Trying to pin down former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Ron Hallstrom proved to be a difficult task.
Last football season, I had an idea for a story commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Packers' wild Monday night win over the Washington Redskins. I had already interviewed defensive back Johnnie Gray and the story was slated to run in the newspaper I work for prior to the Packers' Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints.
To slap a local spin on the piece, I tried to contact Hallstrom, who owns a business just down the road from me. Hallstrom played for the Pack from 1982-92 and was a backup on the 1983 team.
Well, for a guy who stands 6'6," he's surprisingly hard to find. I eventually did get a hold of him. I stopped by his office on a slow Saturday morning in December. I was impressed. What I thought would be a quick, 10-minute chat-and-run, progressed into a candid, 40-minute discussion.
Hallstrom talked about everything from evolving into a first-round draft pick, to playing for the likes of Bart Starr and Mike Holmgren to playing with everyone from James Lofton and Lynn Dickey to Tony Mandarich and Brett Favre. He talked about what it was like to battle in the trenches with Hall of Famer Howie Long and even gives his opinion on the current state of the Packers.
Here's some highlights from my interview with Hallstrom:
On playing in the NFL in the 1980s: "I think the game was a lot more personal back then than it is now. It's got a colder feel to it now. The players are more inaccessible, back then, everyone was accessible. Today, it's become a lot about the money and with that dictates the inaccessibility."
Despite being a high-draft pick, Hallstrom was relegated to the special teams unit his first two seasons: "I was a first-round draft choice and in those days, you sat on the bench a couple of years before you played. It didn't matter, that's just how it worked back then, high draft picks or any draft picks, it took you a couple of years before you got into the game.
Was the 1983 classic against the Redskins the greatest game in the history of Monday Night Football?: "I don't know, there's been some great games on Monday night. From a fan standpoint, the Monday night games that I recollect more than ever, not being part of them ... you know, the Favre game when his dad died. To me, to watch a Monday night game and to know the hurt that guy had to be going through and to go out there and play and play like he did. ... As a player, you kind of look at that and go, 'How could that guy bring himself above what he's going through and still go out there and play?' The Monday night game against the Redskins was a fan game, it was great to watch. As a player, you really look at the games that really meant something. I think they all mean something, but the games that really had heart and soul in them and that's a Monday nighter that when you look at what one man was going through to have the whole team come through for him like they did, to me that Monday night game has probably got more emotion than any game ever seen on Monday night.
Any other memorable Monday night games you played in?: "The funny thing was, we didn't win a lot when I was playing, so we didn't get on a lot of Monday night games. I do remember the Monday night game before the strike (in 1982). We were playing in the Meadowlands, it was the night before the strike. We were playing the Giants and we knew we were going on strike. It was a Monday night game and the power went out in the stadium. The game was delayed like 45 minutes to an hour. A lot of people probably don't remember that. A lot of people probably turned it off, because they knew we were going on strike (laughs).
During his 12-year career, Hallstrom, a durable, versatile lineman, rarely missed a game: "I was very fortunate. I didn't have a lot of injury issues. I had some injuries, but just played through them. It's not like today (laughs), I think they're a little softer today than when we played. But again, we go back to the money thing. I was just glad to play in the era that I played in. It was the cusp before the free agency thing took off and it really took a lot of the personality out of the game. Back then, you were just happy to be playing, you didn't care where you played, you were just happy to be playing. Today, everything is predicated by (players asking), 'How much are you going to give me? I want to go here. My agents going to hold me out.' It's a double-edged sword. I'm a firm believer in paying them what they should be paid, but the owners are to blame as much as the players. The money's there, there's no doubt the money's there, it's just a matter of how you want to share it. I'm glad I played when I did, it was fun. Not that it isn't now, but to a player, it meant a lot more. Longevity meant a lot more back then. If you played more than four or five years back then, you were a player. That's what I can always hang my hat on; I made it longer than average and a lot longer than most.
Since retiring in 1993, Hallstrom enjoys a low-key lifestyle: "(My kids) prod me all the time, 'Dad do the (Packers) alumni stuff.' It was a great stepping stone, it was a great part of my life, but my life has moved on. It was a great history that I have, but I'm not one to live in the past. But I had a great time playing.
