One evening last winter Packers coach Mike Sherman, his wife,
Karen, and their four children were settling in for supper when
Sherman casually cleared his throat. "You may want to check the
newspapers tomorrow," he said. "They're going to name me general
Sherman's son Matt, 12, reacted first. "Oh, no!" he exclaimed.
"What about Mr. Wolf? He was the best."
In nine years as Packers general manager, Ron Wolf had
established himself as a Green Bay legend by leading the Pack
back into the NFL elite after a 25-year fallow period. Young Matt
was not the only Wisconsin boy to cry Wolf at the January news
that a man who had been enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame had
retired and that Sherman, with zero years of front office
experience, had become Green Bay's big cheese. "We were all
shocked," says offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. "But then, it
was a good shocked."
Sherman's rise to one of the NFL's most powerful and high-profile
positions--his Packers' business cards identify him as "Executive
Vice President/General Manager/Head Coach"--has been absurdly
swift. Five years ago he was the offensive line coach at Texas
A&M; two years ago he was a tight ends coach for the Seahawks;
last year he made his head coaching debut when Wolf hired him to
guide the Pack. "Tell the folks up in Green Bay they're in good
hands," says Sherman's old boss, Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum.
"Mike's smart, and he learns fast."
If the absence of Wolf and Sherman's callowness weren't scary
enough, the Packers are facing what veteran safety LeRoy Butler
calls "a pivotal year to see which way we're going to go." After
appearing in 14 playoff games (including two Super Bowls) in six
seasons, Green Bay has missed the postseason two years running.
The Packers are short on stars, and they limped through last
season--and much of this year's training camp--weakened by injury.
They'll need Sherman to do some roster massaging as the season
Sherman's green-and-gold security blanket is a 6'2", 225-pound
rifle-armed quarterback who hasn't missed a start since 1992.
"Brett Favre means we have a chance to win," Sherman says. "I see
a man with an undiminished desire to be the best player in the
league and an ability to match that desire."
Favre's want-to may be undiminished, but lately his game hasn't
matched the standard he set in his prime. He turns 32 on Oct. 10,
and to date his nine-year career as the Pack's starting
quarterback has been divisible by three: From 1992 to '94 Favre
went 26-19 as a starter with a quarterback rating of 83.0; from
'95 to '97 he won three league MVP awards and the Super Bowl
(following the '96 season), went 37-11 and had a rating of 96.1;
in the last three seasons he has gone 28-20 with an 80.0 mark.
In training camp Sherman worked on developing both halves of his
potentially superb halfback tandem of 24-year-old Ahman Green
(excellent in short-yardage situations) and 31-year-old Dorsey
Levens (a nifty receiver), who suffered a broken left hand in the
first preseason game but could play in the opener. Sherman says
he's comfortable playing either back in any situation, given how
well Green's all-around skills developed after Levens went down
with a knee injury halfway through last season.
Despite all their injuries, the Packers showed a lot of heart
last season. In going 9-7 they beat more winning teams (six) than
any other team in the league. They won three times with field
goals late in the game, and they defeated the Vikings in
overtime. After a ghastly 31-14 Monday-night loss to the Panthers
dropped Green Bay to 5-7, the Pack won its last four games,
nearly making the playoffs by edging Tampa Bay in the season
finale. Says Butler, "Coach was a big reason we didn't quit last
year. He was calm when we were down. He has more power this
season, but he hasn't changed much. You still want to play your
ass off for him."
On a sweltering mid-August day, Sherman presided over a morning
of drills, ordering that they be done repeatedly until they were
completed to his satisfaction. Afterward he retreated inside the
Don Huston Center to brief the media and then drove over to
Lambeau Field, site of the Packers' offices. He had been the only
coach on the field dressed in khakis (the others wore shorts), so
he was suitably dressed when he reached his desk. That afternoon
Sherman made a trade to acquire Bills tight end Bobby Collins.
