Q&A: Bob Harlan on How Difficult it is to Stay on Top
Former Green Bay Packers president and Packers Hall of Famer Bob Harlan has been kind enough to tell us about some of the defining moments of his career. This week, we asked him about the mood surrounding the organization after losing Super Bowl XXXII and about how difficult it is to stay on top.
Q: Although the 1997 season was successful, was there a feeling in the organization that maybe our time had passed after losing to the Broncos? Obviously, there was continued success, but those teams never reached that Super Bowl level again.
A: Following the loss to Denver in the Super Bowl I never heard anyone say that they felt our time had passed. Both Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson told me later on that they felt the team we had in the late 1990s was good enough to win two, and maybe three, Super Bowls.
Q: We can all imagine, but you’re one of the few people who would actually know. Can you tell us how tough it is to stay at that level and sustain that type of success in the NFL? It seems to be getting tougher and tougher.
A: Staying at the top for a long period of time is extremely difficult. Just consider the history of the Packers. After Curly Lambeau’s years, we had a very difficult time winning in the 1950s. It wasn’t until Vince Lombardi arrived in Green Bay in 1959 that we returned to be a respectable franchise. After Lombardi ended his coaching career, the Packers went through two decades of turmoil.
We had just four winning seasons and two playoff appearances in the 1970s and 1980s. We hired five coaches during that period, and each coach had a lower winning percentage than the coach he replaced. We were like a stairway going down.
I heard from fans who felt the Packers would never again play at a high level. Fans would call me and say that the league had passed us by, that we would never win again and that the Lombardi years were the last great era the Packers would ever have.
But then Ron Wolf arrived in Green Bay and character and dignity were restored to the franchise. He hired Mike Holmgren as coach, traded for an Atlanta backup quarterback that no one ever heard of named Brett Favre and signed Reggie White as a free agent. In just their fifth year together, 1996, the Packers had a 13-3 record and won Super Bowl XXXI. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have continued that success, and Green Bay, in the last 20 years, has had 16 winning seasons, made the playoffs 14 times and won two Super Bowls.
So the Packers have been an elite franchise for the last 20 years and the future is very bright. To be that successful for 20 years in this league is extremely difficult, and the key, I think, is to have excellent people making your football decisions. We have numerous fans who have no idea how we struggled in the ’70s and ’80s, but those of us who lived through those tough times have a great appreciation for the success we have enjoyed since Wolf and Holmgren arrived in town in 1992.