20 years later Reggie White’s impact is still felt in Green Bay

Reggie White sacks Drew Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI

20 years ago on Monday an announcement was made that sent shock waves throughout the National Football League. The highest prized free-agent, The Minister of Defense, Reggie White was signing with the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers, once a very proud franchise had been floundering. In the 1960s the Packers were the team of the decade, winning five championships including the first two Super Bowls. After Super Bowl II, the great Vince Lombardi retired and sent the Packers into oblivion. They were unable to return to their championship form that Lombardi had established under a mixture of coaches attempting to live up to that standard. In 1992 the Packers hired a coach that was a disciple of Bill Walsh that went by the name of Mike Holmgren. Holmgren’s hiring paired with Ron Wolf gave the Packers stable leadership going forward. When Wolf was brought to Green Bay he made a bold move before White when he traded a first-round pick for a little known quarterback from Southern Mississippi with character issues that went by the name of Brett Favre. These men are three of the pillars that helped return Green Bay to prominence, but there was something missing.

At the time Green Bay was considered a last resort for players. With Free Agency beginning in 1993, it was looking more likely that the small-market Packers would fall further behind big market teams like the Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys. When White hit the open market it came as a surprise to many as he was widely considered one of the top defensive players in the game. Teams vying for his services include the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, and Green Bay Packers. With those other teams in the mix it appeared unlikely the Packers would be able to land him.

When White was asked about where he would play, White responded saying he would go where God told him to. This is where the story takes an interesting twist. After hearing that quote Packers Coach Mike Holmgren left a voicemail on White’s answering machine. The message was that God was calling, and wanted Reggie to play in Green Bay. White found the message funny, and shortly signed in Green Bay. This was far more than just a boost to the Packers defense, it was a message to the rest of the league. It is acceptable to choose to play in Green Bay.

White’s presence of course had an impact on the field as well. Combined with the careful leadership of Holmgren, and the improvement of Favre the Packers became contenders. They were unable to get over the final hurdle, however. Perhaps the most painful loss in Packers history to date was the 1995 NFC Championship Game to their arch enemy, the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers would continue to improve, but could not get past the Cowboys. In 1996, it was simply time. The Packers needed to prove whether they were going to be a championship team, or just another contender. White’s leadership set the mantra for the season. Before every game before the Packers broke the huddle they would yell the word dominate, as White requested.  The Packers did just that, rolling to a 13-3 record and clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs ensuring one thing. The Dallas Cowboys would have to come to Lambeau this time instead of the Packers going to their house of horrors, Texas Stadium.

That scenario never played out, as the Cowboys lost to the upstart Carolina Panthers in the divisional round. The Packers disposed of the Carolina Panthers returning them to a stage they had not been to in 29 years, the Super Bowl. The Packers had not won a championship in 29 years, and White had never won one at any level. Much like 2010-11 with Charles Woodson, in 1996-97 it was much discussed how much a title would mean to White. Along with the desire for a championship, there was also extra fuel for White to prove he could perform on the big stage. In 1995 White was dominated by Cowboys right tackle Erik Williams, prompting some to question whether he was able to come through in a big spot.

White was quiet through most of the first three quarters of Super Bowl XXXI, but after Desmond Howard returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, White made his presence felt in a big way. He sacked Bledsoe on back to back plays, marking one of Jim Irwin’s most famous radio calls saying, “Reggie got him again!” White added one more sack on the final drive of the game, sealing the Packers first title since Lombardi was the coach. It was White’s first championship at any level and it signified that the Pack were back.

The Packers first Super Bowl since 1967 set them on a path that allowed them to contend for a significant amount of time. Since White signed in Green Bay, the Packers have only suffered through two losing seasons, have been to five NFC Championship games, three Super Bowls, and two championships. More importantly White established a standard that mediocrity was unacceptable.

White retired in 1999 following the Packers shocking first round exit in the playoffs, marking the end of an era.

White signed 20 years ago on Monday, and when he did it gave the Packers defense a backbone but it was his all-around impact in becoming the fourth pillar in the foundation that is the modern view of the Green Bay Packers franchise that makes him the greatest Packer of all time.

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Jacob Westendorf is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Jacob on twitter at

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