Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On his side

When I was growing up in Wisconsin, there seemed to be a disconnect with fantasy and reality. The fantasy was that the Green Bay Packers were a really good football team. The reality was that they were a really bad football. I heard all the stories about the Lombardi Era, but they seemed more fable than fabulous. All I knew was that my reality was a team that was mediocre-to-bad year after year, for 25 years. There was the occasional hic-cup, like the 1972 team that won its division despite having a quarterback, Scott Hunter, who couldn’t hit the side of a barn if he tried. The 1983 team behind Lynn Dickey put on wild aerial show (Dickey still holds the team single season passing yardage record), and the team played maddeningly wildly too. Five overtime games and total points scored in a Monday Night thriller against the Redskins also remain the standard. In 1989 Packer fans thought they had finally found their “Majik” man. But these were just mirages; like the Seattle Mariners baseball team since 2003, a winning season merely masked just how bad the team really was, to be quickly uncovered the following year.

Following Vince Lombardi’s final year as coach, the Packers had 21 different quarterbacks start at least one game through 1991. Some these guys were grizzled veterans who for some odd reason you thought were still good (John Hadl, Jim Zorn), guys who could have been good if they had stayed upright (Dickey), and the flash in the pan (Don Majkowski). The Packers drafted Jerry Tagge in first round in 1972, thinking that he would replicate the success he had at Nebraska, when he led the Cornhuskers to back-to-back national championships; in 12 starts, he threw 3 TD passes and 17 INTs. And what die-hard Packer fan could forget Jim Del Gaizo, Jack Concannon, Don Milan, Carlos Brown, and Alan Risher? Well, I could, and did. It was easy.

Packer general manager Ron Wolf hired Mike Holmgren to coach the team in 1992. He also wanted a party boy named Brett Favre, who was destined for a career on the bench with the Atlanta Falcons. Holmgren had scouted Favre when he was still offensive coordinator with the 49ers, and had deemed him unfit, for reasons of character, to play in the 49er “system.” Holmgren initially demurred when Wolf expressed a desire to acquire Favre. But in the end Holmgren was finally persuaded to give Favre a shot. Majkowski proved unable to grasp the West Coast offense, and his injury in the third game of the 1992 season, against the Bengals, had an air of inevitability about it. Favre entered the game, fumbled a few snaps, ran into a pulling offensive lineman, and generally looked bumbling for most the game. Fans lustily booed Favre, calling for third-stringer Ty Detmer. But despite his bumbling, Favre was clearly able to move the team down the field more effectively than Majkowski. Favre’s cannon arm proved to be the difference in the final period; the Packers scored three TDs in the 4th quarter, including a stunning 35 yard pass to Kitrick Taylor in the final seconds to win the game. The rest was “history.”

The more recent past has caused many Packer fans to view Favre as a traitor or worse; perhaps not surprisingly, on his official website Favre pointedly welcomes his "supporters" rather than his "fans." I chose to take to Favre’s view of the situation, that GM Ted Thompson and company were giving him the impression that they really didn’t want him back. As much as I am a Packer fan, I am also a Favre fan. One day back during that contentious summer of 2008, the last two letters to-the-editor posted on the Green Bay Post-Gazette website were lengthy final summations on the guilt or innocence of the accused. I wrote for Favre defense, in which I pointed out that for 25 years the “frozen tundra” was a place where few good players wanted to be, and Green Bay had been at the time little more than a wasteland of past memories and present mediocrity. Until, that is, until Favre made his entry onto the scene. Save for one season when two top receivers and the starting RB were out with injuries, the Packers never lost more than they won in 16 years, and Favre was the one constant. But times change. It was common knowledge that Favre had personal and philosophical differences with Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, but that wasn’t the real issue. Favre wasn’t Thompson “guy,” and he was hot to put his man, Aaron Rodgers, out as the starting quarterback. Thompson and McCarthy knew that Favre would not take kindly to being pressed, and it did seem as if they were trying to shove him out the door on their terms, not his. They didn’t want him back, and yet they didn’t want to be blamed for running him out of town.

In my view, after all he had done for the franchise, if he wanted to play and they didn’t want him, they should do the right thing and release him so he could play for a team that did want him; after all he had just come off one of his best years, and an overtime interception away from the Super Bowl (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). If they really thought he was washed-up, why would they be afraid if he played for Minnesota? Backed-up against the wall, Thompson traded Favre to the Jets with less than a month before the start of the regular season, expecting, rightly, that Favre would find success there problematic, having no knowledge of their offense. After having seven 300-yard passing games in 2007, he had none in 2008.

Now that Favre is playing for the Vikings, I am of two minds on this, I never liked the Vikings, but I am a Favre fan. The fact is I want to see Favre play well, and unfortunately that means that the Vikings have to win a couple of games, if for no other reason than all those Favre-haters in the media can be made to look foolish. On the other hand I have to admit that I don’t want them to win the Super Bowl, because I am a fan of the Packers, and I want Favre to remember what team he played for when he won his only championship ring.

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