Had that been Sterling Sharpe (or Owens, or Keyshawn), that lull in production could have exploded on the field and in the locker room.

So, no longer have I been that "WR guy" that I was as a kid.  Perhaps, like my musical tastes, my appreciation for the game of football has matured.  Just as I have put my Debbie Gibson cassettes into the storage unit and downloaded The Best of the Eagles on iTunes, I no longer have solely WR jerseys in my Packer closet.  I value the impact of a running game, dissect the ins and outs of Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, and have measured the impact of special teams on a win or loss.

Hey, 20-Year Old Me would have taken umbrage with 2010 Me for all of those articles I wrote petitioning Mike McCarthy to quit throwing the ball so much and commit to the running game.  But, 2010 Me has realized that it takes more than that explosive Dickey-to-Lofton passing game to win a championship.  Perhaps, in the dark decades of the 70's and 80's, when my formative years as a Packers fan were established, finished 8-8 and having an exciting passing game was the best we could hope for.

But with two Lombardi trophies under our belt since those days, you realize the impact of what a complete team effort requires.  Oh, don't think I've totally lost my WR fettish.  When I wore my Packer jersey each week from the Patriots game through the Super Bowl (without washing it), it was none other than my #85 Jennings jersey.  But I would have been just as happy wearing my Rodgers, Hawk, Matthews, or Bulaga jersey.

The reason I write this, however, is that WR passion from my youth was stirred just a bit this past draft when the Packers took Randall Cobb in the second round.  Ted Thompson has made it a habit of drafting some talented, team-oriented wideouts in almost all of his drafts, but Cobb brings just a bit of swagger to the position.

Normally, that bit of bravado would throw some yellow flags up for me, because heaven knows I've learned my lesson.  But Cobb has already established through the media and his Twitter account that, despite bringing some of that electrifying agility to our return game and offense, he has sought out the team veterans to create relationships with them...nothing required during offseasons when there isn't a lockout.

A players who hit it big in college, both as a returner and a receiver, but also as a Wildcat quarterback, could easily step into the big leagues believing the spotlight should be on him, and we've seen it over and over again through the years.  But it's been noted that at Kentucky, where his pure athleticism would have been enough to warrant his playing time, he established himself as a team leader, needing no prodding to put in the extra time watching tape or conditioning.  He bonded with his coaches, viewing them as family, not as "the Man busting my hump".

And coming into perhaps one of the healthiest team environments in the NFL will seal the deal that this kid will be a playmaker, an electrifying player who has awakened the hope in me of looking forward to a wideout that will awaken my childhood passions for seeing the wide receiver dominate the field again. 

No, I don't expect Cobb to supplant Jennings as the #1 receiver, but I do hope that he can enter the game and make cornerbacks desperately call for safety help over the top.  I'm hoping he's a guy who can stretch the field and force defenses back, creating for room for guys like Ryan Grant and James Starks to find a hole.

But, yes...there's an immature part of me that longs to see Cobb catch a ten-yard slant and dip and bob, shift and weave through defenders for a long touchdown, just like I used to cheer for in awe with James Lofton and Sterling Sharpe.  There's a part of me that, despite every effort I've made to wean myself away from glorifying the wide receiver position, wants to see this corps have the kind of season that will help Aaron Rodgers challenge Tom Brady's 2007 campaign and 50 passing touchdowns.

When we saw the Packer offense sputter several times at the end of the season and into the playoffs this past year, relying on the defense to pull out the game for them, the addition of Cobb could be the difference between nail-biting finishes and putting inferior teams away early.

Is that wishful thinking on my part?  It could be.  Cobb hasn't even put a jersey on yet and run in shorts, much less taken an NFL hit. 

But that's 20-Year-Old Me talking.  Now, where is that storage unit with my Debbie Gibson tapes again?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tempering Our Highest of Expectations for 2011

I've been commissioner of my football fantasy league for 14 years.  We were one of the first leagues to use long before it was bought out by CBSSportsline (a fact I remind them of every year I negotiate my league fee).  After all that time, I've come to a conclusion.

You see, I've won my league three times in that time period, and in each of those championship seasons not once did I actually win my division crown.  Yep, in all three championships, I was a wild card who just happened to be the team to win both games in the playoff weeks.  Teams that had dominated, gone the whole season with perhaps just one loss, often fell apart in the final weeks as their players were rested for the playoffs, or suffered injuries late in the season.

