Third & Goal

On January 12, 2000, Packers general manager Ron Wolf phoned Mike Holmgren for permission to contact Mike Sherman about the head coaching vacancy in Green Bay. It was not a crank call. Wolf had recently fired Ray Rhodes, whom he’d hired a year earlier to replace Holmgren, who had left Green Bay to become head coach/GM of the Seattle Seahawks. Holmgren – hired by Wolf to coach the Packers in 1992 – had brought Sherman to Green Bay in 1997 to coach tight ends. When Holmgren moved west in 1999, Sherman followed and was named offensive coordinator for the Seahawks.…

On January 12, 2000, Packers general manager Ron Wolf phoned Mike Holmgren for permission to contact Mike Sherman about the head coaching vacancy in Green Bay.

It was not a crank call.

Wolf had recently fired Ray Rhodes, whom he’d hired a year earlier to replace Holmgren, who had left Green Bay to become head coach/GM of the Seattle Seahawks. Holmgren – hired by Wolf to coach the Packers in 1992 – had brought Sherman to Green Bay in 1997 to coach tight ends.

When Holmgren moved west in 1999, Sherman followed and was named offensive coordinator for the Seahawks.

They both were surprised when Wolf dialed up Seattle. “What do you want to do?” Holmgren asked Sherman.

“I don’t know,” Sherman said. “I don’t want to just go there for an interview if I’m not a viable candidate.”

To be sure, with only three years of NFL experience, Sherman had good cause to doubt that he was a true contender for the Packers’ top job. A former high school English teacher and assistant collegiate football coach, he had never been in charge of any team at any level anywhere.

Besides, he’d just moved his family from Green Bay to Seattle.

Besides, he was swamped with work for the Seahawks.

Besides, he barely knew Ron Wolf.

“What will you tell him?” Holmgren asked Sherman.

“I’ll say thanks,” Sherman replied. “But I’m not interested.”

Holmgren smiled.

Hatless in the morning sun, Mike Sherman shades his eyes with a clipboard and smiles proudly at a practice field alive with green and gold.

“Coaching is a lot like being a father and raising a family,” he says. “All of those things that are good qualities in a father – the discipline, the consistency, the communication skills – also apply to coaching.

“I’m not saying that these men here are my children. But in order for a team to function, there has to be loyalty, there has to be trust and there has to be respect. I raise my family the same way.”

To look at him – tall and bespectacled, brown hair flecked with gray, his pulpous 47-year-old midsection Ziplocked into a generic green nylon jacket – you would not imagine the power he wields or the degree of devotion he has come to command as head coach/general manager/executive vice president of the Green Bay Packers.

“This is what I do in my job,” says Sherman. “I pick people to put on the boat. If they start to fall out of the boat, I kick them back in. If the boat is leaking, I patch it up – I patch it up and keep it on the course I’ve mapped.”

Last January 20, exactly two years and two days into his head coaching maiden voyage, he stood in the visitors’ locker room at the Dome at America’s Center and prepared to address his team. Angry, sore and humiliated after their 45-17 loss to the Rams in the conference semifinals, the Packers were eager to leave St. Louis. Their 13-5 season was over. What was left to say?

“If all you are are football players and if all I am is a coach, then what are we?” Sherman began. “Isn’t that a very shallow life and existence? Shouldn’t we all want to be more than that?”

Patch up the boat!

“I have to bring this team together in tough times,” he says now, on the eve of his highly anticipated third turn at the helm. “Those are the defining moments. Not in victory but in defeat. Winning is a goal. But really, it’s just a byproduct of a more immediate goal. If you have your sights set only on winning, you miss an awful lot.”

Winning isn’t everything, he insists. And, with due respect to old St. Vince, neither is it the only thing. “We want to get to the Super Bowl more than anyone,” he says. “But you can’t just look at that and miss what’s right in front of you. Our locker room is right in front of me. If I do things right in there – if I make sure that everyone’s feeling good about themselves and that we have team chemistry – winning will follow.

