|Brett Favre, Super Bowl XXXI, Packers.com|
I could have done nothing all week but watch Favre videos, read Favre stories, and watch old Favre games, and believe me, I was tempted to do just that. I have already watched the "One of a Kind" program at Packers.com, which is definitely worth watching. And I will try to watch as much as I can of the non-stop Favre coverage on Saturday on the NFL Network, starting at 6:00 am California time.
It is hard to add much to everything that is being said this week, except maybe for some personal thoughts. I have always been a Packers fan, but I didn't really appreciate the glory days of the 1960's until they were already over. And then, like all Packers fans of my vintage, we suffered through the 1970's and 1980's. Maybe it was better for me, in a way, to live outside of Wisconsin for most of that time, before DirecTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket. I would get to see maybe 2 or 3 Packers games in a typical season, and usually go to one game in person. The games were frequently disappointing, but it was still a special occasion to be able to watch my team.
Then things started to fall into place. The Packers hired Ron Wolf, who certainly had a great pedigree, and then Wolf hired that year's star head-coach prospect, Mike Holmgren. Expectations started to rise, as they always did in the off-season, but this time with more intensity. And then they traded a first round draft choice for the Falcons' second round pick from the previous year, some southern kid named Brett Favre. We didn't even know how to pronounce his name at first, and as one who does not follow college football, I truly had no idea who he was. He made some noise in the off-season by getting into a bar fight down south, and as luck would have it, we happened to attend the first home pre-season game in 1992. Don Majkowski played most of the first half, until Favre came in with 2 minutes to go and 80 yards away from the end zone. With 2 minutes left, there was plenty of time for a respectable drive. But the first pass I ever saw Favre throw in a game was one where he reared back and heaved it as far as he could throw it. It was intercepted, and as the crowd grew quiet, someone a few rows behind yelled out, "better stick to bar-fighting, dude!" We have always wondered what that guy must have thought a few years later.
In September of that year, we happened to go to a now-defunct Packers bar/restaurant in Redwood City, CA, with our 2 and 5 year old kids, for the third game of the season, against Cincinnati. Majkowski was knocked out of the game, and Favre came in, and the rest was history, just like Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig. Our kids may have been born during the Don Majkowski era, but they are now in their mid to late 20's and the only regular Packers quarterbacks they have ever known are Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. And they were there, in that Redwood City bar, when the legend began.
What a time the 1990's and 2000's were with Brett Favre at the helm. Favre, along with Reggie White, Holmgren and Wolf, made the Packers perennial contenders again. Expectations were high every single season, but for a change there was good reason for high expectations. When I attended my first home and road Packers playoffs games, Favre was the quarterback (he won both games). When I attended my first NFC Championship game, and my first Super Bowl, Favre was the quarterback (he won both those games, too). In my dynasty fantasy football league, he was my quarterback for basically his entire Packers career.
We lived through the great times with Favre, and the not-so-great times. There was the Vicodin addiction, there were the first three home playoff losses in the history of Lambeau Field (to the Falcons, the Vikings, and the Giants). There was the first ever loss by the Packers in a Super Bowl. There were the wasted opportunities, such as the loss at Dallas in the NFC Championship game, and the ill-timed interceptions. Looking back on it, I still can't believe that the Packers only won one Super Bowl in the Favre era. While I wouldn't go as far as to call the Favre-era Packers a mere "fart in the wind," in Ron Wolf's immortal phrase, I can't help but feel that they underachieved with the amount of talent they had.
But notwithstanding all that, the Brett Favre era changed everything for the Packers and for their fans. So it devastated many of us when he retired, un-retired, demanded to be traded, and eventually ended up playing for both the Jets and the Vikings. We knew that he would eventually retire or leave the team, but we weren't ready for it, even though many of us knew that he could no longer play well in the cold (the NFC Championship game against the Giants was still fresh in our minds).
The ugliness of the summer of 2008 is well captured in a couple of articles by Peter King and Kevin Seifert. It had the effect of forcing Packers fans to choose sides between Favre and the Packers. In my own family, most of us took the Packers' side. We felt that Favre had jerked the Packers around, off-season after off-season, with his melodramatic musings about whether he would retire or not. Nobody really knew that Rodgers would turn out to be as great as he is, but we could see that the carefully groomed replacement for Favre could end up leaving as a free agent if he didn't get a chance to become the starter. All of that left us with the feeling that Favre had more responsibility for the nastiness of the divorce than the Packers.
The minority position in our family was that the Packers bore more of the responsibility. My wife, Judy, is the leading family proponent of this view. She argues that the Packers forced him to decide whether to retire too early, at a time (in March) when he was not ready to make that decision. She noticed in the tearful retirement press conference right away, from both the words and the body language, that something was wrong with what was happening. The premature retirement decision ultimately led to his decision to un-retire, because he really still wanted to play. And then to compound matters, having decided to make the change and move on to Rodgers, the Packers were unwilling to just release him (the argument was that a veteran of his stature deserves a release when he asks for one after being replaced as starter), or to trade him to a team of his own choosing. This latter theme is echoed in some of Favre's own recent comments, to the effect that he was ticked off that the Packers felt he was not good enough to be their starting quarterback, but that he was good enough that they were not willing to trade him to a rival team.
That argument has raged in our family for the past seven years. I am hoping that we can finally put it behind us now that Favre and the Packers are back in each others' good graces. Here is another argument I will try to put to rest. My wife is also insistent that Favre was more fun to watch than Rodgers, and that some of Favre's craziest decisions were part of what made him so much fun to watch. I maintain that it is more fun to watch Rodgers, because I can watch him without living in fear, on every play, that he will pull a catastrophically boneheaded move. I prefer the reliability and precision of Rodgers over the sometimes-reckless play of Favre.
But what I will say is that the joy of watching Brett Favre was that no player I can remember ever displayed the pure, almost-childlike love of playing the game that Brett Favre did. He expressed this himself in one of the clips in "One of a Kind." He said that if the team was down by 21 points with a minute to go, he wanted the ball in his hands. He realized that the chance of winning was about zero. But he still wanted to play. Another example was his 6 interception playoff game against the Rams. At the time he said something to the effect that what was he supposed to do - play it safe and worry about his stats as they were in the process of losing a playoff game? He might as well take some chances and leave it all on the field. I will always love and respect that aspect of Brett Favre's play. And I thank him for all of the memories.