Thus, my conclusion:  winning a championship is all about who's hottest, lastest.

At least in fantasy football:  the real game is obviously a far more complicated animal not driven purely by statistical number-jumping.  But, looking closely at the Packers' over time, being the hottest team lastest may have equaled a Super Bowl trophy, and give us pause before anointing  any "dynasty" labels.

You see, I've long noticed that the Packers under Mike McCarthy have been an up-and-down team, with streaks of wins and streaks of losses.  I surmised in the past that McCarthy's Packers seem to need to have their backs against a wall in order to truly get it together, and if you really think about the end of last season, with every game over those last six essentially an elimination game (on the road, nonetheless), it only adds to my theory.

Prior to the 2010 season, the Green Bay Packers had put up streaks as follows over McCarthy's tenure as coach:


Breaking down last season as a microcosm, the streaks (fully aided and abetted by injuries) continued the pattern.


What's my point?  Well, you can take it however you like, but if you are a streaky team, there's something to be said for going on one of your hottest streaks in January.  In fact, that's probably the best time to do it.  And, the Packers did that last year.

Not that there's anything derogatory about it in the least...and if the streak equaled a Super Bowl trophy for the Green Bay Packers, it's the greatest streak in the world.  In fact, just like most of the season, many of those games were never put away until late in the fourth quarter, requiring a herculean interception on a game-tying or game-winning drive to restart our arrested hearts again. 

The New And Improved Cardiac Pack, indeed.

The interesting question for 2011 is going to be if the Packers are going to swagger onto the field like defending champions, or if this will continue to be the same streaky club we've seen over the last five years.  You can make a case for it either way.

On the former's argument, the Packers have been perpetually one of the youngest teams in the league since McCarthy took over as coach, which may factor in to the Packers previous streakiness.  With a Super Bowl victory, a lot of these young players have grown up fast, seeing what the fruits of their labor can bring.  The Packers return a matured core group of players who led the team to the Super Bowl last year, including most of the team leaders.  More importantly, they return their GM, Coach, and defensive coordinator that built and guided this team to that Super Bowl.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is that the Packers won the Super Bowl with a M*A*S*H unit on the field.  In addition to returning those starters who were on the field in North Texas, the team will be bringing many key veterans off the IR and back into training camp.  How much more lethal could the Packers have been with Ryan Grant, Nick Barnett, Jermichael Finley, Morgan Burnett, and Brad Jones on the field?  We will soon find out, giving the Packers plenty of options in shaping their starting lineup, as well as allowing Mad Scientist Dom Capers even more ingredients to experiment with in his kitchen.

However, looking at the "glass-half-empty" side of it all, the Packers will continue to be a young team, and frankly, a team that had a hard time putting together complete games, even in their final six-game winning streak.  Aaron Rodgers had plenty of rough games later in the season, and the offense disappeared for quarters at a time.  On many occasions, I used the word "ugly" to describe a Packer late-season win.  The Packers won, but this isn't necessarily a team that consistently fires on all cylinders.

And, while I look forward to seeing many of our injured veteran players back, there are many who wonder if the Packers weren't actually better off with Ryan Grant and Nick Barnett out of the lineup.  Losing Grant meant that the Packers had every excuse to keep the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands, and many of us at least quietly admit that Desmond Bishop appears to be a better fit in Capers' 3-4 scheme than Barnett.  Bringing back Grant in a "backfield by committee" means forcing carries to keep everyone happy, and there aren't enough middle linebacker positions for the starting caliber MLB's we have. 

Heck, even veteran backup Charlie Peprah has earned his spot next to Nick Collins.  Now we're going to bring back Burnett?  And, there are some journalists who have tossed it out there than Finley's subtraction may have actually added to the offense, that he was too much of a focal point for Rodgers before his injury.

Now, before you pile on and accuse me of heresy with assorted colorful adjectives, my goal is not to rain on our Packers' victory parade, nor to be overly negative as we approach a highly-anticipated 2011 season, already with the high expectations of being a "dynasty" season.  Not my point, not my intent.