“Look,” says Sherman. “We get paid to win football games and we will win football games. But if you think that’s all there is to this thing – if that’s what you think it’s all about – then you’ve missed the boat.”

We are in a room that no longer exists. A small room of large historical significance. A room that will have been demolished by the time you read these words.

“This is the room,” says Sherman. “This is where we did the interview. I sat on the couch, over there. And Ron was sitting here, right where I am now.”

It’s his office now – the office of the Packers’ general manager – located in an obsolete administration building scheduled to be razed as part of the $295 million Lambeau Field redevelopment project.

Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Phil Bengtson and Dan Devine all once occupied this same windowless space.

In January 2000, it belonged to Ron Wolf.

“You should never interview for a job unless you really want that job,” Sherman tells me. “When other guys say they want to just go check something out, I don’t understand it. When you go to a job interview, you’re sending a message to your present employer and taking up the valuable time of a possible future employer.”

On his desk is a miniature hourglass. There are six TV remote controls lined up precisely, side by side, between a bronzed cheese wedge (Swiss) and a leather-bound Holy Bible. On a shelf behind him stands an unframed 8-by-10 black-and-white photograph of his childhood hero, Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski.

“Whenever I’ve gone to a job interview,” Sherman is saying, “I’ve gone in like my wife and kids are out in the car with no place to stay and they haven’t eaten for a week. I’ve always felt – I need to get this job! I have never done an interview for a job I didn’t really want.” He really wanted to coach the Packers, he admits, even though he had told Mike Holmgren otherwise.

“It was an opportunity I hadn’t envisioned at that point in my career, and frankly, I couldn’t believe that I had a legitimate shot at it. So I told Mike I wasn’t interested. When I discussed it with my family, they convinced me to change my mind and go for it.”

Wolf was expected to call back to Seattle at nine the next morning. Although he had already decided to accept the interview invitation, Sherman was reluctant to do anything without speaking to Holmgren first.

“When the phone rang, I didn’t answer it,” he recalls. “Mike had not come into work yet. The phone rang again, and again I didn’t answer. I was beginning to think I was about to blow the biggest opportunity of my life.”

When Wolf contacted the Seahawks’ front desk and had him paged, Sherman finally took the call. “He asked me if I was interested in the job and I said, ‘Only if I have a legitimate chance.’ And he said, ‘I wouldn’t be calling if you didn’t.’ At that point it was Katy, Bar the Door!”

Later, when Sherman informed Holmgren of his change of heart – and of his appointment in Green Bay the upcoming Saturday – his disappointed mentor muttered, “Remember, just be yourself.”

Little did he know.

“It was probably the best advice he ever gave me,” says Sherman. “If I hadn’t worked for Mike, the Packers would never have wanted me. I’m sure they were trying to get a piece of him through me. But when I came back to meet with Ron, I didn’t try to be Mike Holmgren. I realized all I could be was Mike Sherman.”

And it worked. At least it seemed that way until Sherman excused himself to use the executive washroom four hours into his meeting with Wolf.

“I remember I thought the interview was going real well. Ron was talking to me about the team and he was being inclusive in the conversation. He was saying, ‘This is what you have here…’ and so forth. So when I got up to go to the men’s room, I was thinking, ‘Wow! I’ve got this job!’”

After he returned, he wasn’t so sure.

“When I came back into his office, this office, it was like the temperature had dropped 60 degrees. Ron just said, ‘Thanks for coming – we still need to interview some other guys.’ I asked him if I needed to rehash or clarify anything, and he just shook his head.”

Interview concluded.

“I didn’t know what happened,” says Sherman. “When we left, he drove me to the airport and neither of us said a word. Ron’s not a big talker, usually. And I didn’t want to talk myself out of anything. So there was dead silence in the car the whole way. He just dropped me off. ‘See ya later.’ Bang!

“But that’s Ron. He’s got a warm side but was born with a cold shoulder.”

