GREEN BAY, Wis. -- People in Green Bay and fans of the Packers love to hate the Seattle Seahawks after the infamous Fail Mary play in the 2012 meeting between the two teams.
Yet there’s a segment of them who likely will be rooting for the Seahawks against the Denver Broncos on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII. They’re the ones who know John Schneider, the Seahawks’ 42-year-old general manager whose ties to this city and his old team run deep.
Schneider grew up just a few miles from Lambeau Field in the neighboring town of De Pere, Wis., which is essentially an extension of the Green Bay city limits. He was a high school football standout as a running back at a private, catholic high school that no longer exists. And he began his NFL scouting career as an intern for the Packers under then-general manager Ron Wolf, who only hired Schneider because of his persistence.
While in college, Schneider wrote a letter to Wolf asking for an opportunity as a volunteer scout. Wolf replied with a rejection letter, so Schneider wrote him again. Another rejection letter followed, so Schneider wrote again.
Many years later, Schneider admitted, “I kind of stalked him a little bit.”
Finally, Wolf told Schneider he would get in touch with him after the 1992 draft, Wolf’s first in Green Bay. Yet Schneider heard nothing. Six weeks went by before a friend convinced Schneider to just call Wolf directly.
So he did.
That led to an internship in Wolf's scouting department for the summer of 1992 to jobs as a pro personnel assistant with the Packers (1993-96) to Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel (1997-99) to stints with the Seahawks (2000) and Washington Redskins (2001) as vice president of player personnel and then back to the Packers (2002-2009) as a one of the top personnel advisers.
Of all the participants in Super Bowl XLVIII, no one has stronger ties to Green Bay and the Packers than Schneider.
“Growing up there and having different people reach out to you, this week has been really neat to get text messages and emails from people back there,” Schneider said during a phone interview on Friday from the Seahawks’ Super Bowl headquarters in Jersey City, N.J. “It’s cool because it’s such a small community, but yet you have that strong football foundation.”
Schneider’s foundation is rooted in Wolf’s beliefs. Though he and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have forged their own identity as one of the most aggressive and compatible coach-GM combinations in the league, Schneider still calls on what he learned from Wolf and current Packers general manager Ted Thompson, another Wolf protégé.
“I think there’s a lot of Ron in this just because of the philosophical foundation of how you approach acquisitions,” Schneider said. “So I think it’s huge.”
Together, Schneider and Carroll have formed an unusual approach to signing, drafting and trading for players. In their first season together, they made an astounding 284 player transactions. Schneider also hit on a quarterback, when he drafted Russell Wilson in the third round in 2012, something for which Carroll gives full credit to Schneider.
“John and I have joined together aggressively to compete at every single turn, at every opportunity whatever it may be, to see if there’s something in there for us,” Carroll said during one of his Super Bowl week news conferences. “He’s done a great job of having the competitive will to keep pushing and fighting and clawing and scratching to have the opportunity that has sent us down the read early on with the hundreds of guys that came through the program.”
Schneider’s parents still live in Green Bay. As do some of his best friends, including the one who convinced him to make that call to Wolf. All of them will be at MetLife Stadium for Sunday's game.
There are plenty of people who wonder whether Schneider will be the Packers' next general manager. Thompson turned 61 on Jan. 17 and some within the organization believe he may walk away after his contract expires following the 2015 season.
That’s not a topic Schneider is comfortable discussing.
Instead, he’d rather swap stories about his friends who remain back in his hometown and talk about players who have ties to the Packers. He has two of them on his roster, right tackle Breno Giacomini and punter Jon Ryan. He signed Giacomini off the Packers practice squad in 2010, but he inherited Ryan, who had signed with the Seahawks early in the 2008 season after the Packers cut him.
The person responsible for telling Ryan the Packers planned to release him? That was Schneider.
“This is kind of a funny story,” Schneider said. “Jon Ryan’s brother after the (NFC Championship) game the other night was like, 'Hey man, ‘I’m glad you’re doing well now, but I wanted to kick your butt because you cut my brother.'
“Both players, Breno and Jon, have obviously improved since leaving Green Bay.”
The same could be said for Schneider.
The only question is, will he ever come back?