- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To this day, Bob Harlan insists he's not sure what would have happened to the Green Bay Packers if they didn't start winning in the 1990s.
Maybe they would have survived. But maybe pro football in the NFL's smallest city would have eventually gone away.
Thanks in large part to Harlan's decision to hire Ron Wolf as general manager in 1991, they never had to worry.
"I know what Ron will say: 'Without Brett, without Mike, without Reggie [the turnaround wouldn't have happened],' but that's what's great about Ron Wolf," former Packers quarterback Brett Favre said Friday in a telephone interview. "He's humble, modest, and he's a quiet guy. He's just not going to ever say that he was instrumental in that, nor should he. But the bottom line is it's the truth. Someone had to turn things around. And he did it."
Because of it, Wolf was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Harlan hired Wolf on Nov. 27, 1991. At that point, the Packers had exactly one playoff win -- in a wild-card game in the strike-shortened 1982 season -- since their latest championship under Vince Lombardi in Super Bowl II on Jan. 14, 1967.
Wolf acted swiftly when he arrived in Green Bay. Four days after he was introduced, he and Harlan sat in the press box in Atlanta, where the Packers played the Falcons. Wolf told Harlan he planned to trade for Favre, a backup with the Falcons. Back in Green Bay the next day, after a 35-31 loss to the Falcons, Wolf went to see his first Packers practice.
"He comes into my office," Harlan said, "and he says, 'You've got a problem on your practice field. This team is 4-10, and they're walking around like they're 10-4. We're going to make a change.' He had basically decided in two days on the job that Brett Favre was going to be our quarterback, and Lindy Infante was finished [as coach]."
With Wolf as general manager, Mike Holmgren as head coach and Favre as quarterback, the Packers went 75-37 in the regular season, 9-5 in the postseason and to two Super Bowls. They won No. XXXI. Holmgren left after the 1998 season, and Wolf stayed on for two more years, which gave him a total record (including playoffs) of 101-57 in nine seasons. Unlike when Lombardi left, there would be no falloff in Green Bay after Wolf retired.
"The thing that pleased me is that after 24 years of bad football, thanks to Ron and Mike Holmgren and now Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, we've had 23 years of very good football," Harlan said. "It's been a huge turnaround, but I don't know where we'd be [without Wolf]."
Even though Wolf retired in 2001, his fingerprints remain all over the Packers. He hired Thompson, the current GM, as a scout in 1992, and his son, Eliot, is the Packers' director of player personnel. Four other Wolf disciples -- John Dorsey (Kansas City), Reggie McKenzie (Oakland), Scot McCloughan (Washington) and John Schneider (Seattle) -- currently hold GM posts.
"I think it was a combination of the leadership team in place with Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren," said Dorsey, who played for the Packers from 1984-88 and then worked under Wolf as a scout. "He's a stickler for doing it the right way. He was a big part, instrumentally, in terms of changing that culture and that environment. I would say that it was a huge step in laying the foundation for where that organization is today."
628dRob Demovsky and Pat McManamon