Many of the major sports like to wrap themselves in the history of their sport. Some do it better than others, for example no one does it quite as well as the MLB while hockey and basketball can be a bit hit and miss. Sure they all have their respective hall of fame, but some sports have been blessed with historical sites, old franchises, and little traditions that make days gone by come alive for the average fan. The NFL may be the most balanced of the sports. For every old franchise like the Chicago Bears and New York Giants there are some new franchises like the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans. Many of the old stadiums are gone, but a few remain with modern facelifts (e.g. Solider and Lambeau). Most of all there is NFL Films and NFL Network bringing you a connection to the past not matched in any other major sport. It may not be the level of the MLB where they still have traditions in every game going back decades and revered stadiums of old, but the history is still very much alive.
One of the ways I see history play out for some franchises is what I call legacy positions. Some franchises just seem to have that certain position, or position group that seems to be its signature. Whenever the team is doing well you can count on this position being great. This goes on then to define the brand of football that the franchise puts on the field, and the type of game that the franchise's fans enjoy to watch.
The best example I can give to this is what the middle linebacker position is for the Chicago Bears. The Bears have been defined by defensive football and whenever the Bears have been in championship form they seem to be led by a HOF caliber MLB. such as Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and now Brian Urlacher. Sure there have been some great offensive players to go through the franchise, but more often than not it's the defense that defines the team and the MLB who defines the defense for this franchise.
There are other examples I would point to as well. The Minnesota Vikings have a long tradition of stellar defensive line play. It started with the Purple People Eaters, continued with Chris Doleman and John Randle, recently we saw the rise and fall of the Williams Walls, and today Jared Allen is an elite talent at his position. The Giants also tend to be defined by elite pass rushers in the modern era of football starting with the great Lawrence Taylor, then Michael Strahan, and now the emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul. The Steelers have a long tradition of great linebackers including Jack Lambert, Kevin Greene, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley.
Not every team has this defining feature to be sure. The Lions have a long history, but not a long history of winning. Many other teams flirt with greatness for a shorter period of time and so don't have decades worth of talent at any one position such as the 49ers or the Patriots.
My question to all of you is where do the Packers fit with this? Do they have a signature position? There is certainly the history to the team and the winning throughout the different eras of the sport. Follow me after the jump to look at a couple positions that might qualify for the legacy position of the Green Bay Packers.
It may seem like a cop out to list quarterback as a legacy spot since it has long been the most important position in the game of football, but look at the history of the position for the franchise and you will see that it's plenty deep. Right now the Packers have two QB's in Canton: Arnie Herber and Bart Starr. One more Packer QB will be sure to be in Canton soon, Brett Favre. Right now the Packers are led by possibly the best QB in the league, Aaron Rodgers. Not a bad resume for the position group being the signature mark of the organization. Add to the mix that the last two great coaches of the organization have had the reputation of being QB whisperers (Holmgren and McCarthy), the amount of QB's who have been developed in QB over the last twenty years, and the fact that only two championship years didn't see one of the four players listed above at the helm (1929 and 1944) and there is a pretty compelling argument for the quarterback as the defining position of the franchise.
The Wide Receivers
Often there is a chicken and egg question surrounding the question of whether a great QB makes the receiver or a great receiver makes the QB. If you study history the Packers have been both. Don Hutson is arguably the best single Packer ever (his only real competition is Favre and we all know how that ended). He did have a HOF throwing him the ball, but he did have great years after Herber left and was the first receiving mismatch in the history of the game.
Lombardi's Packers weren't highlighted by a single great WR, apologies to Boyd Dowler, but the drought years between Lombardi and Holmgren saw two great WR carry the team to some interesting seasons. First was James Lofton, the first non-Lombardi Packer HOF'er in the modern era. You could make a strong argument that Lofton made Lynn Dickey great. The next was Sterling Sharpe, who probably would of been a HOF'er if his career was not cut short by a neck injury. Sharpe by the way made Anthony Dilweg look good for a game or two and Don Majkowski look good for a season or two. Since Sharpe there haven't been too many great WR (although Donald Driver has rewritten the team record books in that time), but there have always been a good stable of receivers and now the depth and talent of the crew is the envy the NFL.
This is an outside the box idea, but hang with me. Hutson has been celebrated time and time again for his work as a WR, but he also played S as well. He was just as feared as a defender as he was an offensive weapon. In Lombardi's era Ray Nitschke gets much of the credit on the defense, but Willie Wood may have been the best defender of the bunch. Johnny Gray, Mark Murphy (the bald one not the one running the Pack now), and Chuck Ceil were bright spots on some otherwise woeful defenses of the 80's and early 90's. LeRoy Butler was the number 2 face of the defense after the great, late Reggie White of the great 90's teams. Darren Sharper wasn't bad and made some plays after Butler hung up the cleats. Sharper was replaced by Nick Collins who should still be one of the keys of our defense, and Morgan Burnett looks like he could be a Pro Bowler in the making. That's a pretty good tradition if you think about it.
So what is the signature position of our beloved franchise? The quarterback? The receiver? The safety? Or is it something else...if there is something at all.