With a smile and a wink, Harry Sydney easily flashes back to September 20, 1992.
It’s a hot, sunny day at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers have begun a duel with the Bengals before the usual sell-out crowd. On Green Bay’s sixth offensive play, quarterback Don Majkowski suddenly finds himself with nowhere to throw the ball and is sacked by defensive tackle Tim Krumrie. His left leg awkwardly twisted, the Majik Man goes down in a heap and suffers severe ligament damage in his left ankle.
As a deep hush overtakes the crowd, an unproven second-year quarterback hurriedly takes a few warmup tosses on the sideline. The start of a new era in Packers history is about to begin.
“What I remember about that game was ‘Here’s the start of something special,’ only because of being a player with the 49ers and seeing Joe Montana orchestrating the offense,” said Sydney, who was in his final season as an NFL fullback. “And then you come to Green Bay and you see a young guy at practice who’s got all of the tools. If he can put it together, this will be the start of something special.”
As a two-time Super Bowl champion with San Francisco, Sydney obviously knew what tools to look for in a potentially great quarterback. Though Favre floundered early in the game, fumbling four times, failing to read defenses and even calling plays that were not in coach Mike Holmgren’s playbook, he eventually settled down and threw an improbable 35-yard laser to Kitrick Taylor for the winning touchdown in a 24-23 victory.
“I played with Joe and Brett and caught touchdown passes from both of them,” said Sydney, who only player to have done so. “When you compare Joe and Brett, it’s real simple. Joe was a Porsche. The ride was going to be smooth and you were going to get to the finish line. With Brett, it was a 4x4. He’s still going to get to the finish line but the ride’s a little different. Two great quarterbacks, one with a rough ride and the other with a smooth ride.”
Diary of a Record Season
Working the Room Before Super Bowl XXXI
New Era, Same Favre
Laying It All on the Line
Jeckyl and Hyde
Dealing with a Favre-less Season
Special Game, Special Place
Dad ‘Was Watching Tonight’
By the Numbers
Teammates Return for ‘Icon’ Favre
Twenty-three years later, that 4x4 will come rumbling back into Lambeau Field as Favre returns to Green Bay for induction into the Packers Hall of Fame and to have his fabled No. 4 officially retired on Saturday.
It’s been a long and sometimes contentious path to get to this point. There was Favre’s contentious divorce with the team in 2008, his trade to the New York Jets and then his almost unthinkable two-year stint with the Minnesota Vikings. Earlier this week, Sydney, along with Packers executives and several of Favre’s former teammates, gathered at the annual Packer Hall of Fame Golf Classic at The Bull in Sheboygan Falls. They were more than happy to reminisce a bit about what it was like to play with Favre and their thoughts on his Hall of Fame induction.
“The road to get here was a little rocky but I don’t think we ever doubted it would come,” said Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy. “But it’s certainly great to have him come back and have him be part of the family. I think the Packer fans are really excited about it. To me, a real lasting memory that I’ll have of this is that we sold out the stadium bowl viewing option so quickly. That was just amazing and it shows me how excited and rabid our fans are about Brett coming back. It should be a great night and really historic for the Packer organization. It’s the first time ever that we’ve inducted somebody into our Hall of Fame and retired their number at the same time. There’s no question that he deserves it. Look at the impact that he had on the Packers. It’s going to be a great night for Packer fans across the country.”
“I think it’s something everybody’s looking forward to,” said former safety LeRoy Butler. “It’s unprecedented, really, because they’ve went to extent for any player so it’s all new to everybody. It’s new to Brett, new to the Packer Hall of Fame and it’s new to the Packers. I think the Packers really just want to get it over with but, at the same time, I think it’s good for the fans to understand an iconic figure as all Packer players are. He’s done so much for the city of Green Bay and the state. I just remember in the early ’90s how bad it was and getting Brett and Reggie White was the catalyst for something great. We’re looking forward to bringing those memories back.”
Butler’s favorite Favre memory actually occurred off the field.
