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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 24, 2002
Ron Wolf tried to build the original Bucs, but the young football architect's plan was torched after two painful seasons (2-26) by Hugh Culverhouse, a malfunctioning and cheapskate owner.
After being fired, Wolf went home to the Oakland Raiders, to his old job working rather anonymously in the oft-victorious Al Davis zoo.
It would be late 1991 before Wolf's excellence in NFL player personnel earned him an unbridled opportunity to reconstruct the Packers.
They had been cheesy bumblers for a generation, since Vince Lombardi left town. Twenty seasons (1972-91) without a winning record.
"I had big goals, which many thought impossible in Green Bay," Wolf said. He soon delivered Brett Favre, triggering contemporary Packers greatness.
Today, the two Bays are 8-2, sharing the league's best record, colliding in Tampa with whopper ramifications, perhaps homefield playoff advantages.
Favre is still the QB wizard, but Wolf will be watching on TV a thousand miles away, at the riverfront home in Annapolis, Md., where he retired 16 months ago after 39 seasons in the league.
"I quit because I thought I could no longer do justice to the work," said the molder of these Packers. "My aim was to win 100 games in 10 years. We got 101 in nine. Emotions began to flicker for me."
As for the Bucs ...
"I didn't think much of them until Tony Dungy became coach," Wolf said. "I also like Jon Gruden, who has won every place he's been and has passion for the game as well as respect for those who play it. Of course, on the Bucs, my personal feelings were a factor."
He loathed Culverhouse, so Wolf had more chuckles than grimaces as Tampa Bay became the league's long-running laughingstock.
"I felt bad for some guys down there, especially Lee Roy Selmon, our first No. 1 draft pick with the Bucs," Wolf said. "I'd never been around a better player." Strong stuff from a chap who spent 25 seasons with the raucous Raiders.
But Favre is the biggest, most glittering jewel in Wolf's crown.
"I caught a lot of grief in Wisconsin because we gave a No. 1 pick for Brett after he'd been unable to even get to play in Atlanta," he said. "I never had doubt. Coming out of Southern Mississippi, we had him rated as best in the country.
"Favre was the best thing that ever happened to me. In a class by himself. It's hard to say how Brett ranks with the all-time greats, which is so subjective, but he's been incredible for Green Bay."
Wolf's team beat New England in the Super Bowl after the 1996 season and reached the ultimate game the next season before losing to Denver. "We were really good then, but the 2002 Packers are better in some areas while not being as strong in others.
"I think their offensive line is better than in 1996-97. So are the receivers. Favre is still Favre. Running back (Ahman Green) is better now. Defensively, it's a different story. Linebackers and the DL are not as strong as in those Super Bowl years."
Tampa Bay is on a 4-0 streak at home against the Packers but the Bucs have lost in their past 11 trips to Green Bay. "Clearly, we'll be seeing one team that wants badly to spend as much of January as possible playing at Lambeau Field," Wolf said, "but the other guys will be trying real hard to avoid making a playoff stop in Green Bay."
He's a man who knows.
BLITZES: Among the intriguing names in college basketball is Virginia point guard Majestic Mapp, whose older brother Scientific played at Florida A&M. ... Then there's Evan Seacat performing for Northwestern, Boomer Brazzle at Pepperdine, the sloppy sounding Mani Messy, a Fordham recruit, and the polite sounding Steve Sir at San Diego State. ... To me, only one phase of football, punting, is poorer than 30 years ago. It can't be leg power, so let's blame inefficient mind work and inadequate coaching for all the rotten boots you see in pro and college games. ... Pro basketball's Tim Hardaway is the latest flopping example of why terrific athletes should not be directly cast into prominent TV commentary work. Producers are to blame. ... Speaking of Favre, while he hasn't missed a start in 10 seasons, with 183 in a row (including playoffs), there have been 154 other quarterbacks teeing it up around the league.
Whatever happened to Lindy Infante?
-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.