On playing for the 1983 Packers, who played in a record five overtime games but finished with an 8-8 record: "We could score on anybody. We had Lynn Dickey, James Lofton, John Jefferson. We had some really above average running backs at the time, Gerry Ellis was playing in the backfield ... Eddie Lee Ivery was there. We had a good offensive line (and) we had a good defensive line. We had Mike Butler, Ezra Johnson, Rich Wingo, a linebacker, Mike Douglass at outside linebacker. We had some Pro Bowl guys. But we did get some injuries. That season, there was a lot of pressure to be successful and we were on the down side to a lot of those games that were close. That can predicate a season and can fire a coach and that's what happened. I love Bart Starr, I thought he was a great guy and a great coach. But he had been there nine years and the frustration level was high because he had been 8-8 three years in a row.
Hallstrom was drafted by Starr in 1982: "I love the fact that I was drafted by him. If you meet him and talk to him, the guy is a great person.
He nearly ended up playing for the Saints: I played one year (at Iowa) and the projections were, because I had one great year, that I was going to be a third-round pick. Which I thought at the time, 'Great.' The day of the draft, (New Orleans coach) Bum Phillips called me and said I was going to be the first pick in the second round. I said, 'Okay, unbelievable.' Especially after the year we had, we went to the Rose Bowl, the team hadn't won in 20 years, so I was thinking, 'Wow, what an accumulation of a year.' Then, all of a sudden, the secretary from Green Bay called and said, 'Can you hold for Bart Starr?' He got on the phone and said, 'We're going to make you the 22nd pick in the first round. Do you want to come to Green Bay?' It was ironic because after the draft all the teams that picked after Green Bay said that they were going to pick me. Green Bay somehow knew this and that's why they drafted me. It's funny when you look back at it. One of the teams was the Giants and they went to the Super Bowl two years later. In the off-season, I did all the combines and everything. I flew out and saw the Jets and the Giants at the same time. I had dinner with, oh what's his name? ..."The Tuna" ... (Bill) Parcells. He took me out to dinner, it was neat.
At Iowa, Hallstrom played with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops: "I tell my kids I had dinner with (Parcells) and they're like, 'What?' The best one though is Bobby Stoops, because Bobby Stoops and I played at Iowa together. It's kind of fun to tell the kids. You get the kids all pumped up about it.
In the early part of his NFL career, Hallstrom played with Lynn Dickey, James Lofton and Larry McCarren: "I learned a lot from those guys, which was great. At that time, there was some heavy hazing for first-round picks. But in the end, they really respected you. In '92, I had a contract dispute and ended up leaving Green Bay and going to Philly. James was there when I got to Philly. Our careers went full circle. I always, always had great respect for James. Phenomenal athlete. One of the best athletes I've ever seen in my life. The guy was just unbelievable. I couldn't believe how fast he was, how svelte he ran. He was a guy that just looked so perfect, running and catching and everything, but that's why he had the success he had. He had the size and strength, too.
During his tenure in Green Bay, Hallstrom played for four head coaches: Starr, Forrest Gregg, Lindy Infante and Mike Holmgren: "Four head coaches and a revolving door just about every other year. That was my Super Bowl, that I made it throught the four head coaches. Four head coaches and two strike seasons: '87 and '82.
Who was the toughest defensive lineman Hallstrom had to face?: "I would say Steve McMichael from the Bears, he was a great player. But probably the best athletic linemen, although I didn't get to play them that much, but probably Randy White from the Cowboys and Howie Long. Howie Long was an unbelievable athlete for his size. Just an unbelievable player. I say Steve McMichael because I had to play him twice a year. But Howie Long and Randy White, I'm glad I only had to play those guys once or twice in my career. I still remember my third year, we went to play the Raiders, I think it's on everyone's highlight film, I think it's Howie Long coming around the corner and sacking (Packers quarterback) Rich Campbell. It's funny, because it's in the NFL archives. When they show Howie Long, that's always one of the plays they show.
