So, it was only fitting that he helped rescue the relationship between the franchise and the quarterback who led it back to glory.
It was Harlan, the former Packers president and current member of the Packers Hall of Fame’s executive board, who healed plenty of wounds — not just between the team and Favre but the team and its independent Hall of Fame — and sealed Favre’s return “home.”
“I was looking for something special for Brett,” Harlan said on Monday, shortly after the team announced Favre would be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame and have his number retired on July 18. “Just last November, I had this idea, let’s do a two-ceremony situation, and I took it to Perry Kidder and Denny Tatum (of the Hall of Fame) to get their reaction, and they liked it very much, and then took it to (Packers president) Mark Murphy and some of the people in the Packers administration, and they went for it. I called Brett, he was on board right away. I even called Deanna (Favre’s wife) a couple days later. And they’ve all be fine with it. And I just think it gives us a special way to treat a special player.”
If Favre is the face of the franchise’s rise from oblivion, it is Harlan who is the behind-the-scenes hero. It was Harlan who not only hired Ron Wolf as general manager but gave him the power to run the football operation. Wolf hired Mike Holmgren as coach and, in his first major move, sent a first-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for a 250-pound, third-string quarterback with the name that then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue couldn’t pronounce.
“This is a guy who as bad as we were in the ’70s and ’80s — and people thought we were finished — this guy helped bring this franchise back, and not years and years did it take him, but right off the bat. They won immediately. And he was special to me. He was the first move Ron made when he came in, that was the first thing he said, ‘I want to make a trade for Brett Favre.’ So, Brett deserves to be on a special pedestal.”
Thanks to Harlan, most of the dots were connected by Thanksgiving. with the big news kept secret so as not to upstage the Hall of Fame’s 2014 class of Ahman Green and Ken Ruettgers. Harlan kept in contact with the Favres throughout the ensuing months. According to Harlan, their enthusiasm only grew as Monday’s announcement approached. In a conversation with Favre, Harlan pointed to LeBron James’ return to Cleveland as proof that you can, in fact, come home again.
It was only fitting that the announcement came in the new, under-construction Packers Hall of Fame. Harlan and Favre are responsible for so much of what’s been built over the last two-plus decades.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the success that team had in winning the Super Bowl helped us in the stadium referendum,” Harlan said. “As tight as that stadium referendum was, the fact that we were achieving success again on the field, I heard from people, it was a huge factor. If we were still playing the way we were in the ’70s and ’80s, I mean, it was a tough sell anyways, 53-47 (percent). I think it would have been an impossible sell if we would’ve been playing the way we were in the ’70s and ’80s. So, yeah, he and Ron Wolf, without what they did, we wouldn’t have this stadium.”
Without Favre, Lambeau Field might be a museum instead of a 24/7 ATM for the Packers — the small-market team that consistently ranks in the top 10 in the league in revenue. Favre’s importance to the team is that great. Without him — and without Harlan and Wolf and others — it’s not out of the question that the only Green Bay Packers on TV would be via NFL Films, where Vince Lombardi would perpetually be the head coach.
“Paul Jadin, who was the mayor at the time (of the referendum), called me and he said, ‘I felt that if you lost that referendum, the Packers wouldn’t be here by 2015.’ I’m not sure how we could have competed in that old stadium. You figure, we were making $2-3 million a year in the old Lambeau. The first year in the new Lambeau, we made $25 million. We were actually talking in the late 1990s about having to borrow money in a few years to fund our operation, as we looked at where player costs were going and what kind of money we were going ot make from the old stadium. The stadium just produces so much revenue. I mean, look what it’s producing today. It grows and grows and grows. After national TV, it’s your best source of revenue. And we were just dropping like a rock behind everybody moving into a new stadium. So, yeah, the fact that they were winning helped us tremendously.”
Without Favre, the Packers might not be here. Without Harlan, Favre might not be back. He’s the one man — perhaps the only man — with the relationship, history and personality to have made this reunion happen.
“I’m truly honored and it is nice to come back.” Favre said. “I think this will be a great event. Bob has worked diligently. He and I have had several discussions and I know Bob has wanted this to be a special moment, and I thank you for that Bob, as well as the fans. You can’t take the 16 years away that I played there. Those memories are cherished forever. It was an amazing run with tremendous coaches and players, you can imagine 16 years, the number of players that I was fortunate to play with, and the coaches, to experience that with the fans is just priceless.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.