In a year in which the Packers are the reigning Super Bowl champions, two members of the Packers’ previous Super Bowl title team were inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame on Saturday night, and they each offered views on the current Packers’ defense of their Super Bowl XLV championship.
“I believe this team has the veteran leadership and desire to be accountable, to at least get them to the playoffs. It’s going to be more difficult for this team because they now officially have that bullseye,” former Packers fullback William Henderson told reporters on Saturday.
Former teammate and fellow Packers Hall of Fame inductee Marco Rivera offered his perspective.
“The ’96 team was very talented. We had a lot of leadership on that team. Going into ’97, things we were conscious of were the distractions,” Rivera said, referring particularly to the endorsements that accompanied the Packers’ championship fame. “This year’s team has to be aware of the distractions,” Rivera added, specifically referring to the lockout.
Henderson and Rivera were joined in induction into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday by Frank Jonet, the team’s treasurer during its financially-troubled early years. Jonet’s fiscal leadership has been credited for saving the franchise.
Saturday night’s induction banquet at the Lambeau Field Atrium was largely a celebration of the 1996 Packers and their Super Bowl XXXI championship, the franchise’s first league title since Super Bowl II and the Lombardi years. Henderson and Rivera reveled in going into the Hall of Fame together, and they were joined on the podium by the architect of the Packers’ teams of the ’90s, former general manager Ron Wolf, who received a special honor and delivered a spirited pro-Packers, pro-Green Bay address.
“To be inducted next to my teammate makes this even better,” Henderson said, making sure Rivera was fully credited for having become the first player of Puerto Rican descent to play in the NFL.
“He blocked for a lot of running backs that rushed for a thousand yards,” Rivera said of Henderson.
The two men played with a similar style: power. Rivera was the power run-blocker on the right side of the Packers’ offensive line, and Henderson possessed a throwback, hell-for-leather quality to his play.
“Now it’s a dirty word to get a concussion. My first hit, my head was ringing and my body hurt,” Henderson said.
“I was big, I was strong, I needed technique. That man did it for me,” Rivera said, gesturing toward his presenter and former mentor, long-time and esteemed offensive line coach Larry Beightol.
“Who wouldn’t like to present a guy like this? This is one of the best guys we’ve ever had at Green Bay. This guy rates up there with the very, very best,” Beightol said of Rivera.
A sixth-round pick out of Penn State in ’96, Rivera’s career didn’t blossom until a couple of years after joining the Packers and following a stint in NFL Europe. Shortly after, Beightol began molding Rivera into a player that would join the legendary likes of Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston in the Packers Hall of Fame.
“Knowing I’ll be in the same Hall with Jerry, it’s humbling,” Rivera said.
“Marco was never a guy about counting the days. He made the days count,” Beightol said.
Henderson was presented by long-time friend John Allen, currently the head coach at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, who Henderson credited for keeping him grounded. Allen described Henderson as “someone who has never lost sight of who he is.”
“This will be one of the few times you will see me at a loss for words,” said Henderson, who was clearly moved by his selection to the Packers Hall of Fame.
Henderson was a third-round pick out of North Carolina in 1995. He became a starter in ’96, was selected to play in the 2004 Pro Bowl and spent his entire career with the Packers.
“It makes everything I was willing to sacrifice as a kid, it makes it worthwhile,” Henderson said of his induction. “It makes it all come together in a beautiful way.”
The third member of the Packers Hall of Fame Class of 2011 is former team treasurer Frank Jonet, who guided the team through what he called the “Darkest Day in Packers history,” which is to say bankruptcy. Jonet initiated the strategy of the public sale of stock to save the franchise. Without his financial wizardry, it’s likely the Packers would not belong to Green Bay today.