On leaving the Packers and signing with the Eagles in '93: When I went to Philly it was the old adage, the grass isn't always greener. I had an opportunity to go back and play (with the Packers) when I left Philly, but I had had enough. I played 12 years, that's 11 more than I ever thought I would. I had no aspirations about milking my career. I think I left the way you should leave, pissed off (laughs), with a contract dispute. I didn't leave on a perfect note, but it makes walking away a little easier. I have no regrets.
On how the Packers handled the Brett Favre situation (Hallstrom played with Favre in '92): You know, that's another guy who is everything that you see. He's as real as it gets. I got to know him for a year, year and a half. I don't know how they should have handled it, I'll just say they handled it wrong. I think a lot of egos got in the way in that deal and I just don't think they handled it right. I'm happy for him. I hated to see them put so much pressure on (Packers QB Aaron) Rodgers. And I think Rodgers has done a pretty good job of dealing with what he had to deal with. I really think it was handled wrong. And I don't know what the right answer would have been. If not pay him $26 million, pay him $46 million, but don't let the guy leave the team. Because you know what? He probably would have played (in 2008) and been done.
Back in December, Hallstrom commented on the 2008 Packers: I think what you're really seeing now is that they haven't surrounded (Rodgers) with the right people. They need an offensive line ... they need a defensive line. (Middle linebacker) Nick Barnett being hurt shows the weaknesses of (AJ) Hawk. There's some serious issues with personnel there. That comes down to (general manager) Ted Thompson. I don't care how you look at it, you can blame the year on Favre and whatever the controversy. ... There's no excuses now. I think Rodgers can get you where you need to go, you just need to surround him with the right people and (Thompson) hasn't.
There were some serious mistakes made this year and I think it was internal. I think egos got too big. When it comes down to the GMs wanting it to be their team and the coaches wanting it to be their team ... it's not their team, it's all their players.'
This year, they haven't been able to stop anybody. If you look at it, you got no defensive line to put pressure on the quarterback, so they've been able to double up on Kampman, which is their best defensive lineman. You got a linebacker that's hurt, which really shows the weakness of the other linebacker, which was a first-round draft pick, who had a phenomenal rookie year but never went anywhere from there. It shows you how well (Barnett) played, which they gave no respect to. Now you've opened up your middle, because of the weaknesses of your linebacker and no pressure on the quarterback.
You play man coverage. You got two guys, who I would say out of 10 plays, they have good coverage for eight of them. There's usually about two that they blow the coverage on. That's all I hear about is how great (cornerback) Al Harris is. The problem is when Al Harris doesn't read about his own publicity, he plays pretty good, but when he reads about how great he is, he usually has a bad game. The guy's a good athlete. But I can't put it all on Al Harris, a lot of it is not getting pressure on the quarterback and he needs to stop reading about himself and just go out and play.
It starts up front and that's the same with the offensive line. A few years ago, they let the two guards go (Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera) in the same year. You can let one go and try to gain that consistency, but when you let both go, that's two of the five guys leaving the team. With that, they're asking for trouble. They've never been able to rebound from that. I said, 'You watch, they're never going to recover from this,' and they haven't. Unless you go out and spend some money to bring someone in and they haven't done that. They never drafted anyone and they haven't gotten anyone (in free agency or trades).
There's some GMs who believe that all you need are a few skill people. Heck, I played with some coaches who believed that. Lindy Infante was that way. He honestly believed that is was his system and all I need was some skill people and the rest of the people were fill-ins. That might get you one good year, but it doesn't get you consistency.
On playing with Tony Mandarich: Mike Holmgren took the (offensive line) from nothing to good. He inherited Tony Mandarich and didn't know what to do with him. He came to me and just said, 'Listen, we're going to put Tony in front of you just to see what the guy can do.' I said, 'Fine do whatever you have to do.' We went through two-a-days with Tony, he was in front of me. They wanted to see what he can do and I'm in my 11th year. That didn't last long and I ended up having one of my best years. It was a matter of just drawing straws, I was the oldest guy there, he was the youngest. But I could play anywhere and they knew that. I could play center, I could play tackle, I could fill in somewhere, just put me anywhere. I didn't care at the time. But it took care of itself.