Greetings to you, and welcome to what I call, “The Packers Multiverse.” To get away from the repetitive speculation of the offseason, I wanted to do something fun. In each episode, I will be taking a piece of Green Bay Packers history, and twisting it a little, or a lot. We will be traveling to different Multiverse’s where decisions or outcomes were made different. Would it turn out better? Or would it turn out worse? We can only find out by entering, The Packers Multiverse.
If you were a Packer fan growing up in the 1990s, you knew who Barry Sanders was. He was the legendary running back for the Detroit Lions that would continually be a thorn in the Packers side. His success didn’t always translate to victories over the Green and Gold, but it always made things close.
There’s a chance you might not know that the Packers could’ve drafted Barry Sanders in the 1989 draft. Instead, they took Offensive Tackle, Tony Mandarich 2nd overall. Leaving Sanders to be drafted 3rd to the Lions. Mandarich, a bust, Sanders, a legend. It’s easily the Packers biggest draft mistake in history.
We now visit the Multiverse where the Packers drafted Barry Sanders, instead of Mandarich.
The 1989 Packers
At 2nd overall, the Packers drafted running back, Barry Sanders. They had a decent running back in Brent Fullwood, but Sanders took them to a whole new level opening up the offense. Suddenly, they were a duel threat. They had a dynamic receiver in Sterling Sharpe coming off a good rookie season. They were also putting their full faith in young Quarterback, Don Majkowski.
The addition of rookie of the year, Barry Sanders propels them to an unprecedented 13-3 record. They achieved the 2nd seed in the NFC Playoffs, reaching the Conference Championship. But they ran into a buzz-saw of a San Francisco 49ers team, falling short of the Super Bowl.
They begin building around their offense having two of the most dynamic weapons in the league. But due to losing Majkowski for 8 games in 1990 due to injury, they fall flat with a 7-9 record. 1991 again brings bad luck, they win several close games, again ending the season 7-9 but Majkowski’s health again plays a factor.
This is where history doesn’t quite continue as some may think.
The Brett Favre Factor
Many drool at the prospect of Brett Favre, Barry Sanders, Sterling Sharpe, and Reggie White on the same team. They think it’s obvious if the Packers drafted Sanders. But actually, I don’t think it comes true.
The Packers have a generational talent in Sanders at running back and they start to build around him. I think they win a few more games with Sanders in the mix. But due to Quarterback health woes, they just don’t make it over the hump like they did in 1989. I think that the 1989 success, and the crutch of the issues with Majkowski’s health, buys coach Lindy Infante more time, as well as GM Tom Braatz.
Instead of the famous Ron Wolf trade for Brett Favre, I think possibly the Packers look to the draft. They select Craig Erickson in the 4th round as a Majkowski backup plan. After Majkowski goes down in week 3, Erickson takes over. With Sanders to take the load off his back a bit, I think Erickson sees some success.
However, I see this being more of the same career for Barry Sanders.
Same ole same ole
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I feel like the Packers with Barry Sanders wouldn’t be too much different than the Lions with Barry Sanders.
The Packers were put over the top in 1992 when Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf took over. As I said, I feel like Sanders’ success might have helped buy the current regime more time. Meaning no Holmgren or Wolf.
Perhaps a Dave Wannstedt or Wade Phillips take over in 1993 at head coach. But without a great QB to get them over the hump, I’m not so sure the 1990s Packers reach the promised land.
Barry Sanders perhaps helps the Packers to a few division titles in the 1990s. Maybe even another Conference Championship appearance. But never the Super Bowl without that great Quarterback.
The Blunder Saved the Franchise
After traveling to this Multiverse, an odd truth has been revealed. Drafting Tony Mandarich was indeed a blunder. But it was a blunder that set off a chain reaction that may have saved the Packers Franchise.
Missing in the 1989 Draft caused the Packers to never really improve as a whole. 1989 was a decent success. But 1990 and 1991 exposed truths that without a new direction, the Packers had nothing. This caused the Franchise to go in a new direction with coach and GM.
As we know, 1992 was a pivotal year for the Packers Franchise that shaped it into what we know today. So, we’ll let the Lions keep Barry Sanders, this Multiverse shows we were better off without him.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.