However, I would gently remind each of us that there is no greater feeling that the slow build from zero expectations to the mighty heights of supreme victory, something we've felt twice in the last twenty years under two different GMs.  But, there is no greater disappointment than watching our highest expectations fall apart, either.  The eventual decline of a team can be torn apart even faster by the emotion and anger than comes from disappointed fans.  You've invested your emotion on nothing less than a Super Bowl, and to not get a return on that investment is hard to take.

As the Packers (hopefully) square off in the season opener against the one team we were most happy not to face in the playoffs last year, we're going to hope for a convincing 1-0 start to 2011, and many will quickly extrapolate that to mean we're Super Bowl-bound again.  I'm reminding all of us that every team is 0-0, and it will take a long seventeen weeks before we know who is even in the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl.

The Packers are in as good of a position to make it back to the Super Bowl as any team in the league.  They said the same thing about the Saints last year at this time, too.  The important thing is to cherish our Super Bowl win and our tenure as defending champions but, as McCarthy preached so much to his players last year, to take each game as they come instead of looking ahead.

Every season starts our with hopes, dreams, an aspirations of greatness, and this year is no different.  I fear, however, for the number of people who will scream, wailing and gnashing teeth, if the Packers don't suddenly start out 4-0 and sit atop the NFL rankings each week.  I've learned many times over the last few years that what happens early in the season is far from a predictor of how the season will turn out.

In the case of Mike McCarthy's Packers, you can likely count on a dizzying roller coaster ride that will hopefully end up at the highest point, just like last year.  Sit back, enjoy the journey.

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Humble Opinion: Ted Thompson > Ron Wolf

We were doing the post-Super Bowl gushfest episode of Cheesehead Radio when we had a caller, the inevitable victory cry not only for the Packers, but a taunt for those who had doubted the master plan of the General Manager.

"So," said the caller, "what do all those Thompson Hater have to say now?  Super Bowl Champs, baby!"

In turn, Jersey Al, Holly, John, and Jayme all went around the table (truthfully) stating that they had never been overly critical of Ted Thompson, much less a Hater.  A silence settled on the broadcast as they waited for my response.  If we were all live in the same room, I have a feeling that five sets of eyes (including those of the caller) would have been squarely on me.

And, I gave my mea culpa...with qualifiers.  I said that I had never been a "Thompson Hater", but had been a pretty consistent Thompson Critic over the years.  Now, someone could do a little history, whether it be here on the blogs or on the Packerchatter forums and might have found the "not a Hater" claim a bit dubious (and, thanks to a couple server crashes, some of my most venomous Thompson criticisms from 2005 no longer exist in cyberspace).

But I have been a critic of Thompson for quite some time.  Some of it stemmed back to my disapproval of how he handled certain situations, such as leaving lame-duck head coach Mike Sherman in the lurch until late August before signing him to an extension.  I thought it further eroded his credibility after having just been stripped of his GM duties to begin with, and was further inflamed when he was fired just five months later.

I stated that summer, that following January, and still state now:  he should have let him go right away. Clean break, let Sherman get a fresh start somewhere else.  Instead, he became the fall guy for a miserable 2005 campaign which we now recognize as a cap-clearing year.

And I criticized him for stating he was "in it to win today" in 2005, when a certain quarterback was essentially running for his life behind "starters" named Klemme and Whitaker, while handing the ball off a guy named "Gado" and throwing to a guy named "Taco".

I also criticized him for Favregate, and while I completely supported his decision to "move on" in March of 2008, I thought he unnecessarily created a schism among the Packer fan base by allowing the story to drag out throughout the summer instead of finding a quick and quiet end to it all.  Not to say The Quarterback Formerly Known As #4 was clear of any blame, completely the opposite.  But Thompson had the ability to pull the pin, grant a release right away, and let the chips fall where they may.

While many disagreed with me then, and still do today, it's pretty clear that giving Favre his release when he first requested it likely would not have added any Lombardi Trophies to the Vikings' display case, nor removed the one the Packers just won this past season. And the momentum from 2007 might have carried over to 2008 instead of imploding.

And, of course, I criticized Thompson's approach to building a team.  I questioned the draft-only mentality, the eschewing of free agents, and the proclivity to sign people off the street...rather than invest a draft pick in trade for known value.  And I thought I was right.

And I was wrong.