"Every morning I wake up and say, 'Wow!' about the job I have,"
says Sherman. "Then I decide I'd better get up and get something
done that day. People are counting on me."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID DUROCHIK Green was a pleasant surprise last season, leading the Packers in rushing and receiving.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER DIGGS
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Packers
"If the defense can make plays, the Pack can make the
playoffs.... They filled a need at defensive end with the kid
from Florida State, Jamal Reynolds. He's fast and has a good
nose for the ball.... They've got big question marks at
linebacker and in the secondary. Na'il Diggs underachieved last
year, but he's athletic and can run. If they ask him to
pass-rush more, he'll have to be more physical than he's been.
Both of their starting corners have had injuries, and they'll
have to show other teams they're healthy or they'll get picked
on. I like Tod McBride, their project out of UCLA. Darren
Sharper will have another big year for them at safety. They'll
move him closer to the line, and he'll blitz more. He should
make that big contract look like a wise move.... They have
questions on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. They
need a healthy Earl Dotson, and Chad Clifton needs to play as
well as he did as a rookie last season.... Brett Favre is
apparently healthy, and he's still a guy who can hurt you with
the flick of a wrist. At 32, I expect he'll learn to play it
safer, which will keep him healthier.... Their biggest problem
is at backup quarterback, where they really have nobody, and at
wide receiver, where Antonio Freeman is not a No. 1
receiver--nowhere near what he once was. Bill Schroeder is
decent, and Corey Bradford has some speed, but none of those
guys scare you.... Ten wins will be a good year."
Sept. 9 DETROIT
16 at N.Y. Giants
24 WASHINGTON (Mon.)
30 at Carolina
Oct. 7 at Tampa Bay
21 at Minnesota
28 Open date
Nov. 4 TAMPA BAY
11 at Chicago
22 at Detroit (Thurs.)
Dec. 3 at Jacksonville (Mon.)
16 at Tennessee
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 4
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .531
Games against playoff teams: 7
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics
COACH: Mike Sherman; second season with Green Bay (9-7 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 9-7 (third in NFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 23/8/15; defense 8/19/15
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Brett Favre 13 580 att. 338 comp. 58.3% 3,812 yds.
20 TDs 16 int. 78.0 rtg.
RB Ahman Green 47 263 att. 1,175 yds. 4.5 avg. 73 rec.
559 yds. 7.7 avg. 13 TDs
RB Dorsey Levens 143 77 att. 224 yds. 2.9 avg. 16 rec.
146 yds. 9.1 avg. 3 TDs
FB William Henderson 286 2 att. 16 yds. 8.0 avg. 35 rec.
234 yds. 6.7 avg. 1 TD
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Antonio Freeman 35 62 rec. 912 yds. 9 TDs
WR Bill Schroeder 101 65 rec. 999 yds. 4 TDs
WR Corey Bradford 136 no receptions in 2000
TE Bubba Franks 178 34 rec. 363 yds. 1 TD
K Ryan Longwell 132 32/32 XPs 33/38 FGs 131 pts.
PR Allen Rossum 362 29 ret. 8.6 avg. 0 TDs
KR Allen Rossum 362 50 ret. 25.8 avg. 1 TD
LT Chad Clifton 6'5" 325 lbs. 13 games 10 starts
LG Mike Wahle 6'6" 310 lbs. 16 games 6 starts
C Mike Flanagan 6'5" 297 lbs. 16 games 2 starts
RG Marco Rivera 6'4" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Mark Tauscher 6'3" 320 lbs. 16 games 14 starts
LE Vonnie Holliday 35 tackles 5 sacks
LT Russell Maryland 37 tackles 0 sacks
RT Santana Dotson 38 tackles 6 sacks
RE John Thierry 40 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Na'il Diggs 34 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Bernardo Harris 96 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Nate Wayne 105 tackles 2 sacks
CB Mike McKenzie 32 tackles 1 int.
SS LeRoy Butler 92 tackles 2 int.
FS Darren Sharper 92 tackles 9 int.
CB Tyrone Williams 59 tackles 4 int.
P Josh Bidwell 78 punts 38.5 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"Favre is apparently healthy, and he's still a guy who can hurt
you with the flick of a wrist."