“This is bullcrap! Turn this thing around!” Ross Verba was a loose cannon. Everyone knew it. He’d fought with his own teammates on the field and now, during the first week of head coach Mike Sherman’s very first summer mini-camp, the 6-foot-4-inch, 308-pound left guard evidently had flipped out and hijacked the Packers’ team bus.

“Turn this thing around!” he angrily ordered the driver. “It’s too damn hot to practice!” he raged, as startled players and assistant coaches watched from their seats.

The bus was Sherman’s innovation.

“When you get guys together on a bus, they tend to laugh and make jokes,” he says. “We hold practice just down the hill, but I thought by riding over there together, the team would get closer and develop chemistry.

“In football,” he explains, “you have all these diverse groups – offensive line, running backs, defensive backs. The bus was a way to get all those groups to intermingle and bond and learn who else was on their team.”

It seemed like a good idea. “As a coach, I try to be creative,” says Sherman. “This is a long process, and these players hear me, at minimum, probably four or five times a day in an organized environment. That can get old fast. So you can’t just lay it out there every single time the same way. You have to find some different ways to get your point across.”

Verba concurred.

“No practice today!” he exclaimed, as the bus veered from its intended route and turned south on Oneida Street. “Enough of this bullcrap!”

Bullcrap, indeed.

“No one knew what to do,” Sherman laughs, remembering that day. “They all thought they had a full-scale mutiny on their hands. What they didn’t realize was that I had planned the whole thing with Verba and the driver beforehand.”

Thus, the new head coach was there waiting, chuckling heartily, when the pirated Packers pulled safely into a nearby Ashwaubenon bowling alley.

“They were expecting a very serious, intense practice,” Sherman recalls, “but we had a surprise bowling event instead. It was fantastic.”

Decidedly creative.

“It’s important to me that these guys enjoy their jobs,” he says. “They all make lots of money, but a job is still a job. I don’t ever want it to get to the point where they’re bored with their jobs.”

That’s not likely to happen on Sherman’s watch, says Packers director of pro personnel, Reggie McKenzie. “He really wants the best for these guys, and they can see his sincerity,” says the former NFL linebacker. “He cares for them all, not just as players but as individual people. They know they can trust him, that they can go to him whenever they want.”

According to McKenzie, that was not always the case in Green Bay.

“Mike Holmgren was a great coach and a great guy,” he says. “But a lot of people – players especially – felt he was unapproachable. With Mike Sherman, you’ve got a coach who’s very hands-on. He’s not a big social butterfly – he’s not a schmoozer or a politicking type of guy – just a great communicator with a real quick sense of humor.”

“I’m no comedian,” Sherman points out. “But I do continually try to eliminate boredom by creating situations where the players can laugh at themselves. When people laugh, it brings out warm feelings.”

Last year, he staged an elaborate paintball war. This season, it was high jinks on the links. Everyone mingled, bonded and shared a good grin – except Ross Verba. He signed with Cleveland in March 2001.

To watch Sherman conduct training camp – affable and articulate, composed and confident, gesturing subtly and doling out positive reinforcement as he crosses the hash marks on Clarke Hinkle Field – you would never think to peg him as the no-shit heir apparent to Lambeau and Lombardi. Or even Holmgren.

Think again.

“To me, Mike Sherman is Green Bay,” says Bob Harlan, Packers president and CEO. “He brings a strength to his job that others could only hope to possess.”

“He’s tough, but he’s fair,” says eight-year Packers fullback William Henderson. “He’s the most frank and honest coach I’ve ever had – very detail oriented, always well prepared. He knows what you’re capable of and he has a way of getting you to give your all.”

“He’s a grinder,” says John Dorsey, a former Packers linebacker. “He gets in there and makes you really want to respond. He has a very commanding presence and very little ego. When people see the passion he has, they want to make him proud. And that’s very unique.”

Dorsey should know. After working under Holmgren for seven years in Green Bay and one year in Seattle, he resigned his position as Seahawks director of player personnel in May 2000 to join Sherman’s staff as Packers director of college scouting.