Oh, I still won't cry defeat on how Ted handled some in-house personnel moves, and I think even he would be gracious enough to admit that he probably wishes he could go back in time and do some things differently.  But when it comes to building a team, I have to admit that Thompson broke the mold...specifically, the mold that I had set as the ultimate measuring stick that should obviously equal a Super Bowl victory:  the measuring stick of Ron Wolf.

And I'm here to tell you that I believe, despite all of my previous ambivalence towards the job he's done, that Thompson not only lived up to the long shadow cast by Wolf, he may have exceeded it.  What irony, when so many of us thought the longest shadow was going to the one left by Brett Favre for Aaron Rodgers.  In the end, I was far more accepting of Rodgers not being Brett than I was forgiving of Thompson not being Wolf.

And in the end, Thompson may actually have accomplished more in getting his Super Bowl ring.  Oh, time will tell the final tale in a decade or so, but in my opinion, Thompson changed the rules and succeeded in a far more difficult set of circumstances.

Looking back on the great Ron Wolf, there is a reason his name is emblazoned on the stadium wall at Lambeau Field.  He was the mastermind who brought together some of the biggest Packer Legends Of All Time via trade and free agency, and built a solid core through the draft.  A Lombardi Trophy sealed the culmination of his five-year plan.


...what if Wolf actually underachieved, given the hand he had been dealt.  Oh, I know, this is heresy, but I have long been of the opinion that if it weren't for the dastardly Dallas Cowboys choosing that exact moment to have a dynasty in the early 1990's, the Packers might have more than doubled their Lombardi Trophy count.

You see, Wolf was a great GM, but he took over the Packers during the perfect storm. [If I ever write a book about Wolf's dominant GM skills, that would be the title of it: The Packers' Perfect Storm].  Green Bay had, for decades, been the Siberia of the NFL, in a league without free agency, a salary cap, or revenue sharing.  The Packers would draft players in the top ten of the first round who would jump to the CFL rather than play with the unlovable losers of Green Bay.  The Packers were long chided for sitting on a pot of money, refusing to break the bank to bring in top-notch talent.

The shifts in fortune actually started with the 1987 NFL strike, which ended with a favorable ruling for the owners that would have kept the Packers in their cycle of being the NFL's AA farm club.  But, subsequent decertification of the players union and class action lawsuits brought the two parties back to the table in 1989.  The two sides agreed to fundamentally change the structure of the league, allowing free agency after a delay of a few years.  They also agreed to revenue sharing, a salary cap, and perhaps most importantly for the Packers, a salary floor.

Plan B free agency started right away, but soon evolved after litigation by players and became full unrestricted free agency in 1992.  And, as we all know, this was the first year Ron Wolf took the reins for the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers were forced to spend their money now, and with revenue sharing, had the cushion to open the coffers and do it.  Wolf was an expert at finagling his draft picks and attracting free agents, but with a clean salary cap (and few big contracts), they were in prime position to make a run for the biggest name in free agency:  Reggie White.

Within a few short years, Wolf put together a team that never missed the playoffs after his first season.  But, it was the Cowboys who ended the Packers' playoff drives in 1993, 1994, and 1995.  The Packers continued to sign veteran free agents to get them over the "Cowboy Hump".  In 1996, the Cowboys finally declined, and the team that Ron Wolf built to beat the former dynasty easily ran roughshod through the regular season and through the playoffs.

In a way, that time period from 1992 (the beginning of unrestricted free agency) to around 1997 (when salary cap hell began decimating teams) was the perfect time to be a smart general manager for the Packers.  Wolf had the capital, the salary cap room, and was able to sell the storied tradition to potential free agents.  The question is, could the Packers have done even more?

When you look at the 1995 team that lost to the Cowboys in the NFC championship game, you see a team that was on the verge, that (without Dallas in the way) would have likely beaten the Steelers in the Super Bowl.  Conversely, the Packers could of (and in many of our minds, should have) beaten the Broncos in 1997, too.  Both the 1995 Dallas loss and the Denver Super Bowl loss were very winnable games, with a late Favre interception setting up the game-sealing Dallas touchdown.  And, some questionable strategy in  in the Super Bowl allowing Terrell Davis to score late in the game was a hole the Packers couldn't dig themselves out of.

Who knows what might have been if the Packers had selected Barry Sanders instead of Tony Mandarich.  The Packers had at least a three-year window from 1995-1997 and took one Super Bowl trophy out of it.

