Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘Green Bay Packers’ Category

Packers Were In A Giving Mood When They Picked Mandarich

In Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Tony Mandarich on December 26, 2008 at 2:30 pm

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions’ upcoming opponents)

Much has been made, especially this week, of the Lions’ failure to win in Wisconsin since 1991. The pundits have rued the day the Pack traded for QB Brett Favre in 1992, which just so happened to coincide with the streak. Even Lions kicker Jason Hanson is wondering if the streak somehow has to do with him — since Hanson was a rookie in ’92 and has experienced every single loss on the road to the Packers.

But you don’t hear nearly as much about a gift the Packers presented the Lions with in 1989 — one that gave Lions fans just about the only reason to get excited about their team for the ten seasons spanning 1989 to 1998.

It was April, 1989. The NFL Draft. Barry Sanders was the jitterbug running back from Oklahoma State who also returned kicks and who was coming out of college a couple years early to try his hand at pro football. The Lions had just committed to the Run-n-Shoot offense — that scheme that involved four pass receivers running around the field at all times, and one lone running back. The change came about because the previous year, in explaining why he finally fired coach Darryl Rogers, Lions owner Bill Ford Sr. said, “We’re losing and we’re boring.”

So the Lions decided that if they were going to lose, they were going to be as exciting as possible in doing so. They had the Shoot part covered — at least in terms of quantity. But they needed the Run component.

Enter the Packers’ generosity.

As dazzling as Sanders was, as seemingly unlimited his potential seemed, the Packers had their eyes on a hulk of an offensive tackle, right in the Lions’ backyard, in East Lansing.

Tony Mandarich was the biggest thing — literally — to come out of Michigan State University in years. He was considered the best OL prospect to come down the pike in recent memory. The Packers had fantasies of Mandarich anchoring the left side of their line for at least the next ten years. They could always pick up a running back later.

So the Pack, with the no. 1 overall pick, snatched Mandarich off the board. The Lions heaved a sigh of relief.

Barry Sanders became a Lion, thanks to the Packers’ misguided selection of Mandarich, who would soon be derailed by a steroids scandal and gross under performance. The Packers got one of the biggest draft busts in history. The Lions got a Hall of Famer.

I remember being ecstatic when the Packers picked Mandarich. My opinion was the 180 degree opposite of Green Bay’s: when a talent like Sanders comes down the pike, you take him. You can always pick an offensive lineman later.

Sanders held out through training camp and the exhibition season that rookie year, haggling over his contract. Don’t forget that this was still the Russ Thomas Era. Thomas, the Lions’ GM, wouldn’t retire until the end of ’89. And he was still in charge of contract negotiations, a big reason why Sanders didn’t get signed until just a couple days before the season opener. Then, with virtually no practice, having not played in a football game in about nine months, Sanders simply took his first NFL carry for 19 yards. A legend was underway.

Of course, the Packers had the last laugh. Three years after the Mandarich miss, Favre came to Green Bay, from the Atlanta Falcons. What soon followed were playoff appearances, conference championship games, and eventually two Super Bowls, including a win in SB XXXI. Oh, and those 17 straight wins over the Lions at home.

It’ll be 20 years, believe it or not, come next April when the Lions have the no. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, since the Packers overlooked Barry Sanders and took Tony Mandarich. After a potential 0-16 season, heaven help us if the Lions repeat the Packers’ mistake of that ’89 Draft.


Phil Who?: Bengston Victim Of Bad Timing, Luck With Pack

In Green Bay Packers on September 12, 2008 at 1:15 pm

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions’ upcoming opponents)

They are some of the most well-known names in modern football history, for various reasons.

Vince Lombardi: really nothing else need be said. The league’s championship trophy is named after him — and that’s just for starters.

Dan Devine: Extremely successful college coach — at Missouri and Notre Dame — who often gets overlooked because of the Bear Bryants and Bo Schembechlers of the world.

Bart Starr: Hall of Fame quarterback — the field general of all those great Packers teams in the 1960s.

Forrest Gregg: A key cog of those bruising o-lines during the ’60s dynasty.

Mike Holmgren: Quietly has built a case for his own Hall of Fame induction someday, as a coach.

All of the above men have been head coach of the Green Bay Packers. If you look at the list, which is chronological, you’ll see that the best of the lot are the top and bottom of a sandwich, which within contains the likes of Devine, Starr, and Gregg.

But wait — we’re forgetting someone.

Ray Rhodes? Well, yes, Rhodes came between Holmgren and Mike Sherman, for one year. But that’s not who I’m talking about.

Lindy Infante? You mean the last coach before Holmgren and Brett Favre arrived in the Bay? Well, yes, there was Lindy, but this post isn’t about him, either.

I’m talking about Phil Bengston.

You’re more than excused for your furrowed brow and your “WHO?”; I understand.

Bengston was Yankees right field after Babe Ruth; Red Wings right wing after Gordie Howe; Bulls shooting guard after Michael Jordan.

But in truth, Bengston was the Packers’ coach after Lombardi.

Not a tough act to follow, eh?

The Packers were coming off their third straight NFL championship — and second straight Super Bowl win — when Lombardi retired and moved into the GM’s chair. For the ’68 season, Lombardi announced that Bengston, one of his assistants, would take the helm on the sidelines.

