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"Last Day At Lambeau": Letting The Story End

"Last Day At Lambeau": Letting The Story End

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

For more information about Last Day at Lambeau make sure to check out the movie's website  and facebook page. Last Day at Lambeau will premiere at the 2012 Wisconsin Film Festival, April 18 - 22.

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Adam Czech's picture

Jayme:

I asked the same question in the comments section of John's post, but I'd like to hear your thoughts as well:

Does the film reveal anything new?

I guess I'm struggling as to why I'd want to watch it. I followed the saga daily as it unfolded and really don't feel like I need to have everything I already know summed up in film form.

Jayme Snowden's picture

Adam,

As for revealing something new, I'd say not fully, there's no smoking gun/aha moment where the audience will go WOW. But at the same time I felt like I learned things watching it. There are things that I didn't know that went on or that I knew happened, but had no idea their context. LDAL does a really good job of putting things into their context, especially with all the interviews.

The film is definitely not just a summation, re-do of everything that happened and there is something to be gained from hearing the different perspective. Imagine every reporter who you know now sitting down with you and giving a very detailed account of what went down, their personal stories, how they got information. Its like that but doesn't take as long.

As for a reason to watch: One of the main reasons I wanted to is because I think I can learn things from watching something I felt like I experienced from the inside, from the outside. There is something very different to watch the history of and the how something unfolded than to live through it. In college I took a Beatles music class. Someone asked why he didn't show the Beatles Anthology documentary in the class. He said because its not accurate, because even though it's their voices and they were the Beatles, sometimes we change the way we remember things. For example, Paul says they recorded a Day in the Life with an 8 track. They didn't. It didn't exist yet. They used 7 tracks of two 4 tracks. He wasn't lying that's just his history. LDAL provides enough back ground and different voices so you get the real story and not a remembered story.

JOYM13's picture

"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."

I can so relate to this statement, I want to be able to watch clips of the 90's and not feel bitter. I want to be able to watch the 1996 America's Game and enjoy it again. I'm getting there, but still have a long way to go.

Jayme Snowden's picture

My anger at him for that was so real. Some of my friends from outside of Wisconsin couldn't understand that.

My anger has been tapering of with time. I definitely think watching this movie helped me with that. Something about seeing the whole story and seeing a conclusion is allowing me to have one of my own.

Hope you find your peace with it soon.

Devil Doc's picture

One of my fondest memories of the Packers and Favre was in 1995 I believe, the year the Packers won the NFC Central at the time, when Thigpen dropped that pass in the endzone.

A day or two before that game, my dad took me and my brother to Lambeau at 0 dark 30 and waited for the players arrive for their morning meetings. This of course was before they gated the area around the door. I had gotten Sean Jones, LeRoy Butler, and a few others to sign a helmet I had.

But the best one...was watching Brett Favre come around the corner, I ran to him as fast as I could, and held out my "Mississippi Rifle #4" hat, looked up at my Packers idol, who so many times I pretended to be playing back yard football, and asked him as politely as I could to sign it. He smiled down, took the hat and gave it back with a wink as I said thanks. I just stood there, in shock, in awe, and soaked in the greatness I had just been around. To this day that memory still gives me goose bumps.

When the split initially materialized, I was torn. At that point, I was a Packers fan AND a Favre fan. He still wanted to play, and it just wouldn't be for the Packers. The trade to the Jets hurt, but my childhood idol was still my favorite QB.

August of 2009, all that changed. Whether facts or hearsay, why he put on that dreadful Vikings jersey, I'll probably never fully understand, but he was forever lost/dead to me. A division rival, followed by remarks he made about the Packers, thier management, and even the fans. To me it was just too much, and still is. You always hear "forgive and forget", or "I forgive you, but I'll never forget this",...mine is probably the later with Favre. Not sure when or how, but maybe someday.

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