Now, on to Thompson.  For years, I evaluated Thompson by what he didn't do as Wolf had done.  He didn't sign a huge free agent to build the team around.  He didn't trade away draft picks for stars of the future.  And most of all, he traded down in the draft to bring in quantities of players that were supposed to compete and allow the cream to rise to the top.

All it is going to do, I said, is turn the Packers into a team that would never do particularly poorly, but would never have what it takes to get over the hump and go deep into the playoffs.  And had you asked me about six months ago, I would have repeated it again convincingly.

But Thompson matched Wolf in what would have to be considered the most imperfect storm.  He took over a bloated roster from Mike Sherman that, while not in salary cap "hell", didn't allow much wiggle room.  The league has normalized unrestricted free agency through trial and error, resigning the best of the best to cap-friendly deals, while allowing only flawed players to actually reach the market, making them far greater risks for the money.

But, most of all, the league has far more parity.  While you can win a Super Bowl with far less talent than the dynasty-level teams of the past, it's a lot harder to get there (and often requires a bit of good fortune along the way).

Hey, you put the 1996 Packers up against the 2010 Packers, who do you honestly think would win?  Reggie, Gilbert, Sean, and Santana going up against our offensive line without a consistent running game?  The 90's were the last of the dynasty teams: Dallas, Green Bay, Denver, and New England.

In retrospect, Thompson didn't have nearly the tools Wolf did, yet he won a Super Bowl in his sixth season just the same.  Wolf wrote the script.  Thompson reviewed it, kept just the parts he wanted, and then rewrote it to make it contemporary with the times.

Wolf took advantage of free agency and cap space.  Thompson avoided the risks that modern-day free agency came with and built a team almost purely through the draft.  Just when you thought you had him pegged as a conservative glorified scout, he blew your mind by trading the farm to take Clay Matthews in the first round in 2009.  No, not every pick or move has worked out, and the number of times he left positional groups woefully understaffed has been the cause of some justified consternation over the years.

But, in the end, and despite overwhelming odds, Ted Thompson matched Ron Wolf's Lombardi Trophy total.  No matter how you slice it, you can't emphasize how much more difficult of a job this was in today's times, that in an era designed to prevent dynasties, the Packers now appear to have the makings of one.

The years leading up to Ron Wolf's Super Bowl were a slow build, each year improving on the last until 1996 hit with a fever pitch with expectations so high anything less than a Super Bowl would be a disappointment.

Ted Thompson's prelude to a Trophy was anything but a slow build, with amazing highs and disappointing depths.  While the Packers may have come in to this season with predictions of "Super Bowl or Die", they were quickly muted when a slough of injuries decimated the team.  Super Bowl teams were supposed to dominate their games against mediocre opponents, not win or lose them by single-digits week after week.

But the team that Thompson built was designed for this era:  a flexible, fluid team with interchangeable parts and a coaching staff willing to redraw the schemes week-to-week to accommodate the players filling the roles.  In the end, season-ending injuries were compensated for with a long bench of talented young players once overlooked.

If the 1996 Packers had, early on, lost their starting playmaking tight end (Keith Jackson), their starting MLB (George Koonce), their starting strong safety (LeRoy Butler), their starting running back (Edgar Bennett), their veteran starter right tackle (Earl Dotson), and starting weak-side linebacker (Brian Williams), would they have persevered to the end with backups?  And having to win all their playoff games on the road?

It's hard to say, because these are two different teams, from two different eras.  But in the end, both teams brought impassioned fans a trophy (though it was more of a pleasant surprise this past year).  It's a testament to the foresight and planning that Thompson had to break the mold and traditional road map the many Packer fans had in our heads, and created a team that could survive parity with depth.

The Packers are poised with the return of many injured players (and a strong draft) to come back even better than they were last year.  But, as we've done with Ron Wolf, we can't evaluate a man's legacy until we can look back on it with an unbiased eye a decade or so later.

But I will put it on paper now:  even if Thompson's Packers don't win another Super Bowl, he achieved the same outcome against far greater odds than Wolf had.  I may never admit to "liking" Thompson, but I have a ton of respect for what he's done as the GM of the Green Bay Packers. Fantasy Sports Simulation -- Football Boxscore Fantasy Sports Simulation -- Football Boxscore