The sign simply reads: “WELCOME HOME GUNSLINGER 4 GOOD.”
Brett Lorenzo Favre, the good ‘ol country boy from Kiln, Miss., who was a key figure in helping to bring the Green Bay Packers out of the depths of more than two decades of losing and back to championship glory, was finally back home where he belonged. Home to where he led his Packer teams to a pair of Super Bowl appearances and one Vince Lombardi Trophy. Home to where he won three straight league MVPs. And most of all, home to where he won the hearts of an intensely loyal legion of fans, even after a messy divorce with the Packers that saw him wear the jerseys of two other teams before finally retiring for good. Favre was back to be enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame and he quickly discovered that his connection to his fans remains as strong as ever.
Those fans – 67,000 strong – started arriving before 8 a.m. on a hot, sticky day before filling Lambeau Field ala Game Day and waiting hours to greet their hero in person one more time as part of the induction festivities. Here’s a small sampling of how they were feeling about number 4’s return.
“It’s long overdue,” said Jody Jensen of Wadena, Minn. “This building (Lambeau Field) behind you would not be there without him. It wasn’t just him but without him, none of it would have ever happened. There wouldn’t be an Aaron Rodgers. I wasn’t happy Brett went to the Vikings but I couldn’t help but root for him.”
“I think I heard Brett say that if he had it to do all over again he would have just retired and then come back,” said Steve Skogen of Rochester, Minn. “What I chose to remember when he left Green Bay was – remember the Sports Illustrated cover with him in the snow? I just chose to remember the good times.”
“I’m very excited for Brett,” said Jill McElhaney of Shorewood, Wis. “He has done amazing things for the Green Bay organization, was here when we needed some excitement and I just think he brought a spark to the Green Bay Packers and the fans. I think it’s just amazing they are finally doing this day that he well deserves.”
“I am so thrilled for Brett and his family, the Packer organization and for the fans,” added Jennifer Haley of Elgin, Ill. “He lifted this franchise up and provided the leadership, the talent and the spark we needed to become World Champions again. The legacy lives on and I’m so glad that we’re acknowledging just what he did for Green Bay and the fan base. When you get to see a Hall of Famer play and get to be in the stadium when he’s inducted, you’ve got to feel really lucky. I’m just so excited!”
Favre himself rolled into Titletown late Friday and even grabbed a chance to walk into the empty stadium for a quick walk through the players’ tunnel. It might as well have been a time tunnel, taking him all the way back to 1992.
“Some things never change,” said Favre during an afternoon news conference. “We actually came in from L.A. We got in late and went right up and got to see all these guys. It really didn’t hit me. It was great to see them, but I didn’t have that ‘Oh, I’m back where it started’ type thing until I walked into the tunnel. 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. 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.”
Flanked by several other key figures in that Packer renaissance, Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren along with current Packer president and CEO Mark Murphy and Favre’s Hall of Fame presenter, Frank Winters, Favre addressed yet another media throng before the official festivities got underway. The only other key figure not on stage was Favre’s late teammate, Reggie White and Favre made sure that White got his due. When asked what his father, Big Irv, or White might say if they could have been here, Favre got right to the point.
“Lord only knows what my Dad would say. It probably wouldn’t be good enough. ‘Ah hell, I thought he should have played four more years.’ Who knows? I know he would have been proud. I say that sort of jokingly. And the same thing with Reggie. Reggie was phenomenal. The greatest player I’ve ever played with and that’s saying a lot. I played with Deion Sanders in Atlanta. I played with tons of great players here. The greatest player I ever played with was Reggie White. The man could change the game. All you had to do is just chant ‘Re-ggie’ a few times and the left tackle or right tackle was in for a world of hurt. But he was also a great leader. I think Reggie would just say, “Soak it in.’”
Soak it in Favre certainly did, leaving no doubt that his connection to Packer fans remains solid. The fact that the stadium seating sold out within an hour and a half blew him away.
“I was absolutely in awe that it got sold out in an hour and a half or two hours,” said Favre. “My youngest daughter, who just recently turned 16 – you have to know my daughter, she’s really shy, she’s timid. She doesn’t get caught up in – she’d rather stay home and watch TV than go to the ESPYs or come do this. She comes home from school and I’d already heard the news that they had sold so many tickets. And I wasn’t going to say, ‘Hey Breleigh, guess what?’ But she comes home and uncharacteristically says, ‘Hey Dad, did you hear they sold 67,000 tickets in an hour and a half,’ and I said yeah. She goes, ‘They must really like you.’”
Though it certainly took long enough to finally make Favre’s Packer Hall of Fame induction a reality, he made it clear that he wasn’t exactly waiting for it to happen.
“No not really. Again, I never lost sleep over thinking about, will they put me in the Hall of Fame? Will they retire my jersey? 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.”
It was certainly good enough for his fans, too. When Favre came out of that tunnel once again and strode onto the Lambeau turf, he was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation that lasted more than five minutes and would have gone on if not for the time constraints. An emotional Favre choked back the tears and did his best to just ‘soak it in’ as Reggie might have said.
After all the cheers of this evening finally faded into history, Favre is hoping his fans will remember him as a player who wasn’t perfect but always gave Packer football the very best he had.
“I think what I did was pretty good. I think it was fun to watch. It wasn’t always great, but it was fun to watch. But a good man, who has definitely made a lot of mistakes. I think what people relate to me is the genuineness and just real. I’d like to think that when they look at my career or watch me play that they thought, ‘That’s the way I would do it. If I could play, I would do it that way.’ And ‘he’s not polished in his interviews, but you know what, I wouldn’t be polished either. And he’s not polished in the way he plays.’ I don’t want to say I took pride in that, that’s just the way I was. And I wish we would have won more games, I wish we would have won more Super Bowls. But you know what? I did all I could possibly do. And it wasn’t great all the time, but I know it was everything (I had). And I don’t look back and hold any regrets from that end because I know I did all I could do.”