- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

Mike Sherman had never been a head coach and had spent only two years as an offensive coordinator one at Division I-AA Holy Cross when he was given the reins of the storied Green Bay Packers in 2000.

Sherman isn't one of those coaches eager for the spotlight. In fact, he's so soft-spoken that it's hard to believe he's one of the few NFL coaches who also runs the front office.

Sherman's numbers speak powerfully enough: His .675 winning percentage is the best of any active coach. His 27-13 record at Green Bay is the same as that of Vince Lombardi, the profession's measuring stick. And six games into his third season, Sherman's Packers are 5-1 and have a 2½-game bulge in the NFC North, the biggest margin of any division leader.

"Mike's able to get 45 guys on Sunday to believe in the same thing, to get along great and do the things it takes to win," quarterback Brett Favre said Wednesday. "It's all about making the players better and making them believe in one another. You look around the league and see teams with a lot of talent that don't win, and it makes you appreciate the guy you have leading you. Mike's really a players' coach. For example, we won't practice in pads today. We still do what we have to do, but Mike tailors it to the players' needs."

For all of Sherman's accomplishments in his 2½ seasons, he well may have done his best work last week. The Packers were facing a short week of preparation for a road game after beating division rival Chicago 34-21 the previous Monday night. The next day Sherman learned that defensive end Joe Johnson, his prime free agent pickup this season, was out for the year with a torn triceps. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper (hamstring) and cornerback Mike McKenzie (groin) wouldn't be available. End Vonnie Holliday (chest) and right tackle Mark Tauscher (knee) had been out for a while.

And Green Bay wasn't playing a run-of-the mill team. Its opponent was defending Super Bowl champion New England in Foxboro, where the Patriots had won nine of their past 10 games, losing only last November to eventual NFC champion St. Louis.

"Watching [New England quarterback Tom] Brady and everything he had done, I thought it would take 35 points to win," Packers vice president Mark Hatley said.

Especially with the defense going with rookies Aaron Kampman and Marques Anderson and untested veterans Rod Walker (first start), Matt Bowen (sixth) and Tod McBride (eighth). Undrafted rookie Marcus Wilkins, Todd Franz (cut by four teams in the past 14 months) and Bryant Westbrook, signed off waivers Wednesday, were part of the dime package by the middle of the first quarter, when free safety Antuan Edwards (arm) joined the injury parade. So did left tackle Chad Clifton (knee), forcing center Mike Flanagan into his spot and bringing 38-year-old snapper Frank Winters off the bench as the seventh backup in the lineup.

"It looked like a preseason game," Packers president Bob Harlan said. "I was scanning the roster to look who was playing."

No matter. Favre and the offense fell a touchdown shy of Hatley's goal, but that was more than enough as Sherman guided the Packers to an easy 28-10 victory.

Receivers coach Ray Sherman, a member of staffs that won playoff games for Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota and Green Bay, said the victory was probably the biggest of his 15 NFL seasons. Offensive line coach Larry Beightol, an 18-year NFL veteran, ranked it with an upset of eventual Super Bowl champion Denver when he was with Miami in 1998.

"It was a difficult week to get everybody not looking for excuses to lose but reasons to win," Sherman said in typical understated fashion. "We took the field with 45 players and 17 coaches thinking we could win. They did it. Any team that's worth its weight has to have backups who feel a responsibility to step in and do their jobs when they're called upon. In Green Bay, there is no excuse to lose, only reasons to win. The fans don't want to hear about it. I don't want to hear about it. So you might as well go do your job and do it the very best you can."

Sounds like a motto in the making.

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