“The way he works, you can tell how much he loves the game,” says Dorsey. “He believes in his fellow man and he’s true to himself within. He demands that you, as a person, strive to attain the highest level you possibly can – that you never shortchange yourself or the traditions of this organization. And he holds you accountable. Once you know him, you absolutely believe he can do whatever he puts his mind to.”

Ron Wolf believes.

“Mike Sherman is all about football,” says the Packers’ retired executive vice president/general manager. “He’s bright, he’s a taskmaster and he’s an extremely hard worker. He’s dedicated to the game and, more importantly, to the tradition of the Green Bay Packers.”

That tradition, of course, is sacrosanct – revered as the basis of the mystique that separates the Packers from all other professional sports organizations. The willingness and ability to embody that tradition – and all it implies – is considered fundamental to both team and individual success in Green Bay.

See Ray Rhodes – undone after a single season, not by an 8-8 record but by a failure to embrace the canon and enforce the discipline required to preserve the Packers’ Way.

There is a mission statement posted on the hallowed walls of Lambeau Field: “On-field and operating personnel will, at all times, maintain the highest ethical and moral standards in their actions, recognizing that they are all representatives of the Packers franchise and traditions.”

Enter at your own peril.

“You set a culture a certain way on your team,” says Sherman, a devout Catholic who attends Mass daily. “I think most players like structure, they like discipline. They might not admit it, but they know that that’s what makes them successful.

“Most guys understand it. Some need to be reminded of it. There are some players who were here when I first came back who aren’t here now because they couldn’t work in my structured environment.

“I never give up on a player,” he notes. “But sometimes you just have to say, ‘Is this an individual worth having on our team?’”

Early this year, two anonymous young NFL wannabes arrived in Green Bay for a tryout. Ablaze with vainglory, the reckless rookies were intent on livin’ large after hours and providing a general pain in the ass to the staff at a local inn where the team had put them up. Imagine their surprise when they were summoned to Mike Sherman’s inner sanctum. Consider their chagrin when the most powerful Packer glared across his vast green desktop and said: “I hear you’ve been giving the maids a hard time…my mother was a hotel maid.”

Game over.

“Nothing happens in this town that I don’t know about,” says Sherman, who is only the third man in team history to hold the head coach/GM/VP title – the first since Gene Ronzani in 1953. “I know because I check – I’m constantly checking to make sure everyone does what they’re supposed to do. And when they do something wrong, I let them know they’re wrong.”

The Packers’ Way.

“It bothers me the way ego interferes with accomplishment,” Sherman says. “If a lot of people could just kinda cut that part of themselves out, a lot of people would be more successful. Everyone has a selfish element – if I allow that to grow in a player, it’s my fault.”

“I’ll tell you something about Mike Sherman,” says John Dorsey. “Mike Sherman is one tough mother.”

Sherman shakes his head.

Times have changed.

When he was a kid – a Beantown ‘Southy’ living upstairs from his grandparents, next door to his great-grandpa, on the same block as all his aunts and uncles (the McMahons, the Brackens and the Shevorys) – he couldn’t wait to get outside and play.

“Today,” he says, “you drive through these neighborhoods and you don’t see children anywhere. Kids don’t play outside anymore!”

Mike and his wife, Karen, have four children – Sarah, 19, Emily, 15, Matthew, 13 and Benjamin, 9.

“Kids don’t even ride bikes anymore,” Sherman laments. “You have to kick them out of the house. I tell my kids: ‘Just go out and ride your bike around the block one time. You might see somebody!’”

Then again, maybe not. “Kids today, they’re so busy with other things, they don’t have time to just go out and play. Everything they do has to be so well organized. Every game they play, there has to be officials and scorers and moms and dads in the crowd watching every swing they take.

“The fun part,” he says, “just doesn’t seem as much fun as it used to be.”

Not like it was when he was a kid

“When I was a kid, we played football in the street,” says Sherman. “If you wanted to play baseball, you got everyone together yourself.”

