GREEN BAY—When the Packers returned to prominence in the mid-1990s, not many players remained from the regime change that brought Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren to Green Bay.
Chris Jacke was one of the few, but it didn’t take long for him to feel confident the Packers were going to win again.
“The moments that I heard Mike Holmgren speak for the first time and I heard Reggie White was coming to the team and heard him speak, I knew it was only a matter of time before this team and this organization … were going to be winners,” Jacke said on Tuesday, when it was announced he would be one of three inductees into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2013.
“It was just a matter of time to get through the Dallas Cowboys, to get through the San Francisco 49ers.”
Jacke was the hero against the 49ers in the 1996 regular season, which turned out to be his last in Green Bay. He hit a club record five field goals, including a 31-yarder with 12 seconds left in regulation and a game-winning 53-yarder in overtime, in a 23-20 Monday night victory at Lambeau Field that improved the Packers to 6-1 and put them on the path to the Super Bowl XXXI title.
A member of the “Cardiac Pack” team of 1989 as a rookie sixth-round draft choice, Jacke went on to earn first-team All-Pro honors in 1993, when he made six of his 17 career field goals from 50-plus yards. Those still stand as single-season and career records for the Packers, and his 820 points rank third in franchise history.
But it was that magical ’96 season – featuring, as Jacke recalled, the leadership of White, the ability to overcome injuries and a “close-knit” team – that mattered most.
“It was a process,” Jacke said of the team’s steady climb to the top. “The guys they brought in from the GM to the coach to the players, that’s what they were teaching. It’s a process. Let’s go through the process and we’ll get the ring at the end.”
Fellow 2013 Packers Hall of Fame inductee Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila never got to experience that but came close as a member of two teams that reached the divisional round of the playoffs (2001, ’03) and one that played in the NFC Championship Game (2007).
A devout Christian, Gbaja-Biamila was thankful for any success that came his way, especially after being cut as a rookie fifth-round draft pick in 2000 and beginning his career on the practice squad.
“I worked hard just to get drafted, and I think I cried a little bit, I don’t know,” he said of getting cut. “I just remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’
“From where I started to where I am today, it’s truly a blessing. It’s more than I could ever imagine.”
The speedy and somewhat undersized pass rusher who became known as “KGB” went on to record 74 ½ sacks, most in Packers history since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. He recorded double-digit sacks four straight years (2001-04), also a club record.
Following his nine seasons with the Packers (2000-08), Gbaja-Biamila remained in Green Bay. His family now includes six sons, and he’s also helping take care of his father, who moved to Green Bay from Los Angeles a couple of years ago.
Gbaja-Biamila lost his mother tragically in 2002, finding out about her death via car accident on the same day Gbaja-Biamila and his wife had experienced the birth of their first child.
He played the following week in a prime-time home game, sacking Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper and forcing a fumble on Minnesota’s final drive that sealed a Packers victory, a game he called one of the more memorable of his career.
“This is a surreal moment for me actually to be standing here,” he said. “So many times people told me I was too small to accomplish anything, even playing in the NFL. To be part of an old franchise like the Green Bay Packers and to be part of the Hall of Fame is truly an honor.” Additional coverage - Jan. 22