Why can't Green Bay get over Brett Favre?
The return of Brett Favre to Green Bay Sunday as a member of the archrival Minnesota Vikings has prompted mayoral attention and a mock funeral. Then again, in Green Bay, football is family.
True, Favre maintains loyal fans in the city he played and was canonized in for 16 years. You can still find people wearing the familiar Favre jersey, in both the politically correct green and gold and the traitorous new purple of the Minnesota Vikings. Many will always remember the grit, leadership, and, most important, the Super Bowl trophy he helped bring to "Titletown."
But others feel a biblical sense of betrayal from the man who tearfully retired from the Packers two years ago and is now returning with Viking horns on his helmet. Leif Ericson probably never confronted a storm more intimidating.
Yes, Favre did try to rejoin his former team shortly after his emotional farewell, only to be rebuffed by Packer management, which said it wanted to move on. Yes, Farve did come back to play last year, but it was for the New York Jets – who cares? His return as the quarterback of the archrival Vikings is like Joe Biden resigning and then becoming executive producer for Rush Limbaugh. (Actually, has anyone seen Joe lately?)
The intensity of emotion probably explains why Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt found enough time amid his civic duties this past week to solicit public advice on how to "tastefully" welcome back Favre. Among the official suggestions he adopted:
• Decreeing Oct. 30 "flip-flop Friday," in which residents were encouraged to wear the footwear to work to mock Favre's waffling on whether to come out of retirement.
• Renaming Minnesota Ave. as Aaron Rodgers Drive, after the Packers quarterback. No word yet on whether the mayor will force the renaming of the local Brett Favre Steakhouse to the Brett Favre Arugula House.
Down the road a bit, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been running an online poll about how fans should greet Favre when he runs onto the field Sunday. With more than 32,000 responses in, it shows a decided tilt toward the "boo" category. Last week, a Green Bay radio station staged a mock funeral for Favre.
All this could be dismissed as good parochial fun, but there is a vein of passion in it. Unlike most other cities with professional sports franchises, only one name inhabits the marquee in Green Bay. When the Red Sox founder in Boston, New Englanders can shift to the Patriots or Celtics. In Pittsburgh, the tragedy of the Pirates can be soothed in the triumphs of the Steelers.
Not so in Green Bay. It's only the Packers and deer hunting. That's one reason some 80,000 names clog a waiting list for Packers season tickets. It's why when you're in cleats here, you are, whether you eat at Olive Garden or not, family.
And, make no mistake, Brett Favre was definitely a member of La Cosa Nostra Cheesehead. Just consider what happened in the PFE (Pre-Favreian Era).
Green Bay, a proud franchise, fielded teams with more losing records than winning ones in the 1970s and '80s. Then in 1992 came the debut of the lad from Mississippi with the javelin arm and Jack-o-lantern grin, leading the team to 11 winning seasons in 16 years, including a Lombardi trophy.
Even with the messy separation two years ago, many locals would have been happy with Favre for life – wearing any color but purple. The Vikings won the first encounter at home, largely on Favre's arm.
Now he has the temerity to invade the sacred sod of Lambeau. The game has taken on added importance because the Vikings and Packers are, once again, locked in a tight race in their division. The Packers (4-2) could come within a half game of the Vikings (6-1) if they win.
At his press conference this week, Favre tried to downplay the importance of his return to Green Bay. It's just one of 16 games, he said. Yeah – and the Taliban are a bunch of misunderstood feminists.
After the team's first encounter in the Metrodome, Favre admitted that he was more nervous than during either of his Super Bowl appearances. How could he not have goosebumps when returning to his football Mecca? He is, after all, an emotional athlete, which has generally served him well. To this day, he bounds into the huddle like a Cocker Spaniel, even though, after his birthday a couple weeks ago, he is now 280 in dog years.
The game Sunday will turn on a lot of things. Can Green Bay stop the relentless pass rush of Jared Allen? Can the Vikings' banged-up secondary stop Green Bay's prodigious aerial attack?
As much as anything, it might turn on Favre's ability to manage his emotions. It will be Green Bay. History. Grudges. Gouda cheeseheads – none from Vermont.
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