When he was a kid, you ditched out of His Most Precious Blood Grammar School to catch a day game at Fenway Park for 75 cents. And you always watched your back on the bike ride home.

“I guess we lived in a tough neighborhood,” he says. “It wasn’t the worst area in town, but there were things that happened there that didn’t happen other places.”

Still, Frank and Claire Sherman managed to raise six good children (one adopted) at 49 Oak Street in their Hyde Park “double-decker” flat on the blue-collar, Irish-Catholic south side of Boston.

His mother worked as a housekeeper at a local hotel and his father was a contracting salesman. “He worked for a company called Johnson Asbestos,” the coach remembers. “He went all around the city and figured out how much it would cost to insulate those big boiler rooms in factories and schools.”

Young Michael Francis went to the oldest high school in America, Boston Latin, founded in 1630 and attended by Benjamin Franklin. While there, he made varsity in wrestling, track and football, played hockey and baseball in the city league and basketball for the church.

“I wasn’t an all-American or anything, just a guy who loved to play,” he says. “Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I was always a motivated overachiever.”

Ask his father.

“One year, he dislocated his shoulder playing defensive back,” recalls Frank Sherman, 74. “He was supposed to have an operation, but he just kept playing, and the shoulder kept popping out. Then he wrestled and threw the shot put in track. It wasn’t until all the sports seasons were finally over that he agreed to go and have that shoulder operated on.”

Mike played on the offensive line for Central Connecticut State University, where he majored in English and minored in political science. He considered becoming a sportswriter or a lawyer but upon graduation accepted a teaching position at Stamford High School in Stamford, Connecticut. It was there that he first coached football, as an offensive assistant.

Four years later, he had to choose.

“I would be up until 2 or 3 every morning, grading papers and making game plans,” says Sherman. “I loved teaching, but I also really loved coaching. After awhile, I said, ‘I can’t do both.’”

He opted for coaching and became a volunteer graduate assistant for the University of Pittsburgh football team. “I gave up a paying teaching job,” he laughs, “and everyone thought I was crazy.”

He’s been coaching ever since.

After two years at Pitt, he landed a paid position as offensive line coach at Tulane University. From there, he moved to Holy Cross as offensive coordinator. Next, he was employed as offensive line coach at Texas A&M, went to UCLA for one season, then returned to A&M as offensive coordinator until Holmgren lured him to the professional ranks with the Packers.

Through it all, Sherman reflects, he never really did quit teaching.

“When I was a kid, a lot of coaches came from a military background. You don’t ask questions in the military, you just do what you’re told. And that was how they coached. Today, it’s more about creating open lines of communication, pushing the right buttons and getting the most out of people.

“A good teacher motivates students by building them up, encouraging them and giving them confidence,” he says. “That’s what I do with our football team. That’s coaching and that’s teaching – a good coach has to be good teacher.”

Mike Sherman shakes his head. Most certainly, times have changed.

Matt shook his father awake at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, January 16, 2000. He wanted to play a video game, “NFL Blitz.”

Only 12 hours had elapsed since Mike Sherman had completed the job interview in Green Bay and flown home to Seattle. Nonetheless, he crawled out of bed and joined his son on the living room floor.

“I’m the 49ers,” the boy announced. “You can be the Packers.”

After the puzzling finale to his meeting with Ron Wolf, Sherman was uncertain whether he ever would be the Packers.

“I didn’t know how to read Ron,” he says. “When I was the Packers’ tight ends coach, we seldom spoke. I didn’t even think he knew who I was. The longest conversation we’d had, prior to the interview, was when I told him I was leaving to join the Seahawks. So I really didn’t know what to think.”

Back in Green Bay, however, Wolf had already made up his mind. “When I talked to him, I knew my search was over,” recalls the former GM. “The guy just blew my socks off! He came in with a program, a plan for everything. I couldn’t wait to go to Bob Harlan so he could talk to the executive committee.”

“Ron was very excited,” Harlan confirms. “He came to me and said, ‘Bob, you’ll never believe how intelligent this guy is. He’s going to be dynamite in this league someday. There’s no doubt about it.’”

