After 16 record-setting, franchise-changing seasons at quarterback and seven years after his relationship with the team fell to pieces, Brett Favre was back at Lambeau Field on Saturday to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and have his No. 4 retired.
At a press conference on Saturday afternoon before the official induction, he was surrounded by team presidents past and present, Bob Harlan and Mark Murphy, the man who traded for him, former general manager Ron Wolf, the man who coached him, former coach Mike Holmgren, and the man who snapped the ball to him for nine seasons, Frank Winters. About a long pass down the Lambeau Field tunnel, 67,000 fans gathered in roasting-hot Lambeau Field to deliver the loudest of welcome homes to the man who turned around what Harlan called a “dormant” franchise that hadn’t been a serious contender since the Glory Years of the 1960s.
“All I dreamed about as a kid was being Archie Manning or Roger Staubach, who were my favorites,” said a relaxed Favre, dressed in a light-purple button-down shirt. “I never dreamed of being in the Hall of Fame, never dreamed of having my jersey retired. Never dreamed of Pro Bowls. Did I dream of playing in the Super Bowl? Absolutely. … I can honestly say that everything has come true, and then some, and not many people can say that. And to have Frank and Mike and Ron and Bob and Mark say all these nice things about me -- don't get me wrong, I'm extremely thankful and blessed -- but it's a little embarrassing.”
Acquired by Wolf from the Falcons for a first-round pick in 1992, Favre rewrote the NFL and Packers record books during his 16 seasons as Green Bay’s starting quarterback. He turned around a franchise that seemed antiquated in the big-business NFL. But the relationship fell apart just as quickly following the loss in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, with the fissure seeming irreparable following his two-season stint with the rival Vikings.
But thanks in large part to Harlan, who worked as an intermediary between Favre and the club’s current leadership, enough fences were mended to make Saturday’s historic night possible. Never in franchise history has a player been inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and had his number retired on the same night, and what usually is a private ceremony became a night for the fans, who wore their old Favre jerseys or flocked to the Packers Pro Shop to buy some new No. 4 gear.
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Dealing with a Favre-less Season
Special Game, Special Place
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By the Numbers
Teammates Return for ‘Icon’ Favre
“I never lost sleep over thinking about, will they put me in the Hall of Fame? Will they retire my jersey?” Favre said. “Because I go back to what I said initially – that was never on my list. Is it a great honor? Absolutely it is a great honor. But I didn’t wait by the phone for Bob or Mark to call me. The body of work that I did was not perfect by any stretch. But I felt like it spoke for itself. And I’m not saying it spoke for itself to get me in to the Hall of Fame. That was not for me to decide. What I’m thankful for is I had an opportunity, and I made the most of it. Again, not perfect but I made the most of it. It’s like when people say, is he the greatest player? I could care less about that. If I worry about them placing me all-time in the top 10 or will I be in the Hall of Fame, you worry yourself to death, because not everyone believes what the next guy believes. I believe what I did speaks for itself. I’m proud of that and that’s good enough for me.”
Murphy said Favre might be the most important player in the history of any franchise. Harlan and Wolf called him the best player in Packers history. Add those accolades with his statistical accomplishments and legendary ironman streak, and Favre joined Tony Canadeo (No. 3), Don Hutson (No. 14), Bart Starr (No. 15), Ray Nitschke (No. 66) and Reggie White (No. 92) as the only players in franchise to have their number retired.
“I appreciate Brett as the greatest competitor I ever saw play and his passion and enthusiasm reminded me of a kid on the sand lot,” said Harlan, who got the franchise’s rebirth rolling by hiring Wolf in 1991. “Great leader, great competitor and has to be regarded as the greatest player we’ve ever had. This is something tonight that’s going to be an historical moment for this great franchise – the first time one of our players has ever received these two honors at the same time. I’m proud to know these gentlemen (Favre, Wolf and Holmgren). I thank them for what they did for this franchise to make us legitimate again.”
At the podium, Favre was typical Favre. He was funny and verbose, introspective and humble. The three-time MVP said he received too much credit and went out of his way to praise “these guys behind me.” When he last spoke from the podium as a member of the Packers – his retirement press conference on March 6, 2008 – tears streamed down his face on occasion. There wouldn’t be a repeat on this night. At least that was his prediction.
“I think it’s more a celebration,” Favre said. “Driving over here just now, it had a feel like we were playing a game. And I think it will have that feel to it throughout the night as we celebrate – a celebration for not just me but for all of us. Because these guys behind me definitely had a hand in -- a big hand -- in my success. To me, it’s about all of us. I don’t see any sad moments. I mean, I’m ready to tee it up! I’d much rather do that than wear this, trust me. And I think these guys feel the same way. I’m just going to have fun with the night, I really am. I hope I don’t boo hoo and cry – I hope I don’t. But if I do, to heck with it. So be it.”
Regardless, it was good to be home after a long exile.
"I didn’t have that ‘Oh, I’m back where it started’ type (moment) until I walked into the tunnel," Favre said. "Last night, I walked in coming in from the field, up the tunnel, took a left, went into the double doors, it was like I never left. It was a great feeling. It was kind of weird because I had been here for a couple of hours and just walked off of Lambeau. It’s kind of funny how things are triggered. And then it was kind of a sigh of relief almost. Staying at the Radisson, lord knows how many times we’ve done that. I almost felt like ordering me a cheeseburger and fries as I did before every game. It started kind of settling back in as being normal again."
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.