This past Saturday saw the induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame one Brett Favre. 67,000 fans packed Lambeau Field to take a look at and cheer their hero who had lost his way but was back to his football home. Looking back at all the drama, I have to admit that I was one of those who blamed the Packers’ management team of McCarthy-Thompson-Murphy of deliberately using Favre’s usual off-season “drill” of not coming right out and saying he’s too beat-up to participate in off-season drills as an excuse to force him out. After the 2007 season, they demanded that Favre make a “decision” of whether or not he was going to play in 2008. Favre, of course, waffled, because if he said “yes” he would be expected to show up for the OTAs. He had no intention to do so, but Packer management kept insisting, and Favre--probably in a state of pique—announced his “retirement.” I’m not entirely certain that it was not all a calculated risk on Favre’s part, in that he would “unretired” as soon as felt he was “ready” to go back to practice, and the Packers would naturally welcome him back.
Favre played that card, and perhaps surprisingly to him, the recently installed Packers management team was not willing to play along, this time. It was apparent that they thought Favre’s best days were done, and his heir apparent, Aaron Rodgers, had spent enough time cooling his heals on the sidelines. It was his time now. A few days of “discussion” made it clear that Mike McCarthy wasn’t going to just let Favre walk in and take over; it would be an “open” competition for the starting quarterback position. Not surprisingly, Favre was offended by this, as well as he should have been since the 2007 season had at least started off as his best yet before his injury against Dallas, and had led the Packers to the NFC Championship game, only to lose to the Giants in overtime.
Perhaps management was trying to push Favre back into retirement, but after Roger Goodell gave his sanction to allow Favre out of his “retirement,” the Packers had no choice but to play him or trade him. Most Packer fans would have assumed that they would “play” him, but others thought that Favre had overplayed his hand this time, that he was being a diva for refusing to play the “game” that his teammates were expected to play. It wasn’t “fair” for Rodgers to practice with his teammates all spring and essentially be told that he was going to be the starter, and then Favre just strolls in (or flies in) off the street at the last second.
Still, Favre had proven that he was capable of playing at a higher than average level, and certainly the franchise “owed” him a measure of recognition of his past services, which included being the most important piece in bringing the team back to prominence after 25 years. When Favre was traded to the New York Jets, my thoughts were that at least he had a chance to play, and it would be fascinating to see what he could accomplish in another uniform. I was a BIG Brett Favre fan, and at least he wouldn’t be playing against the Packers. After all, there were other numbers to pursue, like 10,000 pass attempts, 70,000 yards and 500 touchdown passes. Another Super Bowl championship would be nice—for him.
Favre obviously wasn’t comfortable with the Jets offensive scheme, and he didn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, although he did have his first 6-TD pass performance against the Arizona Cardinals. The Jets were playoff bound until Favre apparently injured his shoulder against Denver. The Jets finished the season losing four of their last five games, missing the playoffs. Favre often looked awful in those games, and it was just the excuse he needed to “retire,” and for the Jets to release him; but it was probably a back room agreement between the two parties.
Why Favre wanted to play for Minnesota, who made their interest known early on and after the obligatory “vacation” Favre came out of “retirement” to sign with, I not certain. Part of the reason might be because Favre was friendly with some of the players, he thought the team had some good playmakers (like Adrian Peterson) and he had something to “prove” against the now “rival” Packers. Favre had statistically his best season ever in 2009, his first 100+ QB rating and the only season in which he was the starter that he threw single-digit interceptions (7). He beat the Packers twice and eventually made it to the NFC title game, only to be beaten black and blue by the New Orleans Saints’ defense, his swollen ankle preventing him from running for field goal range yardage in front of a wide-open field, instead throwing another soul-crushing interception that led to an overtime loss.
Favre’s ankle injury obviously affected his play in 2010, and a shoulder injury ended his record consecutive start streak. Favre did pass the 70,000 career yards and 500 TD pass mark, and even set a new personal high for passing yards in a single game (446). But he was clearly done, and he didn’t even bother to play the last game of the season, even though he could have. To add shame to embarrassment, Favre lost twice to his nemesis in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers—who led the Packers to a Super Bowl championship that season. Thus Favre’s little excursion added to his final statistics and his pocketbook, but little else. Those of us who still supported him throughout his adventures (including the “sexting” allegation) could at least return to full allegiance with the Packers with the knowledge that Favre did little to “tarnish” what he accomplished in Green Bay.
The evidence that all is forgiven is the heading on Favre’s official website, which dispenses with imagery of his brief stints with the Jets and Vikings, just Favre in the green and gold, as it should be. Favre knows where his enduring fame lies—not necessarily as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but as one of the greatest football players ever. This guy put everything on the field, for (more often) better or for worse. Sure, Favre threw all those interceptions, but that is what made life so “exciting” for Packer fans. Quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are machine-like, but Favre was the “gunslinger” and the “gambler.” And he won 160 regular season games in 16 seasons as the Packers’ quarterback, with only one losing season, and the Packers first NFL championship since Lombardi.
Favre expressed “surprise” that the tickets to Saturday’s induction ceremony sold-out within hours; even his daughter observed that Packer fans must “really like you.” I’m a bit surprised he actually doubted that. I grew-up in Wisconsin and have been a die-hard Packer fan for almost a half-century. I remember those bad old days, when the Packers’ best player was their kicker, Chester Marcol—and even he kind of sucked after three great seasons, two of which he led the NFL in scoring. Sure, quarterback Lynn Dickey and a platoon of outstanding receivers made things exciting for a few years before injury sidelined his promising career in the early Eighties, but otherwise Green Bay was a frozen wasteland that none of the best players wanted to be exiled to (especially black players).
But then the Packers new GM, Ron Wolf arrived on the scene and had his eye set on Favre, even after Atlanta drafted him. New coach Mike Holmgren was at first less enthusiastic, but the aw-shucks Favre fit-in with any group, and good players wanted to play with him, because he was the kind of quarterback who made Pro Bowlers out of receivers who with another team might be just average (just look at Sidney Rice’s post-Favre stats). Favre stepped in as starter in game four in 1992, and never looked back. The Packers didn’t have a losing season until 2005, when most of Favre’s starting receiving corps spent all or most of the season on the injured list.
The fact is that Favre never really was out of favor with fans, just a little disappointment that he chose to play for a division rival. If anything, Packer fans were unhappy that it took so long for him to acknowledge that he was, after all, a Packer and not one of those other guys. To heck with Thompson and Murphy, we Packer fans knew what the score was, there was no need to draw out the drama, hurt feelings and all. Now we are all one happy “family” again, with the memory of many great years to be proud to number oneself as a Packer Backer. Time to move-on to another Super Bowl, Mr. Rodgers. It’s your neighborhood now.