Brett Favre didn’t think he’d get emotional.
He was wrong.
Some 67,000 fans packed into sweltering Lambeau Field on Saturday for his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame and the ultimate welcome-home party. They serenaded him with “MVP!” chants, jokingly chanted for “One more year!” and even begged him to do a Lambeau Leap. (No he won’t and no he didn’t.) Mostly, though, they yelled their thanks for a record-setting 16-year career that included a Super Bowl championship.
“I could sit here and tell you ‘thank you’ until tomorrow and it wouldn’t be enough,” Favre said before breaking down for a moment, which only brought more cheers. “I really believed that I wouldn’t (get emotional) but I was wrong. I can’t tell you ‘thank you’ enough. I’m honored. I want you to know that I celebrate this with you and my teammates in that room. We did this together.”
Favre’s family, including wife Deanna, their daughters and Favre’s mom, were the first to walk onto the field. Several minutes later, Favre strolled onto Lambeau Field for the first time since a member of the Vikings in 2010. His two seasons in Minnesota led to a bitter dispute that pitted franchise vs. player and fan vs. fan. If all of those wounds hadn’t healed before Saturday night, maybe they have after several lengthy standing ovations from the fans.
“All I can say is ‘Wow!’” Favre said. “This is absolutely amazing. I don’t have the words to express the feeling of coming out of that tunnel to this ovation. Thank you. Thank you so much. If there were any doubts (about the fans’ feelings) before, there’s not any. I truly thank you.”
As he did during his press conference, Favre told the story about how his second daughter, Breleigh, came home excited that tickets to the Hall of Fame viewing sold out in a matter of hours.
“‘They must really like you,’” Favre recalled her saying.
As Favre waited to be introduced, the nervous butterflies only intensified.
“It was worse (than before a game),” he said. “It was better but worse. I mean that with all due respect. Playing at Lambeau Field, throwing a touchdown at Lambeau Field, certainly running out of the tunnel, there’s nothing like it on this earth. I’ll say this, I’ve also run out of that tunnel and that’s scarier. I’d much rather run out of that tunnel right there.”
About halfway through his time with the fans and before heading indoors for the official induction ceremony in the Lambeau Field Atrium, he watched a video montage on the Lambeau Field video boards. The trip down memory lane included Favre’s game-winning touchdown passes to Kitrick Taylor (against Cincinnati, when he came off the bench against -- and never relinquished the job) and Sterling Sharpe (at Detroit in the 1993 playoffs), big plays and record-setting feats.
“I hope it was as much fun for them watching me as it was for me playing for them,” Favre said after watching the tribute. “Everyone who watched me knew that I was having fun, that I was trying my very best every week. When I was fortunate enough to throw a touchdown pass, I wanted to celebrate with my teammates, I wanted to celebrate with my fans. When we won, I wanted to celebrate with my teammates, I wanted to celebrate with my fans. It was never about me. I think every fan who watched felt like that if they could play, they would play like me.”
With a career full of accolades, Favre couldn’t pick just one favorite. Instead, he thought about the quiet moments away from the cameras – the meetings, the bus rides, the TV timeouts. He thought about the fans, who would bring him to tears on this historic evening. Turning toward the video board in the south end zone, Favre saw the names of the five players whose numbers have been retired – Tony Canadeo, Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke and Reggie White. Soon, there will be six names on that list.
“When I look at the Packers Hall of Fame, I believe in my heart that it rivals the NFL Hall of Fame in magnitude,” Favre said. “I look up at these names, there’s tremendous tradition and history here. The greatest coach in the history of the NFL has a trophy named after him. Some of the greatest players in NFL history played for Green Bay. To be alongside Bart Starr, Don Hutson, Reggie White, Willie Wood, Willie Davis, Jerry Kramer – the list goes on and on. These guys, they’re icons. I’m truly honored and blessed to not only be before you tonight but to be here forever.”