Yes, Aaron Rodgers, rather unexpectedly, held out the olive branch for Packer Nation yesterday by standing in front of the entire NFL and anyone tuning in, playfully poking fun at the drama that unfolded five years ago. There wasn’t a soul that watched the banter that didn’t find a level of levity in both Favre’s feigned praise of comeback players versus Rodgers’ mock slam that retired players should just stay retired.
So, naturally, the door was then opened for Packer Nation to (surprise!) spend most of the NFL Honors show arguing over Brett Favre and whether or not they are willing to forgive him or not. Tired old debates were resurrected, many of them the same ones we’ve seen haunting Packer Internet forums and comment sections of blogs for years. Condemnations of his behavior, his willingness to abandon the fans that had supported him for so long, to “not care” about the team that had invested so much in him and show patience in his early, mistake-prone youth.
Oh, and of course, his mission to “stick it” to Ted Thompson, a quote that was attributed to him second-hand at the time, but confirmed in 2009 when he said, ”Part of me coming back last year, I have to admit now, was sticking it to Ted.’
There are many who can’t look past this, even five years later, even over a year after he retired, or even after Thompson, McCarthy, and Rodgers all won a Super Bowl the season after Favre’s last, best chance ended in yet another choking interception.
And truly, I sympathize with those people, and understand where they are coming from. You’re talking to a guy who developed a reputation years before 2008 as a huge Favre defender, deflecting the increasing attacks from a part of the fan base that was devoted to proving he was both a bad quarterback and a bad person. I’ve had to eat a lot of crow since those days over my defense of Favre’s character, but I still stand behind Favre being the best chance the Packers had until Rodgers was truly ready to take over full-time. Like it or not, a young Rodgers was not going to have any career success playing behind Adrian Klemme and Wil Whittaker, much less the young trio of Colledge, Spitz, and Moll.
But this all happened in another decade, the memories of which some of us still cling to with the passion of our political convictions, willing to claim to never forgive Brett Favre unless (among other things) he makes a complete and contrite apology for everything he ever did to harm us as fans and the organization. I think it’s time to move on, for everyone’s sake.
Look, Favre demonstrated his douchewaffleness to no end in 2008, and there were certainly indications that he already was a bit of a jerk long before that. These were his actions and he needs to take accountability for them, and regardless, there will be consequences for them.
Many have drawn comparisons between the way Donald Driver left the team to the way Brett Favre left the team. Both players have a lot of commonalities, not the least of which is a sense of ownership the fans seem to have with them. Yes, Driver did have to look in the face of an almost sure contract offer from the Minnesota Vikings, search his soul, and decide that it was better to retire than to continue playing for a team that might affect his legacy.
But what bothered me was the fan response to the idea that Driver shouldn’t have even been playing this year, and that he better retire instead of even thinking of continuing on. Words like, “He’s just lucky he had a roster spot at all this year,” and “He better retire instead of tarnishing his career like Favre did” kind of stuck in my craw. Since when do we have the right to even dream of dictating someone else’s career path, as if our support is all the matters to them at that point?
Guys like Favre and Driver are looking at the end of the only career they’ve ever known. When most of us reach our mid-30′s, our careers are just taking off, with years of toil invested in our youth finally blossoming. In the NFL, it’s the nature of the beast, especially for the very best of the best, to desperately try to hang on for as long as they can, to milk out one more season before the cheering stops forever.
No, I never wanted Favre to go and be a Minnesota Viking. But in the end, he got what he wanted anyway, despite the jousting and parrying of Thompson and Murphy. He didn’t win a Super Bowl, but he got a couple of wins against the Packers. If that’s what was most important to Favre, I’ll trade that for the Lombardi Trophy any day. I’m sure, looking back, Favre would, too.
