I woke up on the morning of March 5, 2008 with swollen eyes, mascara dried in lines down my face and the taste of the previous night’s wine in my mouth. I stumbled to the bathroom, where I avoided looking at myself in the mirror – that would only make me cry again. I washed my face and reached for my contacts. One was missing. It’s down the drain. With my tears and the water, it had floated away. I do not wear disposable contacts.
Great, I thought, another thing I can blame on Brett Favre retiring.
To say that I took the Packers/Favre divorce hard is an understatement. My whole world stopped; it became my life. I spent hours watching and re-watching his retirement press conference, days debating what kind of itch he might have, constantly finding parallels between it and my real life, and I spent first pass he threw as a Jet sitting on the floor of a bathroom.
So when I received an email from Michael Neelsen in September of 2010 about production of a film called “Last Day at Lambeau”, I developed a kinship with the project. Finally, I was not alone in what I went through or in the range of emotions that raged through me every time I would accidentally catch a clip of Brett Favre playing. Unable to cry on camera about how tragic the story was for me, I waited eagerly for the project to finish. And after viewing the film twice this week, I can honestly say, I did not wait in vain.
Last Day at Lambeau opens with a group of kids inventorying all their packer collectibles. They’re just ordinary Green Bay kids, with a lot of loot. What follows are scenes that many of us know well: young Packer fans clinging to chain link fences watching Packers practice, running alongside a beast of a player riding their bike, waiting with arms outstretched holding cards for players to sign. These images are crucial to the film. The Green Bay Packers did not make Last Day At Lambeau, nor did Brett Favre. This is the story of one fan, Michael Neelsen, and his journey to understanding and explaining the events the led to the Favre/Packers divorce and culminated in the “Last Day At Lambeau”.
“We all loved him.” “I hate Brett Favre.”
Those two sentences are heard back to back in the film, as LDAL goes back to the beginning to tell it’s very detailed story of how Packer fans fell in love, and then mourned, and then were angry, and then were hurt by Brett Favre. The story weaves through interviews with beat reporters, writers, bloggers and fans mixed in with news footage of the time. I don’t think a more detailed and thorough account of that time exists as Neelsen leaves no stone of the tumultuous time unturned.
The people that are featured in LDAL are both its strength and its weakness. Lori Nickel and Tom Pelissero really provide the back bone of the story, from the Favre retirement press conference to the Packers victory of Favre’s Vikings at Lambeau in 2011. Both are strong interviewees and provide great knowledge and insight. Neelsen does a great job of letting the two of them be his storytellers. As this is definitely not just a reporter’s tale, LDAL does also include interviews with St. Vince - one of the most recognizable Packer fans, some of the people who created rallies and websites in support of Brett Favre, and fan site bloggers. These interviews proved very crucial when explaining how fans felt when Favre first retired and then the dramatic return/release request/trade with the Jets period. Yet, after this point, fans make a more limited appearance. My story as a fan did not stop there, and obviously Neelsen’s didn’t either. I would have liked to see more fans - not just the iconic or the ones who started pro-Brett Favre websites - in the film. Someone like myself. Someone who at first really really wanted Favre back and then couldn’t stand him and is now looking for a way to move on.
I suppose though at the same time, LDAL is that fan’s voice. It’s a little strange to write this, but when watching the movie I felt like I was watching a bunch of my memories over again. Yeah, that did happen to me; I found myself nodding along with the film.
But the film is not just rehashing; it’s placing things into context. I’d like to think I remember that time well. But for some reason I was completely surprised to remember that Mark Murphy was hired as Brett was retiring and that two met for this first time when Murphy flew down to Hattiesburg to try to talk Favre out of retiring. I also was unaware the dynamics between Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, with some in the film speculating that McCarthy was the one that wanted Favre out more. I also had forgotten that Favre chose to leave. For as much as I would sit and say “he left, he retired...” it completely left my mind that Favre could have simply said to McCarthy in their meeting, “I want to be a Packer” but he didn’t. I also don’t think I ever realized how bad of a cold weather quarterback Favre was becoming in his later years with the Packers. All of these things got kind of mushed together in my brain, with time and distance; to remember, to feel like I was reliving it all, is something that I enjoyed.
One of the biggest questions people have about the film is that they want to know its slant. Is it Pro-Brett or Anti-Brett, as if we were picking sides of a picket line. While the film definitely is told from the side of fans wanting to take back Lambeau from Favre, its less one sided then I think I expected it to be. Instead of worrying about whose story to tell, the film tries to focus more on why this story happened in the first place. Fans loved Favre, idolized him, and at the end of the day, that relationship was not as mutual as most of us thought it was. The film briefly tackles ideas of idol worship, but there is no real solution for it. Where there are sports, there is worship. And where there is business in sports, there will be fan betrayal. Maybe on less of a grand scale as the Favre/Packers divorce, but it will happen again.
Before I watched Last Day at Lambeau, I will admit I was a little afraid. Would I cry again? Would I just be angry all over? I have struggled a lot with trying to come to terms with that man who used to be the Packers quarterback. My memories of him playing are so closely tied with family memories, watching games together, holidays, etc., that for a long time, I despised Favre for all this because I felt like he took those memories away from me. I want to be able to remember those years, to see old clips and smile, not snare and growl. Watching Last Day at Lambeau helped get me to a place that I feel ready to move on. The story, my story, the fan’s story, has been told, dissected, examined and put back together. I think any fan of the Packers would enjoy the movie as a means to help heal their wounds. I also think the film can serve as a cautionary tale for other sports fans, and could be viewed in a larger context outside the Wisconsin State lines.
The film ends with the Packers victory of Favre and the Vikings at Lambeau, and returns to the scenes of young fans milling about Lambeau during summer practices. I wish there was more to the story. Perhaps more fan interviews leading up and post the Last Day at Lambeau, or even a mention of what Rodgers and that Packers team would go on to do - win the Super Bowl, or an explanation of how Favre ended his streak and season with the Vikings. But as Wayne Larrivee explains in the film, that game was the bookend. The end of the chapter. We can move on now. And so with that, I have decided I will also move on. See Last Day at Lambeau, it will do you good.
“People in Green Bay, that’s what they have. They have the Green Bay Packers and that’s what they live for.” - - Tom Pelissero