The Green Bay Packers went from 1968 through 1991 with two playoff appearances and one playoff victory. Ron Wolf, a master of player evaluation, was hired in November 1991 as general manager. He didn't wait long to shake up the quarter-century of futility.
Wolf fired Lindy Infante as coach at season's end. He then traded a first-round draft choice for Brett Favre, a quarterback who had been a third-stringer as an Atlanta rookie.
Mike Holmgren, a San Francisco assistant, was hired as coach by Wolf. It took one more year and then the Packers went on a six-year playoff run from 1993 to 1998. They won nine playoff games, including the Super Bowl for the 1996 season.
The magic didn't end until Holmgren accepted an offer to become Seattle's executive vice president, general manager and coach after the 1998 season. The Packers missed the playoffs with Ray Rhodes in 1999 and with Mike Sherman in 2000.
Ron Wolf announced he would resign after the 2001 draft. Sherman remained coach and was given general manager powers.
Four years later, team president Bob Harlan took the GM powers from Sherman and hired Ted Thompson from Seattle in 2005. The Packers went 4-12, and Thompson fired Sherman and hired 49ers assistant Mike McCarthy.
This was a more bold move than was Wolf's to hire Holmgren, who had been San Francisco's offensive coordinator during the late stages of its dynasty. McCarthy had been the 49ers' offensive coordinator for a 4-12 season in 2005.
Three years later, the Packers were getting ready to play the Vikings in a Monday night opener at Lambeau Field.
The last game that counted in Green Bay had been a 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game in January 2008.
Brett Favre's renege on retirement and his trade to the New York Jets had taken place. In the tailgate areas before that 2008 opener, Packers fans were either questioning Rodgers' talent, or cursing Thompson's name, and often both.
Thompson kept stockpiling draft choices and trading down to stockpile more. "To what end?" the fans wondered.
And why -- after the success with defensive back Charles Woodson -- had Thompson become allergic to signing high-end free agents?
The Packers won on that Monday night, 24-19, but wound up 6-10. Do you think that fall would've taken place if Thompson hadn't run off Favre? No chance. Fire Ted!
The Packers are 47-17 in the four playoff seasons since then. They lost first-round games in 2009 and 2011, surrounded by the 4-0 wild-card run to a Super Bowl title after the 2010 season.
The triumvirate of Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers has turned this into such an admirable operation that the Vikings are openly trying to emulate it.
It took owner Zygi Wilf seven years to do what he should have done all along, and name a general manager with full personnel powers. Rick Spielman was elevated to that role after last year's 3-13 abomination.
Spielman has cited Green Bay as a role model for his emphasis on the development of young players over high-buck free agents. The results have come quickly, due in a large part to the extraordinary effort of Adrian Peterson, but also the development of inexperienced players on both sides of the ball.
Thompson's best move in Green Bay was to see Rodgers fall to 24th in 2005 draft, to decide the flawed mechanics that had scared off other teams could be fixed, and to take him as the needed successor to Favre.
The Packers knew they had a few years to work with Rodgers, as Favre continued to be the NFL's ironman. But they were also correct that Rodgers could be elite at the most important position in professional sports, and they continue to benefit grandly from that judgment with Rodgers, now 29.
In Minnesota, Spielman has tied his team to Christian Ponder, who had an apprenticeship of only six games behind Donovan McNabb in 2011.
Last Sunday, in his 26th NFL start, Ponder was a worthy rival for Rodgers in the Vikings' 37-34 victory. If he gets it done again Saturday night in Lambeau, we'll have to say the Spielman plan to surpass the Packers by mimicking them has kicked in much faster than anyone could've imagined.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. firstname.lastname@example.org
leader of the pack
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has passed for 2,823 yards and 24 touchdowns against the Vikings. He has only four interceptions and a 116.4 passer rating. Here are details from his 10 career starts against the Vikings.
Sept. 8 at Green Bay: Making his first career start, Rodgers completed 18 of 22 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown in a 24-19 Packers victory. He also rushed for a 1-yard score. "I've been dreaming of that for four years," Rodgers said of his Lambeau Leap following his TD run.
Nov. 9 at Minnesota: Rodgers was 15-for-26 for 142 yards, but Adrian Peterson ran for 192 yards in a 28-27 Vikings victory. Mason Crosby's 52-yard field-goal attempt in the closing seconds went wide. Rodgers was sacked four times -- once for a safety by Jared Allen -- and called for intentional grounding in his own end zone for another safety, both in the second quarter. "It was a combination of we didn't do the fundamentals the way we know how to and me probably holding the ball too long," Rodgers said.
Oct. 5 at Minnesota: Rodgers went 26-for-37 for 384 yards, two TDs and an interception, but former Packer Brett Favre outdueled him in a 30-23 Vikings victory. "Below my expectations, definitely," Rodgers said after being sacked eight times.
Nov. 1 at Green Bay: Favre had four touchdown passes to again outplay Rodgers (26-for-41 for 287 yards and three TDs) in a 38-26 Vikings victory. "This one will hurt for a couple of days," said Rodgers, who was sacked six times.
Oct. 24 at Green Bay: Rodgers was 21-for-34 for 295 yards, with two TDs and two picks, but the Packers won 28-24 as three potential Vikings' TDs were reversed by replay review.
Nov. 21 at Minnesota: Rodgers was 22-for-31 for 301 yards and four scores -- three to Greg Jennings -- in a 31-3 victory that caused Vikings coach Brad Childress to be fired. "We're going to be tough to beat when we're playing that well," Rodgers said.
Oct. 23 at Minnesota: Rodgers was nearly perfect (146.5 passer rating) after going 24-for-30 for 335 yards and three touchdowns as he rallied his team to a 33-27 victory in Christian Ponder's first start for the Vikings. "There's not a lot of panic on this team," Rodgers said. "Just a lot of focus."
Nov. 14 at Green Bay: Rodgers threw for 250 yards and four scores as the Packers beat up on the Vikings 45-7.
Dec. 2 at Green Bay: Peterson ran for 210 yards, but Rodgers was 27-for-35 for 286 yards, one TD and one interception in a 23-14 victory. "Everything's right in front of us," Rodgers said of his team's playoff push.
Sunday at Minnesota: Rodgers led the Packers to scores on six of their final seven possessions, going 28-for-40 for 365 yards and four touchdowns. But the Vikings won 37-34 to make the playoffs and deny the Packers a first-round bye.