But the Packers were an aging team who maybe didn’t accord Bengston the same respect and benefit of doubt that they would have for the coach if Lombardi had stuck around.

Bengston (right) was the luckless Lombardi assistant tabbed to replace the legendary coach in 1968

Bengston was head coach of the Packers from 1968-1970, and in those three years, the team went 20-21-1. In the glory years, it would have taken the Packers seven or eight seasons to lose 21 games; Bengston’s teams managed to do it in three. His quiet, low-key style was not only a stark contrast from Lombardi’s, but it did nothing to ingratiate the veterans to him, many of whom felt Bengston was in over his head. In 1971, he was replaced by Devine, who came over from Missouri. By ’72, Devine had led the Packers into the playoffs, behind a marketing campaign of “The Pack is Back.” Devine was also blessed with following Phil Bengston instead of Vince Lombardi.

By the way, Starr and Gregg proved to be far better players than coaches, but then again, that’s not unusual in pro sports. So it’s not surprising that Lombardi and Holmgren, the top and bottom of that aforementioned coaching sandwich, were highly successful coaches who were nondescript players, for the most part.

Bengston resurfaced as interim coach of the 1972 Patriots — a far easier act to follow. He died in 1994 at the age of 81.

Selfish Favre Can’t Be Given A Pass On This One

In Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers on August 5, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Summer, 2003. The Red Wings, fresh off a first-round playoff defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, were presented with a quandary. Their former no. 1 goalie, a certain Hall of Famer, decided that he had enough of reitrement after one season and wanted his old job back. And the Red Wings, with a very expensive replacement, himself a maybe Hall of Famer, were in a sticky situation.

Bring Dominik Hasek back, or let him sign with another team? Hasek made it clear that he wanted back into the NHL, with the Red Wings or anyone who’d have him. And the replacement, Curtis Joseph, wasn’t exactly chopped liver. And he for sure wasn’t the reason the Ducks beat the Wings — that could be blamed on the super-human play of Anaheim goalie J-S Giguere.

General manager Ken Holland told me, back in early 2006 during an interview, that Red Wings brass was very afraid that Hasek was going to sign elsewhere — specifically, Colorado. The Avs were rumored to have interest in Hasek, to replace the retired Patrick Roy. And the idea of Hasek, dressed in Avs maroon and blue, beating them in the playoffs in the spring of 2004 was simply too ghoulish to monkey with, according to Holland. So Hasek returned to the Red Wings, disharmony in the locker room ensued as the two high-priced netminders never got along. And the Wings were blasted out in the second round of the ’04 playoffs, Hasek never coming close to playing in the post-season due to one of his many groin injuries. But the damage had been done.

The Green Bay Packers are in a similar situation this morning, though the replacement in their case is hardly a Hall of Famer. In fact, he’s never started an NFL game.

It used to not be fashionable to diss Brett Favre — at least not for anything off the field. While he may have been prone to the occasional ill-timed interception (what QB isn’t, really?), there wasn’t really anything to criticize him about as far as his work ethic, character, or his being a good teammate.

But now it is time to question Favre — mainly his selfishness.

I have done the same in the past about Hasek — maintaining that his damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead mentality when it came to returning to the NHL was overriding what was best for Curtis Joseph and the Detroit Red Wings. And, in essence, that made his selfishness less than admirable. “I’m coming back, so get the hell out of my way,” in other words.

Kind of like what Brett Favre told the Packers, coming out of retirement with all the finesse of a bull in a china shop.

Favre has reported to the Packers, and just because he didn’t do it wearing a mask and brandishing a gun doesn’t mean it didn’t have the same heavy-handedness.

Poor Aaron Rodgers. On the precipice of finally taking over the reins at QB in Green Bay, after three seasons of clipboard holding and baseball cap wearing. Now here comes Favre, five months after his retirement announcement, in camp and “competing” for the starter’s job.

Poor Mark Murphy, the Pack’s president. It would seem that he took the path of least resistance by allowing Favre to report, as opposed to trying to trade him, or fighting his return. But there was really no path of least resistance here, because with Favre in camp, the circus-like atmosphere around Packers camp is only going to get goofier.

Poor Mike McCarthy, the Packers coach. He had, for months, formulated plans that included Rodgers as his quarterback. Just as when Favre was the starter, McCarthy figured on no quarterback controversy — Rodgers was clearly the no. 1 guy. Now the coach has to juggle — an appropriate word because of the big top covering Packers camp right now.

Ahh, but no one is saying poor Brett Favre, and nor should they, for he is the one who has caused all the upheaval. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: is this how it will be every year? Brett Favre calls the shots, and retires/un-retires, depending on his mood? And the Packers are to hold the starting QB job open for him, even during the first week of training camp? When does it end? How can the Packers believe him, the next time Favre “retires”?

Favre clearly cares about no one other than Brett Favre, at least in this instance. There’s no question that HE believes firmly that he gives the Packers the best chance to win, as opposed to Rodgers. From a purely football perspective, he might be right; it’s not like Favre fell off the map in 2007. His performance was outstanding for a man of his age. But this isn’t about just what goes on between the sidelines; it’s about other people, other feelings, other intangibles. And all are being disrupted while Favre un-retires. Yet Favre doesn’t seem to care about that. All he cares about is what’s good for Brett Favre. And what’s good for Favre isn’t necessarily what’s good for the Packers — either now or in the long run.