For eight years, Seahawks GM saw how powerhouse was built despite controversies
Aside from the TV shot of Alex Rodriguez in a stadium luxury suite being hand-fed popcorn by his latest celeb sweetie, Cameron Diaz a moment that likely produced across the Northwest an upchuck of guacamole dip recorded by Richter the Super Bowl offered a quality telecast, a close, if inelegant, game and the righteousness of triumph by the Green Bay Packers, the town team loved by a sports nation.
Cute as the Steelers saga was in the Motor City Super Bowl against Seattle didja hear, Jerome Bettis was from Detroit? their third Super Bowl in six years was trite news for Short-Attention-Span America, especially with Ben Roethlisbergers preseason behavior with a drunken woman so simple that even a cave man would do it. So the Packers win was hailed on multiple levels.
Another couple of aspects of the Packers victory figure to resonate in Seattle beyond the vanquishing of those icky Steelers.
Schneider is not exactly from Green Bay, although he began his NFL career as an intern there in 1992. But in the eight consecutive years he was in the player-personnel office prior to leaving to accept the Seahawks post a year ago, the Packers went to the playoffs five times. Now they are champions.
While it would be hard to track directly Schneiders contributions to the draft picks and free agent acquisitions that helped create this year’s kings, it can only help that he saw, from a talent management standpoint, how to be consistently successful in the NFL.
He worked under a highly respected GM, Ron Wolf, and one of his successors, the increasingly well-respected Ted Thompson, who was a big part of the Seahawks front office from 2000 to 2004 that helped build the 2005 team that reached the Super Bowl (including the drafts of Steve Hutchinson and Shaun Alexander).
Former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was always quick to give Thompson credit for cleaning up his personnel messes and that of others. But it wasn’t seen that way early on in the frozen tundra.
Thompsons first season was the Packers worst (4-12) in 15 years, and he fired head coach Mike Sherman despite a 59-43 record and three consecutive division titles.
Thompson replaced Sherman with Mike McCarthy, a move that paid off well this season as the Packers became only the second sixth seed to win it all, which meant having to win three playoff games on the road just to get to the Super Bowl. Not a bad feat of coaching.
But Thompsons signal achievement was the cleanup of the mess at quarterback, and a worthy lesson for any aspiring executive.
In the summer of 2008, Thompson grew sick and tired of the Favres crippling of the franchise through his indecision about retirement. Thompsons trade of Favre to the New York Jets for what became a third-round draft pick was heavily criticized in cheese country because of Favres massive popularity.
Subsequent events have considerably reduced Favres standing in Green Bay and elsewhere, although the allegations of his BVD-free self-portraits have been a motherlode for late-night comedians unseen since Bill Clinton was caught casting a wandering eye.
At the time, Thompson was branded an idiot by many. Nor did it help that the Packers went 6-10 that year while the Jets were 9-7 behind Favre. Unrelated to the Favre saga but related to Seahawks, Thompson was also blasted for waiving a very good punter, Jon Ryan, who was signed by Seattle and has been one of the most consistent parts of the operation.
But Thompson persevered. He knew he had an able successor to Favre in Aaron Rodgers, 12 years younger, and continued to build the rest of the team so well through the draft that the Packers not only survived the injury losses of six starters this season, they flourished.
The Green Bay football achievement borders on the epic.
Schneider, until a year ago, had a front row seat to watch how an NFL general manager makes unpopular decisions that nevertheless are crucial to his vision. They say that the toughest schools are the best, and Schneider is a graduate of the cheese crucible.
It also explains a little of the torrent of transactions that was a bewildering part of the Seahawks scene this year. Both he and head coach Pete Carroll are unafraid of personal or public sentiment when it comes to talent evaluations.
If they had been in Seattle in the post-Super Bowl year of 2006, its doubtful they would have given Alexander the contract extension that subsequently became such a burden. He had reached his expiration date at the Super Bowl, but few wanted to believe it.
So Carroll and Schneider didnt flinch when it came to unloading T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson or Deion Branch, vets with a lot left in their tanks (as they proved elsewhere). The Seahawks had to eat parts of their burdensome contracts in a year that management privately sought to clean out big salaries in preparation for the aftermath of what seems an inevitable stoppage next month.
Since no one is clear on when the off-season (and season) will resume or how free agency will work, the teams best prepared to take advantage of chaos will be those most nimble in regard to payroll.
The Seahawks could not have anticipated the NFC West would be so profoundly inept that they would win it with a losing record, an NFL first. But contention was never the intention this season, no matter how many times Carroll says it was. The plan was to be ready to exploit 2011.
Which brings us to point No. 2.
Team fortunes change incredibly fast in the NFL. In the NFC, no team in a decade has been able to string together back-to-back conference championships. Among the most recent 10 NFC titlists, two were bottom feeders this season (Carolina, Arizona) and two were last season (St. Louis and Seattle).
Because of the relative youth of key players on Green Bays roster, some are saying the Packers are on the verge of a run of domination similar to New England in the AFC. Maybe.
But the Seahawks, free of huge future contract obligations and fresh off receipt of some unexpected credibility, are in as good a position as any to take advantage of the altered NFL.
Not saying they will. Too much is unknown. But in Schneider, they have a graduate of the School of Mess at Green Bay University. And his one-year internship is over.