Twenty years ago, Reggie White changed the face of the Green Bay Packers


Reggie White’s number was retired not long after he died.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Twenty years ago yesterday, April 6, 1993, the nation moved – at least the Green Bay Packers Nation – when defensive end Reggie White signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Packers.

At the time, it was a huge contract and commitment by the franchise from the National Football League’s smallest city. Compare that contract with that signed by former Packer Greg Jennings last month – he received a guarantee of 18 million smackers.

Reggie White on the day he signed with the Packers.

How times have changed – and how that signing by the late Mr. White changed the face of Green Bay and the entire league.

The story at the time by Bob McGinn, one of my favorite Packers beat writers with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, says it all.

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It’s tough to remember 20 years ago, but I bet every Packers fan remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news about the Reggie White signing.

Me? I had the radio on and was lying on the floor playing with my two daughters. I just looked at my wife and said, “wow!” But that three-letter word goes a long way in describing what Reggie did for the Packers. He brought respectability; he brought class; he brought a hall of fame attitude that would lead to many, many wins and expectations of excellence.

On the day he signed, according to McGinn’s story, Reggie turned to then-head coach Mike Holmgren and said, “Me and coach made an agreement. We’re going [to the Super Bowl] this year, aren’t we?”

Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame photograph

Well, they didn’t go to the Super Bowl in 1993, 1994 or 1995, but it was in 1996 and 1997 when the payoff was fully realized. The team immediately improved. Between 1993 and 1998, the Packers made the playoffs every year. The team finished 9-7 in both 1993 and 1994 and then jumped to 11-5 in 1995. In the magical Super Bowl Championship season of 1996, the Packers jumped again, this time finishing with a 13-3 record.

Wolf, who seemed the clairvoyant, had this to say on the day of the signing:

"“We’ve now given ourselves somebody the offense has to be concerned with other than [linebacker] Tony Bennett. We’ve improved our defense dramatically. Realistically, the best step we’ve made was the hiring of Mike Holmgren. But this is a very key move.”"

Ron Wolf

Though football is a team game, it was the signing of Reggie that made the Packers the premier team in the league and the place to be. It made it possible – through the efforts of GM Ron Wolf and head coach Mike Holmgren – to bring in other players like defensive end Sean Jones, Santana Dotson, and tight end Keith Jackson. Reggie made the team not only better on the field, but more importantly, in the eyes of players and other franchises around the league.

Mike Holmgren

Here’s what McGinn wrote about Brett Favre’s role in the team’s improvement: “White left little doubt that quarterback Brett Favre, 23, is on the threshold of greatness. Eventually, White said, Favre will be better than Philadelphia’s Randall Cunningham.”

He added about White: “In White, the Packers gained instant respect for a defense that ranked 23rd in the league in 1992, when they went 9-7 in their first full season under the leadership of Wolf and Holmgren. No defensive lineman in Green Bay has had more than five sacks in a season since 1985.”

In four of the six years that Reggie played in Green Bay, he registered double-digit sack totals. Here are the years with 10 or more sacks:  • 13 in 1993;

• 12 in 1995;

• 11 in 1997; and

• 16 in 1998

Ironically, in the Super Bowl season of 1996 Reggie had “only” 8.5 sacks and in 1994 he had eight.

In 95 games played with Green Bay over his six seasons, Reggie had a total of 68.5 sacks and even had one interception that he returned 46 yards. More importantly, he had 239 tackles, 62 assists, and 14 forced fumbles. He also played an important role in the advent of the Lambeau Leap when he recovered a fumble, started to return it, and was being forced out of bounds when he lateraled to LeRoy Butler who then took it the rest of the way for the touchdown before leaping into the stands.

There is little that Reggie didn’t do in raising the Packers franchise to elite status. His time in Green Bay was made possible through the efforts of Holmgren and Wolf and had it not been for the personal relationship that Reggie established with Holmgren, the deal would never have been done.

Reggie and Brett

McGinn described how the Packers gained the upper hand in the race to sign Reggie: “Clearly, though, the Packers had a lot more going for them than just big bucks. When White flew here March 10, he admitted it was merely because he had been in the neighborhood the night before in Detroit. Then White met Holmgren, defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes and defensive line coach Greg Blache, among others. He was led into snowy, intimate Lambeau Field. The personal touch was hammered home a week later, when Holmgren and Rhodes flew to Knoxville to meet White’s family.

Reggie’s agent, Jimmy Sexton said about the moves that the Packers made:

"“It was huge. They were smart enough and perceptive enough to know that Reggie was a relationship guy. They sold him on the fact that it’s like a big college atmosphere. He was coming out of a place where it wasn’t fun for him the last couple years. But if I had to pick one thing he liked most about Green Bay, Holmgren was it.”"

The past 20 years have had many ups and downs, but I would say that had it not been for the signing of Reggie White, this franchise would have had many more downs than ups.

We remember our fallen comrade well.

He was the savior of the franchise.