Ruettgers: Wolf, Holmgren were difference in '90s
Perhaps no player witnessed the Green Bay Packers early-1990s revival better than Ken Ruettgers.
The 1985 first-round pick played for three coaches in his 12-year career in Green Bay. In his three seasons under Forrest Gregg, the team went 17-29-1, and in four seasons under Lindy Infante, the Packers were 24-40.
In 1992, Mike Holmgren was hired by new general manager Ron Wolf, and the team went 51-29 in the next five seasons.
The difference, Ruettgers said, was "leadership from the top. I would say (team President) Bob Harlan and his vision to be able to say, 'I'm going to have a whole football division and I'm going to put Ron Wolf in charge of that.'"
Ruettgers then recalled an anecdote from that seminal season. He was at Lambeau Field, staying late to study film.
"I was looking for a film and it wasn't there and I was looking around for it," he said. "And so I went into a couple of rooms I don't go into, and it was probably 6:30, 7 o'clock at night, ... and Ron Wolf was in the scouting department watching old Packer footage, which I thought was ... that's peculiar, you know, for a guy in charge of scouting the future to be watching (that).
"But the insight I got in that moment was here's a guy who loves football. He loves Packer football. Historical, tradition, he loves football. And so a guy like that, that's dedicated to excellence, and both he and Mike Holmgren together, that combination (was the difference)."
GETTING THE CALL
Ahman Green spent his first two NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, a franchise that seemed to be going in a different direction than the Packers at the time.
The Seahawks had just won the AFC West division, while the Packers had just gone through a tough transition season under first-year coach Ray Rhodes. Then on draft day in April 2000, Green got The Call.
"It was a real interesting day," Green said. "I was flipping burgers at my oldest daughter's fifth birthday party. She was outside playing with her friends, I was flipping burgers, turning hot dogs, making sure they don't burn, and I get a phone call. It's my dad, my stepdad. And he's like, 'Son, you've been traded.'
"I'm like, 'Nah, Dad, you're joking.' I think he's just trying to bust my chops and have some fun with me because we had a great connection that way. And he's like, 'No, I'm serious. Go inside, turn on the TV, turn to ESPN.' So, I'm on the phone, run inside, click on ESPN. Trey Wingo's just finishing off some tidbit with the other guys talking. They hand him a piece of paper and he's like, 'Oh, this just in: Ahman Green gets traded to Green Bay for Fred Vinson and a fifth-round pick.' And I'm like, 'Wow, you weren't joking, Dad.' "
That trade turned out to be lopsided in the Packers' favor. Green Bay traded young cornerback Vinson and a 2000 sixth-round selection (Seattle would draft defensive tackle Tim Watson) to Seattle for Green and a 2000 fifth-round selection (Green Bay drafted Joey Jamison). Vinson never played for Seattle after injuries ended his career, while neither Watson nor Jamison played in the NFL.
FAMILIAR WITH THE HALL
Ruettgers is no stranger to the Packers Hall of Fame and the players who preceded him.
He shared a story about seeing it for the first time, as a rookie in 1985.
"What I did after I made the team, the Friday before the first regular-season game, is I went to the Packer Hall of Fame to find out what is the history and the tradition of the Packers. What is the story that is the Green Bay Packers," he said.
"I was amazed at the depth and breadth that is the history and the tradition of the Green Bay Packers. And that became a yearly tradition for me. To remember what I was part of as a Green Bay Packer. It was very inspirational. And I remember, from the first time I went to the Packer Hall of Fame, I asked myself questions, like 'Do I have what it takes to make a mark as a Green Bay Packer? Can I be part of bringing back a winning tradition in Green Bay?' And, ultimately, 'Do I have what it takes to someday make it into the Packer Hall of Fame?'
"And so today that answer is, as I look back, a lot of those questions have been answered today, and answers the last question."