NFC North: Curly Lambeau

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Curly Lambeau, who checks in at No. 10 on ESPN's ranking of the best coaches in NFL history, wasn't just the Green Bay Packers' first coach.

A Green Bay native, Lambeau helped organize the initial meeting in 1919 to form the organization that eventually became the most unique professional sports franchise in the United States. The Packers became the Packers, in fact, because Lambeau was working for the Indian Packing Company at the time.

According to the official team history, Lambeau was a $250-per-month shipping clerk but managed to talk the company into spending $500 to pay for the new football team's jerseys. Hence, the "Packers" were born.

At 21, Lambeau became the Packers player-captain-coach. His career record of 226-132-22 as a coach makes him one of seven coaches to top the 200-victory mark. He won six NFL championships, was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and, oh yeah, has a stadium named after him. I'm glad to see our modern-day committee didn't forget there was a man before there was Lambeau Field.

Earlier: Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant checked in at No. 15 on this list.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

The most important moment in Green Bay Packers history was nearly scuttled by an unlikely source. Shortly after Vince Lombardi accepted the Packers' job as head coach/general manager in 1959, his wife was "distraught," according to historian David Maraniss.

Marie Lombardi approached New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, who owned Lombardi's contract as a Giants assistant coach. As Maraniss writes in "When Pride Still Mattered," Marie begged Mara to block her husband's move.

[+] EnlargeVince Lombardi
AP PhotoCoach Vince Lombardi (upper right) led the Packers to five championship wins in seven seasons.
Mara declined, knowing Vince was ready to be a head coach. Marie stood by her husband. And the rest, as they say, is Packers history.

Lombardi's arrival in Green Bay was your overwhelming choice as the Packers' Flash Point, and it received a higher percentage of votes (69 percent) than any individual event offered in last week's series of polls. Lombardi won his first NFL title in 1961 and collected four more before giving up the job in 1967, building an unmatched legend and painting the franchise in gold mystique for generations to come.

Some of you made impassioned arguments for Curly Lambeau's push to sell stock and make the franchise a non-profit organization in 1923, a short-term fundraising effort that embedded a structure still in operation today. "How can it not be Curly?" wrote mallow420. "If Curly doesn't save the Packers then there's no Packers to hire Lombardi."

Hadessniper allowed that "Lambeau making the Packers public is more important for the Packers, as without that there is simply no way Green Bay keeps a team." But, wrote hadessniper, "Lombardi is probably more important for the NFL as a whole. The NFL was gaining popularity, but Lombardi gave the game a legend. Without Lombardi the NFL wouldn't be what it is today."

Timarquardt was more direct: "Get back to me when someone else wins five championships in seven years. That's Lombardi's legacy and with all due credit to Curly, he did it when there was a bunch of good teams. Curly saved the franchise, obviously important, but without those Lombardi years the team never would have had the following through the dark years of the '70s and '80s to be successful."

What's fascinating to me is that Lambeau actually wanted Lombardi's job in 1959, a decade after an internal power struggle led to Lambeau's ouster. As Maraniss recounts, Lambeau flew to Green Bay during the interview process and launched a campaign to capture at least the general manager position that Lombardi ultimately filled. Dominic Olejniczak, president of the Packers board of directors, resisted the urge to hire him despite heavy public support.

The Flash Point mandate was less clear for the NFC North's other three teams. Let's sort through them in alphabetical order:

BEARS: A hero of 1985

About half of you voted for the arrival of defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the architect of the 46 defense that led the Bears to a championship in 1985.

Buddy Ryan
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesBuddy Ryan's 46 defense formed the identity of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears team.
Lewie21982 was livid and wrote: "Who are these people voting?? Are you just idiot baby boomers, hippies, or the '80s mullet crowd??? I was born in the '80s and clearly know the decision of drafting Red Grange or instituting the T-Formation was the most significant thing the Bears have ever done. The Bears have nine championships and eight of them were before Buddy Ryan, Mike Ditka, or the 46 defense ever came around!!"

I hear ya, Lewie21982. Red Grange made the Bears an early heavy hitter in pro football, and George Halas' schematic innovations led to the golden age in franchise history -- four world titles in seven years between 1940-46. But I understand where the baby boomers, hippies and mulleteers were going.

The 1985 Bears were the best team in franchise history and one of the most dominant of the NFL's post-merger era. With all due respect to Ditka and running back Walter Payton, Ryan's 46 defense was the biggest reason. It's impossible for a single moment to spawn something so impactful, and I heard a suggestion for ex-general manager Jim Finks acquiring many of that team's stars. But without Buddy Ryan, the 46 defense doesn't exist and the 1985 Bears as they were known never come to be.

