Greetings, and welcome back to what I call, “The Packers Multiverse.” As I said last episode, 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.
He was the coach at the helm of an era that is synonymous with resurrecting the Green Bay Packers franchise. Hired to the Green and Gold in 1992, Mike Holmgren had his work cut out for him. The Packers had limped through the first two seasons of the 1990’s only winning 10 out of 32 games.
Not only was Holmgren tasked with turning the team around, he was also asked to develop a young gun-slinging Quarterback named Brett Favre. This young gunslinger would end up being his starting Quarterback from the fourth game of the season, until the final game he coached in Green Bay.
Along the way, Holmgren achieved a 75-37 regular season record with the Packers with six playoff appearances including two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl victory in 1997. His gun-slinging development project ended up becoming one of the best Quarterbacks in NFL history.
This came to an end however, when Holmgren longed for a dual-role position. Holmgren didn’t want to just be a head coach, he wanted to be GM as well. He wanted to make the personnel decisions himself and not have to answer to someone else in that regard. With Ron Wolf still in the GM position, this was not going to happen. After the 1998 season concluded, the Packers gave Holmgren a 21-day window to find a dual-role position. He found one, with the Seattle Seahawks very quickly, and left the Green Bay Packers behind.
Oddly enough, 2 years later, Ron Wolf retired. He handed over GM duties to then-coach Mike Sherman, which led to some questionable years. What if Wolf just retired two years early? Or what if he had told Holmgren of his plans to retire and Holmgren stuck around?
We now visit the Multiverse where Ron Wolf turned over GM duties, to Head Coach, Mike Holmgren.
The Turnover of Power
After Coach Holmgren had made his wishes known to have a dual-role position in 1998, Packers GM Ron Wolf needed to ponder a decision. Did he risk losing the best head coach this franchise had had since Vince Lombardi so he could stick around just a bit longer? Or did he perhaps retire a bit early into maybe an advisory position and let Holmgren take the full helm? Retirement and advisement it was.
Following the 1998 season, the Packers would have Mike Holmgren as their Head Coach, and General Manager. Ron Wolf would take a big step back relinquishing full control. But he would still help Holmgren with any assistance he may have needed until Wolf decided on full retirement.
Without having to face learning under a new Head Coach, Legendary Defensive End Reggie White promises Holmgren he’ll play one more season for the Packers. Also, that he’ll take a small pay-cut so the Packers can still re-sign George Koonce, Santana Dotson, and Antonio Freeman to long-term deals. It becomes the 1999 version of “running it back.”
With the vast majority of their team returning after the upset in San Francisco the previous year, these Packers were ready for revenge. They powered their way to a 13-3 regular season once again and were the number one seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were rolling but could not overcome the Packers in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Then the greatest show on turf came to Green Bay as the St. Louis Rams faced the Packers in the NFC Championship. But without the turf, the Rams couldn’t get their offense going full speed and the Packers defeated them in a close game to earn their third Super Bowl berth in 4 years.
On the other side of the NFL, the Tennessee Titans were a worthy opponent, but the Packers would defeat them in a close game to win Super Bowl 34.
Drafting Shaun Alexander
Heading in to the 2000 season, the Packers were starting to lose older players to retirement or free agency. One dire position of need became running back before the Packers offense risked becoming one-dimensional. Luckily, Mike Holmgren had a running back that he really liked and was willing to make some moves to get him.
Heading in to the 2000 draft, GM Holmgren orchestrated a trade-up to select running back, Shaun Alexander. Alexander would have a ho-hum rookie campaign splitting carries with veteran Dorsey Levens, but would have his breakout the following year in 2001.
With a dual threat in Alexander, the Packers returned to contend for another Lombardi trophy in 2002, 2003, and 2005. Winning 2 out of 3.
Mike Holmgren continues to build a winner into the future.
Brett Favre’s Benefit
As we look back at Brett Favre’s career, there is one person who is responsible for the majority of that success. That is Mike Holmgren. Favre was considered a loose cannon until Holmgren got ahold of him. Favre says to this day that if Holmgren stuck around Green Bay, they may have won more championships. Holmgren called Favre “the son he never had.”
With Holmgren keeping Favre grounded and helping give him what he needed to be successful, I think the Packers indeed would have won more Super Bowls. Mike Sherman was a good coach. But where he lacked, I believe, was keeping Favre on the ground. This led to many playoff blunders that I think Holmgren would have kept him in-check for. Hence my thoughts of more Super Bowl wins.
To the Future
Mike Holmgren finished his time as a Head Coach in 2008 in this multiverse. In this alternate one, given his great success, he takes a step back after a Super Bowl victory in 2005 and remains General Manager, but hires a new head coach.
As crazy as it would be, Holmgren may have liked Mike McCarthy coming from a West-Coast offense background and history in this multiverse repeats with Mike McCarthy being hired as the Packers new head coach.
The question of a Quarterback after Brett Favre may remain different, however. Let’s say after his fourth Super Bowl win in 2005, and with his Green Bay career-long head coach stepping back, Brett Favre decides to call it a career in 2005. As hard as it is to believe, he started contemplating retirement at this time, and with nothing to prove, he may have just done it.
This leaves the Packers needing a Quarterback in the 2006 Draft Class, or a free agent. The 2006 Draft Quarterbacks are questionable. Brett Favre’s retirement has left the Packers with some pretty decent cap space as they decide to make a push for signing Drew Brees from the San Diego Chargers and succeed. Brees and the Packers go on to have even more success with coach Mike McCarthy and GM Mike Holmgren, and the rest is history.
Of course, this is all “what if?” I truly believe though, that a continued Mike Holmgren presence in Green Bay would’ve generated further success. I think Brett Favre quite possibly could have won 2-3 more Super Bowls with Holmgren keeping him grounded and building the team around him.
Let’s be honest. Mike Sherman as a GM was a horrible blunder that should never have happened. In Ron Wolf’s great career, that may have been one of his worst decisions giving Sherman the reins that belonged to Holmgren.
Holmgren built a winner in Seattle, so I think Holmgren would’ve built a much better team in Green Bay. The early 2000s would’ve seen the Packers with even greater success.
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.