“Going back to my playing days, I had always made it my intention of going into the Packers Hall of Fame,” Ruettgers said behind the ninth green at the Packers Hall of Fame Golf Classic at The Bull in Sheboygan Falls on Monday, a handful of days before Saturday night’s induction ceremony. “Right after I had made the team and prior to the first game, I soaked up the aura of the Packers’ tradition and history and legends and would ask myself, ‘Do I have what it takes to be a part of this group one day?’ To get that call and have somebody confirm that, yeah, you have achieved that status in Packers history has been beyond my dreams.”
Ahman Green didn’t dare dream of something so grand, not after being traded away by Seattle after his second season in the league.
“My thing was, and I said this (at the dinner before the tournament) and I’ll say it again on Saturday: I just wanted to play football,” Green said. “I just wanted to have an opportunity to show what I could do. I knew I could play at the pro level. I found that out halfway through my rookie year at Seattle. I thought I was in the right place, being in the NFL, and I thought I was with the right team. After I was traded to Green Bay, I just wanted an opportunity to show what I could do and was able to display in college and in high school and in Little League. Playing football was a passion of mine.”
Ruettgers, a first-round draft pick in 1985, played 12 years for the Packers. He moved into the starting lineup at left tackle in 1986 and stayed there until 1996, when a bad knee prevented him from having much of a role for the Super Bowl XXXI champions. He played in 156 career games, including 140 starts, and was named the team’s offensive MVP in 1989. He tasted the agony of defeat plenty of times, with only the Cardiac Pack season of 1989 interrupting a string of four-, five- and six-win seasons. Then came the team’s rebirth in 1992.
“Probably, if there is any theme that encapsulates my career with the Packers over 12 years, it would be just that — going from the lean years to Super Bowl glory,” Ruettgers said. “Turning around a long time of lean years and bringing a Super Bowl back, that’s a very difficult thing to do. It was great to be a part of it. You have to give credit to where credit is due and you have to look at the captains of that turnaround, and that would be Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren. Without those three guys and what they brought to their jobs, I think it’s very underrated and overlooked.”
After the Packers lost in the NFC title game in 1995, Ruettgers knew great things were in store for the 1996 team.
“The offseason before the Super Bowl, I came home after a spring minicamp practice and I told my wife, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl,’” Ruettgers recalled. “You always hope and you’re always striving for it, that ultimate goal, before every season, but there was something special. I came home and said that and she was like, ‘Whoa, you’ve never said that before.’ But I felt like we were going.”
Green, a third-round pick by the Seahawks in 1998, was acquired in a swap of disappointing draft picks, with Green Bay giving up on 1999 second-rounder Fred Vinson. It was the steal of the century for the Packers. Playing for the Packers from 2000 through 2006 and again in 2009, Green finished as the club’s all-time rushing leader with 8,322 yards and was selected to four Pro Bowls. He also holds franchise records for most yards from scrimmage (11,048), 1,000-yard seasons (six), 100-yard games (33) and rushing attempts (1,851). From 2000 through 2004, he led the NFL with 6,848 rushing yards and 9,036 yards from scrimmage.
In 2003, Green set single-season team records with 1,883 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns. The rushing total ranks ninth in NFL history and the touchdown figure ranks 20th.
“Just everybody working, everybody knowing what we had from the year before,” Green said of that magical season. “In 2002, we made it to the playoffs but we were kind of beat up. That was our motivation. It wasn’t the motivation of what we didn’t do offensively because we were a juggernaut. We had ran the ball well, we had passed the ball well. We came in wanting to go further in the playoffs, and we did that, but we lost to Philadelphia in a memorable game for fans of both sides. It was a season that we knew, coming off the 2002 season, that this should be the year for us.”
Green tore an ACL early in 2005 and recovered to rush for 1,000 yards in 2006, though he lacked his typical explosiveness. He played for the Texans in 2007 and 2008 before returning to Green Bay for the second half of 2009. Needing 45 yards to break Jim Taylor’s career rushing record of 8,207 yards, Green gained 160 in eight games.
“It means a lot because of all the hard work and dedication from my teammates,” Green said. “I remember my dad, when I was getting close to the record, my dad — he’s from Louisiana and he watched Jim Taylor at LSU and that was his guy. He was a fan of Jim Taylor. For his son to be breaking the record of his idol, he couldn’t even put it into words. He looked excited, he looked proud to have his son be able to accomplish something and break the record that had stood for a lifetime — 43 years, that’s a lifetime.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.