My point is that we seem to feel these players owe us something, that we have some sort of control over them. We don’t. They’re going to do what they are going to do, just like Ted Thompson has done as a general manager, just like Mike McCarthy has done as a coach. When they mess up, they will deal with the backlash. And when they do well, they get our accolades. But, in the end, its a business, and like anyone in any business, it usually comes down to doing what’s best for yourself.
The fact, however, that Rodgers was willing to go along with the skit should be an indication of what reality really is for all parties involved, and that is no one wants this continued drama hanging over their heads anymore. Favre’s cheering has stopped, and wants to belong to something again. Mark Murphy knows it isn’t of any benefit to the Packers organization to have one of its legendary players continuing to be ostracized from the team and by its fan base. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy no longer want to have that 2008 offseason looming over them, since they’ve long since vindicated themselves from it.
And Aaron Rodgers has stepped out of Favre’s shadow, and is no longer asked about Favre every time he’s interviewed. He’s come into his own as an MVP or MVP candidate the past three seasons. Favre no longer has to define who Rodgers is or who he needs to be or not be. My guess is that all parties involved are testing the waters in order to move on from the drama of nearly five seasons ago, and once they get the feeling that we’re at least okay with it, they will pull the trigger.
The hardest battle for many of us is to separate Favre the Player from Favre the Man. The Man will likely never return to his past glory, and he has no one to really blame besides himself for that. But the successes of Favre the Player shouldn’t be erased because of his actions off the field, nor should the fact that he proudly wore green and gold as he achieved them.
Paul Hornung’s name adorns the Ring of Honor at Lambeau Field and his #5 is unofficially retired, yet he engaged in a Pete Rose-esque scandal that caused him to miss an entire season, suspended by the league for gambling on NFL games. No one holds that against the Golden Boy, a mere footnote in the history of his great and glorious career. He remains beloved by fans of that era who lived through the disappointment of his shame in 1963. The difference, of course, was his redemption. He was apologetic and contrite immediately for his actions. Perhaps Rose should have studied a little history.
James Lofton was welcomed back to the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame and also has his number adorning the Ring of Honor at Lambeau Field, despite a history of sexual assault accusations that led directly to his trade to the Oakland Raiders. While his 1984 accusation of sexual assault never led to charges, Lofton did admit his exploits with a Milwaukee dancer was consensual…as did Eddie Lee Ivery (*shudder*). In 1986, he was charged with sexual assault in the stairwell of the Top Shelf nightclub in downtown Green Bay. While he was eventually found not guilty, the act still happened, despite being married to his wife and fan favorite, Beverly. These sins were brushed aside when it came time to honor Lofton as one of the greatest Packers to grace Lambeau Field.
Does this mean that, because Packer fans are apparently willing to forgive gambling and infidelity, that we must also forgive Brett Favre’s selfishness? No, it doesn’t. But those sins will wash away over time, just as Hornung’s and Lofton’s have, and we will be left with the body of a man’s career on the field. It is that we choose to keep over the flaws of the man off the field.
There are some who will never forgive, and that is their right. But it is time to end the “if you support Brett Favre, you’re not a true Packer fan” garbage. That might have been a viable talking point in 2008. And 2009. And 2010. But as Aaron Rodgers proved last night, that time has passed. Favre walked out of a tunnel of flatscreens showing nothing but Packer highlights of both quarterbacks as they entered the stage together, if not exactly side-by-side. There were no Jet or Falcon highlights (not that there were any), nor any Viking highlights. Favre and Rodgers entered in a storm of Green and Gold.
There may be no level of contrition from Favre that will please every fan’s anger with him. But at some point, the men involved are going to move on and welcome Favre The Player back into the fold. We can see then exactly how apologetic and proud Favre is to be a Packer again.
But for those that will continue to drag their feet and claim to never welcome him back, one day these immortal words will again be spoken:
“The train has left the station.”
New train. New direction.
C.D. Angeli is a longtime Packer fan (yes, long before Favre ever played a down for the Packers) and feature writer for CheeseheadTV. He is also the co-host of Cheesehead Radio and good cop at PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.