LIONS: Forgetting yesteryear

The Detroit Lions' Flash Point vote got more action than any team in the division, garnering more than 53,000 votes. On that, we can agree.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Barry Sanders
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders had a Hall of Fame career but couldn't get the Lions a championship.
But did the decision to draft running back Barry Sanders have more impact than any other event in franchise history? About 60 percent of you thought so, although the comments reflected a wider disparity.

I'm not on board, and neither was j_sleik83. We agree that quarterback Bobby Layne brought the Lions what Sanders never did. J_sleik83: "Bobby Layne in combination with the Hall of Fame defensive backfield the Lions had during the entirety of the '50s IS their defining era. Barry Sanders didn't lead them to the promised land, Layne did."

I mean no disrespect to Sanders, who forged a Hall of Fame career on some otherwise undermanned teams. But with Layne behind center, the Lions won NFL titles in 1952 and 1953. He contributed to a third in 1957, and upon his subsequent departure, Layne placed a (possibly apocryphal) 50-year curse on the franchise. (For that reason, DWargs thought trading Layne away is the defining moment in franchise history: "Haven't gotten close to a championship since.")

Several of you pointed to the ownership of the Ford family as the primary reason for that dubious run. Regardless, I understand that Lions history is defined more by failure than success. But on an otherwise desultory landscape, the Lions once had a brilliant run. Bobby Layne was the single biggest reason why.

VIKINGS: Varied opinions

I did either an excellent or terrible job of choosing options for the Minnesota Vikings' Flash Point: All four possibilities received between 19 and 32 percent of the vote. Assembling the "Purple People Eaters" had the highest percentage, but its total was hardly a mandate among the 38,000 or so votes cast.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota coach Bud Grant
AP Photo/Jack ThornellBud Grant won 152 games as coach over 18 seasons.
Scanning the comments, it was clear that you agreed on only one thing: A Vikings Flash Point needed to reflect a long history of dysfunction.

Even looking beyond the obvious, Ymacdaddy offered this litany: "Herschel Walker, Metrodome [collapse], Gary Anderson, Dimitrius Underwood, too many in huddle, big-game chokers, etc. How about Darrin Nelson before Marcus Allen?"

The 1989 Walker trade, in which the Vikings ultimately gave up five players and six draft choices, received multiple mentions. So did Gary Anderson's shocking field goal miss in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. BuckeyeVikes80 is "still reeling from that 12 years later."

Dbatten1 noted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach's Hail Mary pass to Drew "Push" Pearson in the 1975 playoffs. TampaPacMan's moment was the final play of the 2003 season, when the Vikings lost the NFC North title and a playoff berth by giving up an improbable touchdown to Arizona Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole. It was "the signature moment in a franchise history littered with failures!" wrote TampaPacMan.

If it were up to me, Bud Grant's arrival would rank as the most significant moment in Vikings history. Many of us would agree that Grant has made the single-biggest impact in this franchise's 50 years. But what do I know? I just work here.

What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Packers -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we'll give you our definitive moment on May 17.

There might not be an NFL team with a richer history than the Green Bay Packers, a unique franchise with 13 championships to its name. We're only brushing the surface.

The Packers began play in 1919 but soon fell on financial hard times. Ultimately, team founder Curly Lambeau arrived on a business model that has prevailed ever since. In 1923, he convinced local businessmen to buy stock in the company and made it a non-profit organization. (Historians might also note that the NFL's revenue-sharing model has had at least an equal role in the Packers' survival.)

The Packers hadn't had a winning season in 12 years when they hired new coach Vince Lombardi in 1959. What followed was one of the most remarkable and memorable runs by a professional sports team in any league.

Lombardi's departure sent the Packers spiraling for decades, and it wasn't until they hired general manager Ron Wolf in 1991 that their fortunes changed. Wolf made two huge acquisitions within weeks of each other, hiring coach Mike Holmgren on Jan. 11, 1992, and trading for quarterback Brett Favre on Feb. 10, 1992.

Favre's career falls under the Wolf category for the purposes of this project. At the same time, it's hard to imagine the Packers winning a Super Bowl within three years of his departure had they not drafted his replacement in 2005. Aaron Rodgers spent three years developing behind Favre and then was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV last season.

Use the module in this post to cast your vote. If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8