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Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009

Truth, Justice and the Favrian Way

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Surely it was the least surprising news since Capt. Renault was shocked— shocked!—to find gambling at Rick’s cafe in Casablanca. Three weeks after saying he would stay retired, Brett Favre was back in uniform. This time it was the color he had wanted ever since the Packers “moved on” after his original retirement last year—Minnesota Vikings purple. The idea of Favre playing for a division rival has Packer fans, well, energized. And, as usual, Favre’s explanations give everyone plenty to debate.

Frank: When he got to Minnesota, Favre said, “This is not about revenge or anything like that.” This is the guy who said last year’s un-retirement was partly aimed at “sticking it” to Packer GM Ted Thompson.

Artie: That didn’t happen with the Jets. But now we’re supposed to believe that “sticking it” is the furthest thing from his mind?

Frank: Favre is always a deluge of great quotes—many of them contradictory. He doesn’t feel good enough to play, then he does. He understands why the Packers committed to Aaron Rodgers at quarterback but he felt betrayed. He wanted revenge but now he doesn’t.

Artie: There are skeptics on that last claim—and 70,000 of them will be at Lambeau Field on Nov. 1 to let Brett know it.

Frank: Here’s what he said most directly to Packer fans: “When people start talking about my legacy—It’s mine. It’s what I think of it. I know the way I play the game. I know the way I’ve handled myself as a teammate, a leader, in the public. If you’re a true Packer fan, you understand. You say, ‘You know what? He chose to continue playing, they chose to go in a different direction, it’s part of the business’... I’m in it for the right reasons, and if people can’t understand that, I’m sorry.”

Artie: Like he knows what a “true” fan is.

Frank: You’re the Packer fan in this partnership. Do you understand?

Artie: I’m so sick of it all that I’m just absolutely numb. I’ll say this: I sure wouldn’t want to be him when Minnesota plays the Packers or Bears. If it was ever true that some defensive guys went a little easy on him, that’s gone.

Frank: A couple of Packers said—smilingly—that they’d like to get a shot at him.

Artie: I’m not saying there’ll be dirty hits, but he won’t get through the season. He’s been losing mobility and he’ll be 40 in October, for cripes’ sake.

Frank: He had surgery on his arm but still has a small tear in his rotator cuff. You never know when that becomes major.

Artie: Plus he’ll play all his home games on carpeting, which ain’t very forgiving.

Frank: Even frozen tundra is probably softer. But let’s get back to the “true Packer fan” quote. I think Favre raises some hard truths about pro sports, but I’m not sure he has a true picture of Packer fans.

Artie: This is a unique situation. Because the Packers are community-owned, they’re the only pro team that doesn’t have an owner-villain, or someone who can be turned into a villain.

Frank: Although Thompson would have qualified if Rodgers hadn’t had a good 2008.

Artie: But when Packer fans think about the ownership, they’re looking in the mirror. All fans talk about how “we pay their salaries,” but here it has extra meaning.

Frank: Plus there’s the sentimental stuff—all the notions of “the little town that could,” David slaying the big-city Goliaths, Lambeau as the Chartres of football, the glory of the ‘60s when Vince Lombardi brought truth and justice to sports...

Artie: Careful, you’re treading on thin tundra.

Frank: What we’re both saying, I think, is that a “true Packer fan”—at least one who knows the lore—feels an incredibly strong bond with the team.

Artie: And felt like he or she was a part of Favre’s legacy for 16 years, ain’a?

Frank: When Favre said his legacy “is what I think of it,” he was expressing a truth about pro athletes. Yes, they love to play, but this is their career. They have skills that can earn enormous money and they’re trying to maximize their income while those skills last. And some at the very top are trying to maximize their place in history.

Artie: So Favre is simply stating the obvious: He’s in it for himself.

Frank: He’s not playing for the glory of Green Bay or Minneapolis. He’s playing to help his team reach the top, and what color they’re wearing is irrelevant. And ultimately, everyone is playing for himself.

Artie: And the dough. He stands to make $25 million over two years—if he lasts that long.

Frank: I’m sure Favre enjoyed his time in Green Bay and appreciated the fans. But he’s right in asking fans to understand that this is a business, and players usually make decisions for business reasons, not emotional ones.

Artie: Just like the teams do.

Frank: Precisely. The Packers parted ways with Favre because they didn’t see him as being effective enough anymore. What the fans felt didn’t matter; Thompson was willing to take the heat because he thought Rodgers was the better choice.

Artie: And Favre is willing to take the heat because he wants to keep playing, and he thinks the Vikings can get him to another Super Bowl.

Frank: So a “true Packer fan” should understand that this isn’t personal.

Artie: But Favre made it clear from the start that the team he really, really wanted to join was one of the Pack’s two biggest rivals. For a lot of Packer fans, that makes it personal and they feel betrayed.

Frank: Favre, of course, thinks he’s the one who was betrayed because Thompson didn’t jump at his un-retirement last year.

Artie: But the Vikings sure jumped this time. If Favre had told coach Brad Childress to roll over and stick out his paw, “Chili” would have done it.

Frank: If I were a Viking, I’d be wondering whether I can believe anything the team or coach says. When Favre declined to join the Vikes for the early—and most strenuous—part of training camp, Childress said that was it. But clearly they panicked at the thought of Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels at quarterback.

Artie: And Favre was always willing to be begged. He’s obviously obsessed with his place in NFL history.

Frank: I’m sure he broods over his last game as a Packer, when he had the Super Bowl in his hands but passed it, literally, to the Giants. Who doesn’t want to go out on top? No one can begrudge Favre that.

Artie: It’s all the prima donna antics I can’t stomach. I heard Favre’s old teammate Mark Chmura on ESPN Milwaukee radio saying that there are Vikings who aren’t thrilled with all the ass-kissing by Childress. Chmura also said that in Brett’s last years in Green Bay he wasn’t all that popular in the locker room, because he was allowed to have his own set of rules and set himself apart.

Frank: The same stuff we heard out of New York last year.

Artie: I think there’ll be some bad chemistry with the Vikings.

Frank: Unless they win. When the Jets were 8-3 last year, Brett’s behavior didn’t matter. But a five-game choke can change things.

Artie: May it happen again in the Metrodome!

Frank: So really, how does Favre in purple strike you?

Artie: When I saw the first photo, it was like I was in an alternate universe. I thought, “Tomorrow I’ll find out that Robin Yount spent his career with the California Angels, not the Brewers, and the Bucks have a pile of NBA championships because they never traded Kareem, and Bobby Kennedy wasn’t killed in ‘68, and we have a well-informed public and everything is peachy.”

Frank: You’re a walking “Twilight Zone” episode.

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