Mark Murphy, former Redskin, is back in the Super Bowl with Packers
By Mark Maske
DALLAS--Mark Murphy is back in the Super Bowl, nearly three decades after he played in two of them as a safety for the Washington Redskins.
His return this week has come as the president of the Green Bay Packers, a job that threw him into the middle of turmoil early but lately has provided some rewards. The sixth-seeded Packers beat the top three seeds in the NFC playoffs, all on the road, to advance to the fifth Super Bowl in the franchise's storied history.
"You realize it's difficult to get to this level," Murphy said this week. "I think when you're a player, you're young and sometimes you think this is going to happen [often]. But in the position I'm in now, you're a little more mature. I think you have a greater appreciation for exactly how difficult it is."
Murphy was named the president and chief executive officer of the Packers, the NFL's only publicly owned franchise, in December 2007 and formally took the position late the following month. That put him squarely in the middle of the Brett Favre saga. The legendary quarterback was trying to rejoin the Packers in the summer of 2008 after announcing his retirement following the 2007 season. But Murphy, General Manager Ted Thompson and Coach Mike McCarthy stuck to their post-Favre plan of Aaron Rodgers becoming the Packers' starter at quarterback and traded Favre to the New York Jets.
Now, with the Packers back in the Super Bowl and Favre retired for a third time, perhaps for good this time, Murphy said he does reflect on those tumultuous early days on the job.
"Yeah, a little bit," he said. "I'm just happy for the entire organization. It's been 13 years since we've been in the Super Bowl. We've been through a lot the last few years. For us to be in this position now, I think it's a testament to our entire organization, but particularly our coaches and players."
Murphy played for eight years with the Redskins between the 1977 and '84 seasons. He played in two Super Bowls, helping the Redskins beat the Miami Dolphins to end the strike-shortened 1982 season and losing to the Los Angeles Raiders the following year.
"In '82, that was a unique situation because it was a strike year," Murphy said. "We played two games and then we went on strike. There were only nine regular season games, so it was really a whirlwind. They changed the playoff schedule. I think they had 16 teams make the playoffs. In my career, I think that was my sixth year and it was the first year that I made the playoffs. So I really didn't have any experience. We had three straight playoff games at home and then there wasn't the week off between the championship and the Super Bowl. It really happened so fast. But it was an exciting time."
Murphy was a union representative for the Redskins as a player and served as vice president of the union in 1983 and '84. After retiring as a player, he was hired as the assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association. He went to law school at Georgetown and, following stints as an attorney with a D.C. firm and then the U.S. Department of Justice, Murphy spent a combined 16 years as athletic director at Colgate, his alma mater, and Northwestern.
He is now on the owners' bargaining committee, something that he said he could not have imagined during his days on the players' side of the sport's labor negotiations.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be in this position," Murphy said. "But realistically, kind of looking at it, I wouldn't have this position now if I hadn't had that experience. I knew at the time we used to say being a player rep was dangerous to your health, kind of like smoking. Every player rep back then knew it. But it was an invaluable experience, what I learned about business, negotiations and the National Football League."
Murphy said he views his role as trying to do what's best for the league as a whole, and said: "Having the experience that I have, I can definitely see things from a player's perspective. Hopefully that can be helpful in finding a middle ground to reach an agreement."
Ed Garvey, the executive director of the union in the 1970s and early '80s, is "always giving me grief" about his current position on the ownership side, Murphy said.
"I didn't think I was a militant" during those days with the union, Murphy said. "I thought I was just fighting for what was right. But I know others viewed me as a militant. Jack Kent Cooke [the late owner of the Redskins] called me a communist."
And what was Murphy's view of ownership back then?
"We were pushing for changes," he said. "I do remember being very frustrated at the bargaining table when they would refuse to bargain with us."