In April of 2005, with the 22nd overall pick in the NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers selected quarterback Aaron Rodgers from the University of California.
That is the point in time where a changing of the guard began to take place in Green Bay. By no means was then-starting quarterback Brett Favre “done” or “washed up,” as he still had six good years left in the tank, and started all of them. But, he was also in his mid-thirties, and that’s a time where every team in every sport takes a look at a great player and says something along the lines of “we probably need to try and find the next one.”
The Packers couldn’t have found a better one in Rodgers, and he may end up having a better career and have the Vince Lombardi trophy brought back to Lambeau another time or two, but there’s something about him that at least makes me say:
“He’s still not Brett.”
That 2005 season was a rough one, as the Packers stumbled to a 4-12 record and the No. 5 overall pick, but the tutelage began. In 2006, the Packers had a better season, but were still not playoff bound. Finally, 2007 came along, and the Packers got the No. 2 overall seed in the NFC (behind only the Cowboys) and made the postseason. I am too young to remember Favre winning the Super Bowl and losing the year after, but I remember the 2001 (or so) Favre and beyond, which is why this season was significant to me. It was the furthest Brett took the Packers that I have memory of.
Both of those playoff games show the two sides of Brett to me. The first game in Lambeau against the Seahawks was nicknamed the Snow Bowl, due to Lambeau having snow all over the field and lots of it throughout the game. They shoveled the yard lines every chance they could get. I remember watching it and thinking at the time this would be a game I would remember, and I honestly don’t remember the score, or the succession of events, or even who Green Bay’s best pass rusher was. What I remember about that game was Brett Favre’s reaction, how he looked like a boy running around having a great time, like a guy who loved what he was doing. That’s what I remember about the game.
The Packers then went on to face the New York Giants, who had beaten the No. 1 seeded Dallas Cowboys to make a trip up to Lambeau to take on the Pack, and this was where the other side of Favre came into play. I don’t remember things like scores or event sequence, but I remember there was a third or fourth down, and the Packers were losing and it was up to Favre to make the pass to keep Super Bowl hopes alive, and he threw one of his many career interceptions. After that play, the cameras kept going back to him, wondering if this would be the last time they saw the then-all time touchdown leader throw a football (who is also the all-time leading interception leader). It was the last pass he threw as a Packer, but he went on to play four more seasons with the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings.
Back to the positive side of things. Brett Favre to me wasn’t a guy who ditched the Packers to go play for a rival, or a guy who pouted and whined and complained. He was the guy who would do anything he could to play quarterback every Sunday in the fall, no matter how banged up he was. He was the Cal Ripken Jr. of the NFL. Actually, it’s more like Cal Ripken Jr. was the Brett Favre of baseball. He was a guy who would play, despite having a broken thumb, marital issues, or a father who passed away the night before perhaps the best game of his career. He was a guy who wasn’t overly concerned with analytics, statistics, or things that people use now to complicate the game and try to calculate it in somewhat unnecessary ways. He didn’t care about that stuff (and according to a former backup of his, he had no idea what nickel defense meant which I think is hilarious). He just wanted to go out a make a big play and improvise. Most importantly, he was a guy who wanted to go out and have as much fun as possible, which is why sports started in the first place. He loved winning, like anybody else, but having fun was just as important, even in the most important of circumstances.
So, when you watch the Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday, remember that despite all of his problems Brett was ultimately good for the game, and is a legend deserving to be among the names of John Elway and Joe Montana, and will be joined in five years by Peyton Manning. I grew up watching Brett, and I’m glad the rest of Packer Nation got over him going to the Vikings, because despite all of that, things still turned out for the best. Aaron Rodgers led us to a Super Bowl 45 victory while Brett was struggling to stay healthy, and had we kept Brett, Aaron may not have been able to overcome all of the would-be drama in the 2008 offseason. We never know.
But there are two things I do know: Brett Favre deserves a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction as much as anybody, and Brett knew how to enjoy the ride to Canton.
Photo: NY Daily News