Sports Illustrated came out this week with an issue focusing on the biggest “What Ifs” in sports that could have easily happened in many cases. For example:
What if Michael Jordan had succeeded at baseball?
What if Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio didn’t join the military in WWII?
What if Gary Anderson made the field goal toward the end of the 1998 NFC Championship Game? (Forever one of the top 5 days of my life, probably tied with my wedding day)
Initially, this seemed silly, We could all spin the wheels on these scenarios that could’ve happened, but never did and never will. However, I came to realize that it’s absolutely fascinating and entertaining to think about and discuss these scenarios, because the only thing that’s guaranteed is the unknown. Are these hypothetical and pointless? Yes. But so are mock drafts. Plus, it’s fun to talk about with your friends and makes your significant others roll their eyes.
With that being the case, the wheels began turning on the biggest “What Ifs” of past Packers draft history. Let’s take a ride and explore what could have been if a couple of big Packers drafts had gone a little differently…
What if the Packers didn’t draft Tony Mandarich?
You can’t make up this scenario. The Packers had the 2nd overall pick in the 1989 NFL draft. Four of the first five picks were eventual Hall of Famers. One was a massive bust. As we all know, that bust was a Green Bay Packer! So, what could’ve happened had Green Bay drafted any of the other four all-time greats?
- Packers draft Barry Sanders. The best RB of all time would’ve been okay, I guess. The Packers were riding the Don Majkowski train at this time, so would the addition of Sanders have taken some of the burden and potential injuries off of Majkowski? Yes. But, Detroit never established a franchise QB with Sanders in town, so it still could’ve been possible that Ron Wolf still comes in and trades for Brett Favre, and Green Bay spends the ’90s with him and Sanders in the backfield. Both take much burden off of each other’s positions, and the Packers have an all-time offensive dynasty. Keep the Reggie White signing in play, and we could easily be looking at the Packers with as many Lombardi trophies in the 90s as Dallas had…
- Packers draft Derrick Thomas. First, RIP to Thomas. He was a monster and died tragically while still playing at an All-Pro level. If Thomas keeps the same trajectory with the Packers as he did with the Chiefs, then does he team up with Reggie White while Favre pilots the offense, and Green Bay has a top tier defense to go along with the best QB of the ’90s? Again, it’s hard to imagine the decade without trophies piling up.
- Packers draft Deion Sanders. Favre and Sanders were teammates in Atlanta during Favre’s rookie year, but the scenario was much different. Charles Woodson and Aaron Rodgers were a good HOF combination to have, so Prime Time certainly could have helped matters in Green Bay, baggage included.
- Packers draft Troy Aikman. This is the least likely, with the Packers riding the Majkowski train at the time and Aikman was picked first anyway. If Aikman is drafted by the Packers though, does he have the success he did with Dallas? Probably not, because the Vikings wouldn’t have shipped the farm to Green Bay like they did to Dallas for Herschel Walker. Aikman benefited from superior talent around him. He probably would’ve been good enough for the Favre scenario to never happen, though.
What if the 49ers drafted Aaron Rodgers instead of Alex Smith?
Does one of the most memorable NFL draft stories in history become Alex Smith sitting in New York, waiting, waiting, waiting? Does Aaron Rodgers get thrown immediately into the fray in San Francisco and still succeed? Does Rodgers ever adjust from holding the ball near the earhole of his helmet and looking weird as hell the second he drops back?
When I was in college in 2007, Rodgers was on the Packers Tailgate Tour. They made a stop in Eau Claire, and partied that night at The Pickle, which is a bar notorious for being shady and dirty; yet it was the place that many people love but would never admit it. The Pickle was most famous for their “Brett Favre” shot, which I believe is a combination of Bacardi-O and Red Bull. The legend goes that a guy bought a “Brett Favre” shot for Rodgers, and he proceeded to state, “Someday, you’ll be calling this an ‘Aaron Rodgers.'” If you walk into The Pickle today, you can help yourself to as many “Aaron Rodgers” shots as you please…unless you get banned from the place for life like my friend who’ll we’ll anonymously refer to as “Murban”.
I met Rodgers at The Pickle that night, and he autographed my hat, which I proceeded to wash a handful of times and eventually lose at a party a couple of years later. Would this have been Alex Smith’s signed hat that I lost a couple years before he led the Packers to another Lombardi Trophy? My guess would be no, so I’ll forever regret losing that hat, even though I had mostly washed out the signature of of Hall of Famer from it anyway.
Could Alex Smith have watched Favre for three years and picked right up like Rodgers mostly did? Who knows. He certainly has proven to be a capable quarterback, but has never flashed any brilliance like Rodgers has given us for about a decade now.
Thankfully, the Tony Mandarich draft has been redeemed by the Aaron Rodgers draft. There are a plethora of “What Ifs” to talk about, but at least the Packers have rings over that period of time, while the rest of the NFC Norse cannot say the same.
Here are a few other Packers “what ifs” to chew on:
What if they had stopped the Eagles on 4th and 26? (Sharper deserves his prison sentence for giving up that play alone)
What if instant replay was around to prove that Jerry Rice fumbled in the ’98 Wild Card game?
What if Sterling Sharpe’s career had not ended prematurely by a neck injury?
What if Green Bay acquiesced to Favre in 2008 and let him join the team again after “retirement”?
What if Mark Chmura didn’t step into the hot tub?
________________John Piotrowski is a UW-Eau Claire alum, spending most of his life in western WI. He makes the trek east to Lambeau whenever possible. Follow him on twitter at @piosGBP.