On September 27, 1992, Brett Favre made his first start as a Green Bay Packer. The next week, he made his second start. And, from that point in time on, the Green Bay Packers never needed a backup quarterback to make a significant start in a game until...well, today.
21 years, 1 month, 2 weeks. It's the kind of streak that can make you take having a starting quarterback week-in and week-out for granted. Moreover, its something that can make you overlook the position and focus your draft picks and salary cap on other areas of the team. After all, if you don't really NEED a backup quarterback for over twenty years, what could go wrong?
Frankly, I blame it on the Favre Hangover. No, not the ones that he likely nursed over the first half of his career, but the one that Ted Thompson inherited when he took over as General Manager of the Green Bay Packers. You have to remember that Ron Wolf hired Thompson as a scout for the team right at the same time he made the trade for Favre in '92. Thompson was a front office witness for the first 120 starts of The Streak.
And in Thompson's formative years working in the front office of an NFL team, he first watched Wolf invest draft picks in some quality backups for Favre. Certainly, Mark Brunnell and Ty Detmer were good enough in Favre's early years to even warrant consideration to enter the game when the untamed Favre was misfiring. Both went on to start for other teams. But after those two, Wolf began a revolving door of has-been veterans and draft pick fliers that, with the exception of Matt Hasselback, were excellent clipboard holders and never remotely a viable threat to challenge Favre's starting position.
Of course, guys like Doug Pederson, Steve Bono, and Jim McMahon were solid team guys to have on the team, but when Favre needed to leave a game early, their performances made Holmgren more than ready to welcome back Favre the following week.
During the Sherman Era as GM, the confidence that Favre would make every start grew, with Pederson serving as Favre's only backup from 2001-2004.
When Thompson returned in 2005, The Streak was well over 200 games with no end in sight. One of Thompson's first moves as the new GM of the Green Bay Packers was to draft a first rounder named Aaron Rodgers, who then served the next three seasons behind Favre.
But, let's be clear on this. Rodgers was never brought in as a backup. He was brought in as the heir apparent for an aging starter. One could imagine that Thompson even hoped Favre would retire following the miserable 2005 season and Rodgers would enter alongside the restructuring of the team around new coach Mike McCarthy in 2006.
When Favre finally left the team following the 2007 season, Rodgers' days as a backup were over. However, the pattern of just having "a guy" backing up the starter was just beginning.
Thompson, to his credit, did draft two quarterbacks in the 2008 Draft, but most observers were skeptical of third-round pick Brian Brohm as it was made. Brohm had no ability to move in the pocket and didn't project as an NFL starter. A flyer pick on a kid from LSU, Matt Flynn, ended up being the backup for a few seasons, but he was a rag-armed risk to put on the field for several seasons.
At the end of the 2011 season, when Flynn started the season finale in a meaningless game surrounded by backups, he threw six touchdown passes in what could best be described as an Arena League game played on an NFL field. That game led us (and the rest of the NFL) to believe that Thompson had truly hit a late-round gem. But his subsequent failures with the Seahawks, Raiders, and Bills underscore the sobering fact that Flynn is truly little more than a seventh-round pick with a rag arm.
Unfortunately, Flynn's success in that one game also convinced Thompson that he was a gem-finder at the backup quarterback position, placing his cards on the arms of undrafted Graham Harrell and 2012 seventh-rounder BJ Coleman. After all, Flynn had "developed" in his four seasons as a backup to Rodgers. Certainly, one of these two would eventually develop too, right?
But therein lies the problem. Projects, prospects, and "guys you hope develop" are the ones you stick on the practice squad. Thompson has had projects backing up Rodgers since he became a starter, and--perhaps thanks to his own formative years learning that backup quarterbacks will never be used--figured it was all okay.
We're never going to need them anyway.
But reality set in not last Sunday, but in this training camp, when it was clear that any progress Harrell had made was lost, and Coleman hadn't taken any steps forward from his shaky training camp last year.
Thompson wasted time with Vince Young, bringing in the washed-up and ill-fitting quarterback for an extended tryout. Thompson looked like the successful career woman at her ten-year class reunion who saw the former high school quarterback that had always spurned her--now fat, unemployed, and trying to relive his glory days. The Young experiment had all the markings of an unrequited love that, thankfully, never worked out...but we just had to make sure.
In the end, Thompson cut all three quarterback by the end of training camp, a bizarre move for a general manager who has been honored as one of the NFL's best and a head coach who had the reputation as a quarterback guru. The subsequent signing of Seneca Wallace had all the fingerprints of the mid-90's signings of other washed-up has-beens like McMahon, Bono, and Pederson.
Except, after 21 years, the chickens have come home to roost, and Thompson is the one who has to step forward and accept his failure to properly address the backup position. It's a critical juncture in the season, with the Packers on track for just a 10-6 record with Rodgers starting every game thus far.
The question you might pose to me might be "who should the Packers have signed, then?" My answer to that is "someone who would have been able to do the job". Wallace might end up being a decent fill-in for these games without Rodgers, but he should never have been in the position to be the #2 quarterback without the benefit of a full training camp, nor should he only have been running the scout teams and not taking any snaps with the #1's.
Wallace is now forced to cram the playbook and try and get in sync with the rest of the offense, something that he wouldn't have had to do if Thompson wasn't wasting time with the Three Stooges in training camp.
Let me be clear: I have a lot of respect for Ted Thompson. He's built a team capable of winning a Super Bowl (and they did) and it says a lot when only three players on the active roster ever served any time with another NFL team. He's built a perennial contender from the ground up, and the talent on this roster is almost completely homegrown. I am not calling for his head or thinking we'd be better off with someone else in his chair.
But every player, coach, and front office person in this organization is, in Mike McCarthy's own words, held to the standard of "accountability and availability". When it comes to properly handling the backup quarterback position, Thompson fell asleep at the wheel after Rodgers took over the starting job. The mess the Packers find themselves in right now falls squarely at the feet of the general manager.
Let's hope that over the rest of Rodgers' career, Thompson no longer looks at the backup position as "some guy that will never have to start a game". Maybe that was true when Favre was here.
C.D. Angeli is a lifelong Packer fan and feature writer at CheeseheadTV. He is the co-host of the weekly Packers podcast Cheesehead Radio and is the good cop running PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision. He'll be at the game today cheering for his team and supporting our veterans.
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