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Packers sucker punched by tragedy again

12/27/2004 - Green Bay Packers

Reggie White's unexpected death is the latest tragedy to touch
the Green Bay Packers.

Two years ago, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila lost his
mother in a car crash on the same day he became a father. After
missing practice all week, flying back and forth to Los Angeles to
be with his family and then staying up nights with his wife and
their newborn son in Green Bay, Gbaja-Biamila had the game of his
life, helping the Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings.

Last year, Brett Favre's father, Irvin, died of a heart attack
at 54, and Favre had the best game of his career the next night. He
led the Packers past Oakland 41-7 on Monday Night Football in a
performance so spectacular that at the funeral on Christmas Eve,
the Rev. John Ford said, "I do not come to give a eulogy for Big
Irv, folks. If you want to hear and see a eulogy for Irvin, go back
to the game his son played on Monday night."

Then, on the eve of training camp last summer, Mark Hatley, the
Packers' vice president of football operations, died of a heart
attack at 54. John "Red" Cochran, a scout and former NFL player
and assistant coach, died of heart failure at 82 in September.

Also that month, offensive coordinator Tom Rossley had an
emergency heart operation to clear a major blocked artery.

In October, Favre lost his brother-in-law to an ATV accident on
his property in Mississippi and the quarterback's wife was
diagnosed with breast cancer a week later.

Through it all, the Packers persevered, becoming just the ninth
team in NFL history to recover from a 1-4 start to reach the
playoffs.

They clinched their third straight NFC North title on Christmas
Eve with a dramatic 34-31 win at Minnesota in a game they dedicated
to injured wide receiver Robert Ferguson, who still has numbness on
one side after a clothesline hit by Jacksonville safety Donovin
Darius on Dec. 19 left him temporarily paralyzed in his legs.

Wide receiver Donald Driver, who had a career-best 162 yards on
11 receptions against the Vikings, teared up afterward, saying he'd
played his best game ever for Ferguson, whose return to football is
uncertain, and for his own father-in-law who died this month in
Mississippi.

Linebacker Nick Barnett also lost his father this month, and his
family delayed the funeral in California so he could play that week
in his honor.

"It's been a tough year for this franchise," team president
Bob Harlan said. "It's been a year filled with not only ups and
downs on the football field but ups and downs in life."

White remained close to the organization after his farewell
season in 1998 and often visited Green Bay.

Favre called White "the best player I've ever played with or
against," and said the Super Bowl ring they won after the 1996
season wouldn't have been possible without the "Minister of
Defense."

"When he signed as a free agent, he changed the way people in
and out of football looked at Green Bay as an NFL city," Favre
said in a statement. "He helped the franchise get back to where it
had been -- at the top."

Sherman got to know White while serving on Mike Holmgren's staff
and occasionally had him address his team in recent years.

"I don't think there'll ever be another player like him that
put the fear in offensive linemen like he did. I think he won some
plays just out of fear alone," Sherman said. "There's not many
people that wanted to line up against Reggie White, even at the end
of his career."

Sherman said he called White last week after watching a
television program about sports and spirituality that featured him.

"I talked to him about where he was with his life and with his
family and football," said Sherman.

The Packers are exploring ways to honor White at their wild-card
playoff game next week. Next year, they plan to make him the fifth
Packers player to have his jersey retired, joining Don Hutson, Tony
Canadeo, Ray Nitschke and Bart Starr.