I was on vacation when Ron Wolf was inducted into the Hall of Fame last week, but I want to offer my belated congratulations to one of the three great front office icons in Packer history (along with Lambeau and Lombardi). Now, all three are enshrined in the most honored place in pro football and deservedly so. The Canadian Football Hall of Fame classifies its members as either players or builders, and builders is the term that best describes these three men.
Curly Lambeau was coach and de facto general manager of Green Bay from 1921-1949. In that 29-year period, the Packers went 209-104-21 (.668) and won six NFL championships. The teams experienced just three losing seasons in that span, but unfortunately the worst two were the last two seasons of Curly’s tenure with the team; Green Bay went just 5-19 in 1948-49. Time had passed Lambeau by, and he left a mess behind when he was forced out in 1950.
After a decade in darkness, Vince Lombardi was hired in 1959, which initiated a decade of unparalleled excellence during his tenure from 1959-67: a regular season record of 89-29-4 (.754), postseason of 9-1 and five NFL titles. Lombardi, of course, stepped down as coach and anointed his respected defensive coach Phil Bengtson as new head coach in 1968. A year later, general manager Lombardi was off to Washington and the team drifted into a dormant, rudderless period of irrelevancy under Bengtson and his successors Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante. In the 24 years from 1968-1991, those five coaches went 146-201-9 (.423), produced just five winning and four .500 seasons to 15 losing ones and went to the playoffs just twice.
Into the void stepped Ron Wolf in 1992, and his organizational leadership reversed the decades of ineptitude immediately and ever since. In the last 23 seasons since 1992, the team has had 21 winning seasons and just one loser. Not only did Wolf produce a series of winning teams, but also trained his successors, Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson, to keep the organization well-run and successful under head coaches Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman, Ray Rhodes and Mike McCarthy. While Rhodes only lasted one 8-8 season, the other three coaches posted a combined 226-125-1 record (.643) through 2014, with 17 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl championships.
Wolf gave a brief, classy acceptance speech in Canton, as is his wont, but no one is likely to top the conciseness of Curly Lambeau’s induction speech as part of the charter class of inductees in 1963:
I am deeply grateful and very happy to be honored here today. Forty one years ago I came to Canton to get a franchise for Green Bay, Wisconsin. The franchise was issued by Joe Carr at that time, and it cost fifty dollars. And the last time I looked, the Packers were still in the league. Thank you.
(Text adapted from my book, Green Bay Gold)
Custom cards in 1894 Mayo Cut Plug style; Lambeau is colorized.