Sherman and his son had not yet finished one quarter of virtual football when the telephone rang. “Hey, Mike,” said Ron Wolf. “How would you like to be the head coach of the Green Bay Packers?”

“I would!” an elated Sherman responded quickly, then added, “but I can’t accept the job right now. I have to talk to Mike Holmgren first.”

Flabbergasted, Wolf protested, but Sherman insisted. “Mike is the reason that I have this opportunity,” he said. “I just want to make sure I tell him myself, before I totally commit. Trust me, Ron, it’ll all work out.”

Easier said than done.

“It was a real windy day in Seattle,” Sherman laughs. “Mike lives on a lake and, as it happened, his boat had broken loose from its mooring and drifted away. So he was out chasing his boat around all morning and I couldn’t track him down.

“Ron called back and said, ‘Listen, I have to know something!’ And I’m like, ‘Please, just hang in there with me. I have to tell him before I accept. I owe him that much.’”

When they finally did connect, Holmgren bristled at Sherman’s news. He was in no mood to share in the joy of his assistant’s unlikely good fortune.

“At first, he tried to talk me into staying with Seattle,” says Sherman. “He told me that if I stayed there a little longer, there would be other opportunities. I said, ‘Mike – head coach of the Packers!’

“Initially, I guess he was looking out for his own best interests. Eventually, though, he gave me his…semi-blessing.”

On January 18, 2000 – just 15 days after he’d fired Ray Rhodes – Ron Wolf called a press conference at Lambeau Field to introduce Mike Sherman as the 13th head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

“Twenty-one years ago, I was an English teacher and an assistant coach in Stamford,” Sherman told the assembled media. “At that time, I was preparing for this day.”

He had not prepared, however, for what would occur 12 months later when he sat down with Wolf, ostensibly to discuss the highs and lows of the season.

“It was a hectic year,” Sherman says, looking back at his head coaching debut. “A real roller-coaster ride.”

He’d started 0-2 in September 2000, just as Brown County prepared to vote on its controversial stadium-funding issue.

“I was tossing and turning every night,” he recalls. “I was worried about every little thing. Finally, my wife said, ‘Hey, just take it one day at a time and do the best you can that day.’ And that’s pretty much what I tried to do.”

Still, it was not until after his injury-riddled 2-4 team rallied to life and won seven of its final 10 games that Sherman finally began to feel settled in his new position. But while the encouraging nature of the Packers’ 9-7 finish offered plenty of reason to believe in better things to come, he never suspected what Wolf had in store for him.

“You can’t do this to me!” Sherman exclaimed when the celebrated nine-year Packers GM suddenly confided his intention to retire immediately – and hand Mike the entire operation.

“Please reconsider! I need you!”

“It’s already done,” Wolf replied. “You can handle the job.”

“I was numb,” says Sherman. “I was just catching my breath after a very difficult season. I said, ‘Geez, Ron, thanks. But I’d really rather have you stay.’ And he said, ‘No. This is what I want to do.’”

Eventually, Wolf did agree to help ease the transfer of power by remaining on-site as a consultant through the June 2001 NFL College Draft. And that made all the difference to the determined Sherman as he endeavored to assume the coveted dual role that Mike Holmgren was convinced would never be available in Green Bay.

“I had the very fortunate luxury of being able to learn from Ron – and I took full advantage,” says Sherman, whose redrawn five-year contract is reportedly worth approximately $15 million.

“I have tremendous confidence in my ability to learn,” he says. “You can teach me anything and I can figure it out – just like being a head coach.”

During his first weekend in Wisconsin, Mike Sherman took his sons fishing. Later, he would write about it for the lifestyle column he regularly contributes to the Green Bay Press-Gazette:

“Everything was going smoothly at the start. We got out on the lake to a place a local fishing guide told me was a ‘can’t-miss spot.’ I cast Matt’s line out the back. Next, I did Ben’s off the side. Finally, I got mine ready with my new “Green Dragon Golden Tiger” lure. This lure would attract bass and cause a feeding frenzy – at least that’s what the ad said that caused me to lay out $9.95.

