I'm a person who is fascinated by rivalries. There is just something about watching two groups of people who dislike to hate each other and see how in some ways they are so similar, yet wildly different. Typically this interest grows with our current rivalry with the Vikings because the franchises have had similar moments and touch points, but made wildly different choices causing the franchises to move in two different directions. Today though I look south instead of west.
Whenever I visit a Bear blog, or encounter any grouping of Bear fan in their natural environment really, I am taken in by the absolute reverence they have for the year 1985 and the god-like devotion they have to Ditka. Don't get me wrong, I understand the fondly remembering a bygone age, I did grow up a Packer fan in the 80's when Lombardi's Packers were really the only thing we could celebrate, but really we Packer fans don't really have the same kind of idolatry towards our single greatest coaching legend....or era of football. Really what is interesting to me is that Lombardi's Packers don't come out nearly as much as the 85 Bears do for Bear fan. Sure there is a special plaice in our hearts for Starr, Hornung, Nitschke, and the rest, but well.....let's just say we never would of had something like this with Vince. Instead there is just a quite reverence for the man, and well we might pray for his intercession on Sundays.
But let's dust off his bust for a moment and ask a near blasphemous question: What modern Packer head coach can come close to measuring up to Lombardi?
Let's be honest there are only two real contenders here. Coach Infante and coach Sherman may have been good guys but they don't have a great legacy here. Bart Starr is a legend, but coach Starr definately isn't. Every Packer fan wants desperately to forget coaches Gregg and Rhodes. The only real possible answers here is McCarthy or Holmgren.
The case for Holmgren.
Forget Ron Wolf for a moment. He was the architect for the Packer return to glory sure, but it was Mike Holmgren who built it. He built it out of basically nothing. We Packer fans have enjoyed nearly twenty years of great QB play. He continued the tradition of Packer Super Bowl berths coming in pairs. He gave us not only the opportunity to hold our heads high as we valiantly fought the dynasties of the 49ers and the Cowboys, but truly a reason to celebrate with our first Super Bowl in 30 years. It's his offensive blueprint that we still follow today for the most part.
Outside of what was done for the franchise there are a few other similarities too. Holmgren really was the person who broke the mold for having Packer streets named for people in this era. Sure now we have Favre Pass and White Ave (at least I think it's ave), but all of that started with Holmgren Way. Holmgren also wanted more. He left Green Bay in order to be the man and shape a franchise as a whole. Lombardi did something similar when he left for the Redskins.
Why Holmgren may not measure up.
The best case is that Holmgren won only one championship. Winning it all isn't quite as easy as it was back in Lombardi's day. There's more complexity to football, more teams, and much bigger egos to manage. Despite this, in a franchise where there are 13 championships bringing home only one doesn't really compare to the guy who brought home five championships in nine seasons. The other black mark that Holmgren has to deal with is losing the only Super Bowl in Packer history....especially when the common wisdom at the time had the Packers winning big.
The case for McCarthy.
While Holmgren had to build up the reputation and image of Green Bay from scratch, McCarthy probably built a stronger program to ensure long term success. From the time McCarthy stepped in after Mike Sherman was fired McCarthy and Thompson have systematically cut away at guys who were brought in under the old regime. These players were replaced not with free agents as Wolf did with much of that Super Bowl roster, but rather through draft picks and no namers who were cast off from other teams. He did this in much the same way Lombardi to a bunch of guys who didn't know how to play together in 1958 and built much of that same roster together into the champions that we know and revere today. Really both coaches were teachers at heart.
McCarthy has also performed feats this past year that haven't seen seen since Lombardi was walking the sidelines, such as starting 7-0 and winning 13 games in a row. Anytime someone can write a sentence like that about a coach it's time to stand up and take notice. McCarthy has even done something that Lombardi wasn't able to do....change QB's and not miss a beat. Lombardi spent his whole time in Green Bay with Starr. Now a QB wasn't quite as important as it is in today's game, but it was still very critical and Lombardi never had to switch horses in his time here. McCarthy was able to successfully oversee the change from Favre, who he was able to be very successful with, to Rodgers. This cannot be underestimated.
Lombardi and McCarthy also have a similar background. Both men made sacrifices when breaking into coaching. Lombardi taught Latin and science at a local high school while being an assistant coach. McCarthy worked as a third shift toll both operator. Both share a blue collar, east coast tough guy background. Lombardi from New York and McCarthy from Pittsburgh.
Why McCarthy might not measure up.
As with Holmgren the tough part about comparing to Lombardi is the vast amount of winning Lombardi did. By this time in Lombardi's tenure the Packers had won two NFL titles and three division crowns. By comparison McCarthy has only one one division title and one NFL crown. Not bad, but definitely trailing. There is also a bit of truth to what Brett Favre said recently. You know what I'm talking about, but hear me out. McCarthy had a real chance to bring in more titles in 2007 and 2009, but was not able to do so. Sure there may be other culprits in each of those games, but some blame should go to MM as well, the buck has to stop somewhere.
So who do you think is most able to live up to Lombardi's legacy? Is it the builder of the modern day Packers, or the man who led the team through some of its darkest times and is now ready to take the NFL by storm? Or is the dirty secret that neither is truly able to step out of Lombardi's vast shadow....that really no coach can really match what Lombardi did all those decades ago?