Welcome everyone to The Pack Recap. In this weekly column, we will take a look at some of the biggest names in Green Bay Packers history. Founded in 1919, the Green Bay Packers are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. From their legendary feuds with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings to their plethora of Hall of Fame players and personalities, the Packers offer a rich history that many enjoy.
For the first part of this column, we will focus on the Packers most recent rise to prominence. There might be some debate as to when that started, but a huge date to remember is June 5th, 1989. That’s when an 18 year employee of the Green Bay Packers was promoted to the 9th president in Packers history. That man’s name was Robert E. “Bob” Harlan.
Over the course of his 18 year tenure, Harlan would oversee some of the biggest moments in franchise history. Football fans know those moments well, but they don’t necessarily realize that it was Bob Harlan that served as the catalyst for those moments. His value, while often overlooked, cannot be overstated. As a child, I didn’t understand Harlan’s impact. But as an adult, I can.
In December of 1991, Harlan would hire Ron Wolf. He would give Wolf full control of football operations, not stepping in to stop him when Wolf wanted to trade a first round pick for a third string quarterback or when he wanted to hire a young offensive coordinator with no head coaching experience. On what he called perhaps his most momentous day at the time, Harlan oversaw the signing of prized free agent Reggie White. He also made the decision to pull home Packer games out of Milwaukee following the 1994 season, ending a tradition that dated back to the 1930’s. He also oversaw the construction of the Don Hutson Center, a state of the art practice facility, in 1994. All of Harlan’s decisions payed off in January of 1997, when the Packers captured the only Super Bowl trophy of his tenure. (Though Harlan would hire Ted Thompson as GM in 2005, who would also build a championship winning team) He used that championship to springboard into his legacy defining moment: The Lambeau Field Renovation.
Harlan will forever be tied to the renovation. He understood that Green Bay wouldn’t survive in the new NFL with the stadium the way it was. According to Harlan, the Packers made 2-3 million dollars a year with the old stadium. Once it was renovated, they made 25 million in their first year. It was the key to keeping the Packers in Green Bay, as Harlan saw the cost of doing business in the NFL rising. He actually feared the team would have to borrow money in order to continue, which is what spurred him to campaign for the renovation. With no owner to fund a renovation, Harlan had to hope a public referendum would fund the project. He was surprised by the resistance he met, but was determined to get the measure passed. He wrote letters to newspapers, stood outside stores shaking hands, showed up early in the mornings to factories, and did everything else he could think of. After a summer of campaigning, his physician was concerned for his health, and Harlan knew it was the stress of trying to get the project approved. All his hard work paid off, and the measure passed with 53 percent of the vote. The renovated Lambeau Field opened on September 7th, 2003, two days before his 67th birthday.
Harlan would step down on January 1st, 2008 as president of the Packers. He remained as Chairman Emeritus and a goodwill ambassador for the team, being instrumental in mending Green Bay’s relationship with longtime former quarterback Brett Favre. His other accomplishments are as a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2004, and the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009. The plaza in front of Lambeau Field is named after him.
As a Packers fan, I thank Bob Harlan for his contributions to the team. Even if he wasn’t the most well known member of the 90’s rebirth, he certainly was a crucial part of Green Bay returning to prominence.
The author would like to thank Wikipedia, Bob McGinn writing for the Milwaukee Journal (17 Million Reasons Convince Reggie White to Join Packers-April 7th 1993 article reprinted on April 14th, 2018) and Jason Wilde for Lee-Wisconsin Newspapers (Packers at 100-What If? Five moments that would have changed Packers history if they HADN’T happened-August 7th, 2019). Without their contributions, this column wouldn’t have been possible.