“I reached back to cast, aiming at a rocky point on shore and, as my rod came forward, I heard Ben yelp out a tremendous screech that had to wake up everyone on the lake. I had embedded my “Green Dragon” into the back of his blond head. Two of the three barbs on the hook were lodged deep into his skull. As I looked at it with him screaming, I realized there was no way I was going to get this out. I cut the line and finally used some duct tape I had in the tackle box to tape the lure to his head so the other hooks would not get caught up on his head or ear.

“Matt asked if we could keep fishing for a while, since his brother eventually calmed down and even said it didn’t hurt anymore. I considered it since Ben and the hooks were not going anywhere and he seemed okay, but I figured if he ever told his mother we’d kept fishing, I’d be in deeper water than the boat was presently in. Plus, if anyone saw this 6-year-old boy with a lure stuck in his head surrounded with duct tape, it would not look good – even if the fish were biting! Considering the circumstances, I thought it best to get Ben to the emergency clinic.”

The early line in Las Vegas gives the Green Bay Packers 15-1 odds to win the 2002 Super Bowl.

“This year’s Packers should remain one of the NFC’s best teams,” predicts Peter Lawrence-Riddell, NFL editor for “A trip deep into the playoffs should be in the Packers’ future.”

Antonio Freeman – cut. Santana Dotson – released. Dorsey Levens, Bill Schroeder, Bernardo Harris, Corey Bradford, John Thierry and Allen Rossum – all veteran mainstays on last year’s successful Packers squad, all sent packing during the off-season.

Welcome to Titletown: Terry Glenn, Hardy Nickerson, Joe Johnson, Ki-Jana Carter, Darrien Gordon and Javon Walker.

One thing is perfectly clear about new General Manager Mike Sherman: He is not afraid to rock the boat.

“Are we trying to make our team better for the upcoming season? Yeah,” he says. “Will we do the same thing next season and the season after that? You bet.”

Of course, with quarterback Brett Favre closing in on his 33rd birthday, the pressure is on to win it all now, while the three-time MVP can still perform to the best of his considerable abilities.

“I come to work every morning with a sense of urgency,” says Sherman, who at 22-12 ranks as the winningest third-year head coach in Packers’ history. “I don’t know if we’re any more urgent – we have tried to win every game we’ve played since I’ve been here.”

We are standing in the long shadow of Lambeau Field’s freshly erected red brick facade. Behind us, there is an imposing five-story, 366,000-square-foot glass-enclosed atrium that will soon house a plethora of shops and restaurants, as well as an expanded Packers’ Hall of Fame and a plush new office suite for the head coach/general manager/executive vice president.

“Winning is of great importance in Green Bay,” says Sherman. “It’s around every corner you turn in this town. Lombardi Avenue, Holmgren Way, Lambeau Field – they’re all constant reminders of great men and great football teams.

“You could let it all overwhelm you,” he concedes. “And there were times when I almost let that happen.” That’s when he looked back to his first year with the Packers, he says, back to January 25, 1998, when the team last played on Super Bowl Sunday.

“I was up in the press box before the game, looking down at the crowd and all the fanfare and everything that was happening and I thought, ‘This is it. This is the goal we’ve worked toward all these months. This is the ultimate achievement in our profession.’

“I probably don’t stop and smell the roses enough,” he says. “But I did that day, and it was a life-defining moment for me – a very special, wonderful feeling.”

The impermeable foundation of a new Packers era is visibly under construction. It is an ambitious work in progress, a year-round project conceived to secure the future of the franchise and proudly preserve the noble heritage of pro football’s most cherished legacy.

Also – they’ve rebuilt the stadium.

“I still remember that feeling,” says Mike Sherman. “I remember it because I want to feel it again.”

Perry M. Lamek is a contributing editor of Milwaukee Magazine. Photographed by Kevin J. Miyazaki.