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Holmgren finds old home decidedly inhospitable

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There was a time Mike Holmgren owned this place.

The stadium, the town, may as well throw in the whole state while you're at it. He's got his own street a Brett Favre spiral away from the stadium, and he'll always be cherished for how he resurrected a proud franchise that was down on its luck and turned it into a champion again.

But there's a time and place for nostalgia, and Saturday at snowy Lambeau Field most definitely was not it.

The Green Bay Packers knocked Holmgren and his Seattle Seahawks around, ran over them and ended any hope they had of playing in their second Super Bowl in three years. In the process, the Packers might have brought Holmgren's illustrious career to an end, too.

"I'll tell you, it's hard when you lose. The emotions of this sport make it great - to play and coach," he said after Seattle's 42-20 loss. "So you need time. You need time to get away from things, think things through."

Holmgren still has another season left on the two-year deal he signed after Seattle's Super Bowl season. But he has dropped hints this might be it for him, that he's ready to trade the daily grind of an NFL coach for time with his family and more of those long motorcycle rides across the desert that he loves so much.

If this was his final game, this couldn't be the way he imagined leaving. With his team bumbling around the field, he stood stoically on the sideline, looking like the Abominable Holmgren with so much snow piled on top of him it obscured his hat and headset and bleached his bushy mustache completely white.

The team that was so dominant last week against Washington looked lost among the flurries. It managed a measly 200 yards - and only 28 of those came on the ground - and couldn't hang on to the 14-point lead it took before the game was even five minutes old. The Packers, meanwhile, frolicked.

Favre, Holmgren's old protege, completed passes at will, including a wobbly, underhanded one he had no business trying - the very kind that used to drive Holmgren nuts. With Ryan Grant rushing for a Packers postseason-record 201 yards, the team that had no running game to speak of early in the season actually looked like a throwback to the smashmouth days.

And Holmgren was helpless to do anything about it.

"I'm very proud of my football team. I think we had a heck of a year," he said. "But today the Packers were the better team."

One game won't be his legacy, of course. Far from it, especially for this man.

He's won 170 games in 16 seasons in Green Bay and Seattle, been to three Super Bowls and won one of them. He's only had two losing seasons, and the playoffs may as well be a part of his permanent schedule, what with him making his 34th appearance Saturday.

But it's not the numbers that make Holmgren one of the greatest coaches of his generation. It's what he's done with the people he's had.

Brett Favre was a rash and brash gunslinger when Holmgren got a hold of him back in 1992. He had incredible talent, that was for certain. But there wasn't a throw Favre thought he couldn't make, no gamble he wouldn't take.

Holmgren managed to refine him, somehow getting Favre to play under (relative) control without stripping him of his creativity or his confidence. It wasn't easy, of course. The impish Favre often tested Holmgren like a teenager tests his parents.

But we all know how it turned out. Favre grew into a three-time MVP who took the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowls and, whenever he does decide to retire, will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

New challenges awaited Holmgren when he moved to Seattle: Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, just to name two. Hasselbeck played for Holmgren in Green Bay - "I say played; I sat on the bench here for three years" - and while not quite as big a challenge as Favre, Holmgren has been no less strict with him.

He takes issue with everything from Hasselbeck's clothes to his comedic routines, and the quarterback said it wasn't until this season that he finally found a way to make sense of Holmgren's sideline rants. It's probably not a coincidence that Hasselbeck also had his finest season, setting Seattle records for yards, completions and attempts, and earning his third trip to the Pro Bowl.

Alexander arrived in the NFL with star power, which automatically put him at odds with the old-school Holmgren. Holmgren doesn't believe in entourages or perks, and the next time you hear him bragging will be the first.

Alexander might be the workhorse of Seattle's offense, but it hasn't spared him from getting bawled out a time or two.

"My whole career, Mike has always given me an incredibly hard time and I've given him an incredibly hard time right back," Alexander said. "If you're an outsider, you'd think we were always butting heads. I told him, 'I'm like your Brett Favre."'

For all the yelling, what comes through loudest and clearest is the respect and love all Holmgren's players have for him. Asked if he knows what Holmgren is thinking about next season, the usually boisterous Alexander quietly said he did but that he didn't want to talk about it.

"The one thing I wish," he said a few minutes later, "is that I would be able to give him a Super Bowl like Brett did."

Or at least a better send-off.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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