Drew Olson and Jason Wilde went back through decades of Packer lore to put together "The Big 50" a book that collects fifty men and moments that define the Green and Gold.
Drew Olson and Jason Wilde went back through decades of Packer lore to put together The Big 50, a book that collects 50 men and moments that define the Green and Gold. We spoke with Olson and Wilde about writing the book, their favorite Packer moments, and what they think about the upcoming season.
Of the many moments in Packers’ history you write about in the book, which is your personal favorite?
Jason: I am going to cheat and take two: The 1992 trade that brought Brett Favre to Green Bay, and Ted Thompson’s decision to take Aaron Rodgers — while he still had Brett Favre on his team — in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. You have to remember, I grew up on the south side of Milwaukee in the 1970s and ’80s, pretending to be Lynn Dickey in Lyons Park on South 55th Street. Those 8-8 seasons were quasi-successes in those dark days of Packers football. So for a franchise to have back-to-back Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks in my lifetime, and having gotten to cover both of them for the majority of their careers, was fascinating. Our goal was to take even well-worn stories of the Packers remarkable history and bring tidbits that maybe not even the most die-hard of Packers fans knew.
Drew: Because I’ve gotten to know Antonio Freeman over the past few years, it would be easy for me to cite his game-winning catch against Minnesota on “Monday Night Football” in November, 2000. The play was dubbed “The Improbable Bobble” and immortalized by Al Michael’s questioning call – “He did what?” – which for some reason reminds me of “Do You Believe in Miracles?” from 20 years earlier.
In researching the book, did you find anything that surprised you or that you hadn’t known?
Jason: I think the part that I only had kind-of understood — but certainly not to the depth that I learned from reading Drew’s historical chapters — was how much peril the the Packers were in multiple times in their history. It was as if they were constantly on the verge of folding. My grandparents became Milwaukee season ticketholders at State Fair Park in the 1940s, and I remember my grandmother always taking such pride in how Milwaukee fans helped save the franchise.
Drew: The fact that the franchise survived – and thrived – in a town that size is still one of the great sports stories of all-time.
Do you have a favorite Packer of all time, and if so, why?
Drew: That’s like picking a favorite child. Brett Favre was the most exciting and charismatic player I’ve seen in my lifetime, but I am fascinated by a lot the Lombardi-era guys. Jim Taylor’s toughness was legendary, Paul Hornung was an incredible scorer and Max McGee would have been fun to cover because he was a riot to talk to in the press box.
Jason: The 2019 season is my 24th covering the team. I was 24 when I started. With the 90-man offseason rosters and 53-man in-season rosters, we’re talking about more than 2,000 players who came through the Packers locker room so far. This answer will sound self-serving, and he’ll give me endless grief for it when he sees this, but my radio partner on ESPN Milwaukee, Mark Tauscher, probably wins out over maybe a dozen or two that I built very close working relationships with over the years. “Tausch” not only was a terrific player, but one of the greatest local-boy-makes-good stories in the team’s history. To accomplish what he did — 11-year starter, Packers Hall of Famer — after nearly leaving the University of Wisconsin without ever having played a down and being so close to never even sniffing an NFL roster, it’s an incredible story.
The book tells the stories of many people who had an impact on the Packers. Who do you think is an important overlooked figure in Packers history?
Drew: I would go with an institution, rather than a person. The Green Bay Press-Gazette played a pivotal role in the birth and survival of the Packers’ franchise. George Whitney Calhoun, who co-founded the team with Curly Lambeau, played an enormous part in publicizing the team, although I’m not sure he ever got a paycheck directly from the club. Andrew Turnbull, who owned the paper, played a vital role in drumming up support for local businesses and helping the team become community-owned. Other owners grumbled that the Packers were “the only team with it’s own newspaper.” My favorite part of researching this book was reading old Press-Gazette stories.
Jason: Since I focused on the modern era stories, I would have to say Bob Harlan — and not because he’s one of the finest human beings I’ve ever covered, or because he graciously agreed to write the foreword to our book. The Packers’ 1990s renaissance would never have happened without him — and his ability to set aside his own ego, hire the right people and then let them do their jobs.
What is the best Packers memory in your life?
Drew: I grew up in the 1970’s and ’80’s, when the team was so bad that me and my friends all adopted other teams to root for. on Sundays in January. When Ron Wolf brought in Brett Favre and then signed Reggie White, the transformation was incredible. All of the older people who had told me stories about the great Lombardi teams were so thrilled to have pride restored in the franchise. It was as if a sleeping giant had awakened. People would stand in line for hours for a chance to get an autograph from a special teams player. It was a crazy, fun time.
Jason: For four years, I did a radio show with Aaron Rodgers. I refused at first. I was concerned about how it would affect the perception of my journalistic integrity. This was 2011, and the footing beneath journalism was shifting, but I was still uncomfortable. Our CEO, Craig Karmazin, basically made me do it. I had forged a strong working relationship with Rodgers early in his career, largely by happenstance, and I’ll never forget before the first show, he said, “I know you have a job to do. I’ll never tell you that you can’t ask me something. Do your job. If I suck, I know you have to ask me about it and write about it.” Of course, during the four years we did the show, he won two NFL MVP awards, so the times he didn’t play well were few and far between. Those four years were such an incredible glimpse into the mind and personality of one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football. And I got that glimpse every Tuesday. I am so thankful Craig made me do it.
Any predictions for the upcoming season?
Drew: No first-year coach in Packers history has ever posted a winning record, much less made the playoffs. I think Matt LaFleur has a chance to change that. I won’t predict a deep playoff run, but I think they can get there.
Jason: I was saying to someone before the first game of the season that I can’t remember a year where I had less of a clue as to how good the Packers will be. If this offense is as good as advertised, if Rodgers stays healthy and the defense improves sufficiently, I think this is a 10-6 playoff team. If it goes the other way, it’ll be three straight years out of the playoffs. The silver lining there? It would make them one of the teams the NFL could force to do HBO’s Hard Knocks next year.