“I was going to move into a new house and I was going to rent a U-Haul,” Butler recalled. “He gave me the keys to his pickup truck that he never locked. I used his truck to move all of my stuff and save money because he always liked to save money. I appreciated that and thought it was special that somebody would just give you their car. I also put gas in it and he yelled at me. ‘I got that covered for my people,’ he said. He actually gave me my 15 bucks back. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
“It was almost like a roller coaster,” said guard Marco Rivera, who toiled in the trenches for nine seasons. “When I think about all the things Brett has done with the Packers, all the trials, tribulations and the greatness, the great games and everything from his MVP years to the tragic loss of his father, I can only commend the guy. He’s almost that iconic figure that you think about when you’re growing up. You can put him up there with the legendary Babe Ruth. Twenty or 30 years from now, we’re going to be telling stories about Brett Favre, about the games he played, about that Monday night game after he had just lost his father and has that incredible game. About his Super Bowl run, about his MVPs about all the tricks and jokes he used to play on the guys in the locker room.”
Case in point: Favre’s devious use of Liquid Heat.
“He got me with that Liquid Heat in my jockstrap more than once,” said Rivera with a devilish smile. “But I also got him. One year, we ended up in Tokyo playing in the American Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs. After a practice in the stadium, he had a press conference and there were Japanese media there and a line out the door. I grabbed his street clothes and loaded them up with Liquid Heat. I put it on his arm pits, in his underwear. The next thing you know, those camera lights go on and I see him start sweating. I could tell he was really uncomfortable and I just walked right past him and got onto the bus. He was the last one on the bus and when he got in, he didn’t say a word. He just sat down and he kept looking straight with a bead of sweat coming down the side of his face. And I’m like, ‘Yes! I got him!’”
As Favre’s late father, Big Irv, used to say about his son, “He knows when to play and when to be business.” Favre took care of business in big way for the Packers, leading them to a pair of Super Bowls, winning one, garnering three straight NFL MVP Awards, orchestrating a host of unbelievable plays and winning drives. Flashing never-say-die leadership, Favre consistently ignored injury while compiling a mind boggling streak of 321 consecutive starts (including playoffs) over 19 seasons, a record that likely will never be broken.
When asked to describe Favre in one word, tackle Mark Tauscher had a ready answer.
“Consistent. He was there every week,” said Tauscher. “You see the Chicago Bears having all these quarterbacks going through the same time span that Brett and then Aaron played. To be able to trust your teammate’s going to be prepared and be able to go out there every week at that position, he was just a consistent performer and he played at a high level. That’s all you really want from a teammate.”
Sure, his teammates remember the many great plays, the stats, the MVP trophies. But they mostly cherish their friend, the guy they went to battle with each and every Sunday.
“There were games where a lot of things didn’t go right but for the most part it was always exciting and you knew when you lined up and he was behind center that you had a great chance to go down and score,” said Tauscher. “You always had belief and that’s important.”
“I thought Brett was the best teammate of any sport, bar none,” added Butler. “He really put his teammates before himself. With his arm strength, he was the only player with guts enough to make that throw. I remember when he threw his first interception, he felt bad about it coming off the field. I went over to him and asked, ‘Why are you upset? We’re going to get it back. You keep making those throws and just do your game. You’ve got a great defense behind you so don’t worry about it.’
“We wanted him to make throws between the linebacker and the safety and the corner. We didn’t want the traditional check-it-down in the flat because we weren’t going to win a Super Bowl that way. His mannerisms and moxie matched our defense and that’s the reason we won the Super Bowl.”
So how will Favre be received when he once again steps onto Lambeau Field to address a sold-out crowd of Packers faithful?
“That whole Packer divorce from Brett kind of got ugly there and some fans felt like he alienated the Packers and the fans by going to the Jets and then Minnesota,” said Rivera. “But you’ve got to realize that this man was the ultimate competitor. He still had that drive in him, that competitive fire and that’s what pushed him to play for the Vikings because he really wanted truly to win another championship. But he still loves Green Bay. I know he’s nervous about how the fans are going to react to him and whether they will accept him like they did before. But I told him, ‘Brett, you’re an icon.’”
An icon with the sleek style of a 4x4.