Without Ron Wolf, there is no Brett Favre.
Or, at least, Brett Favre, Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Favre’s unmatched — and never-to-be-matched — career will reach its pinnacle on Saturday night, with his induction into the Hall of Fame. Fittingly, his bust will be placed right next to that of Wolf, the general manager who bet his career by trading a first-round pick — his first first-round pick as Green Bay’s GM — for the rifle-armed quarterback who wore out his welcome in less than one year in Atlanta.
“I saw it this morning where it’s going to end up,” Favre said during his Hall of Fame press conference on Friday. “I’ve been told that’s by (happenstance). It wasn’t like on purpose, which how incredible is that? Ron and I don’t have to go too far to talk to each other. He’s not a shouter, so he can whisper in my ear.”
Favre is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. And if not, he certainly is the most legendary quarterback. He was the guy you couldn’t take your eyes off of. When he retired, he owned just about every meaningful passing record in NFL history. Unless the NFL installs two-hand-touch rules to protect its quarterbacks, his ironman streak might live forever. He won an unprecedented three consecutive MVP awards.
But the prodigious list of accolades hardly encompass his full body of work. Under Vince Lombardi, the Packers won five NFL championships. For the next quarter-century, the Packers had five winning records and two playoff berths. To say Favre rescued the Packers is anything but an understatement. They were a small-market team without a deep-pockets owner. Favre, however, changed the team’s fortunes in ways that are felt today. Because of Favre, then-team President Bob Harlan was able to persuade the taxpayers of Brown County to foot a sizable chunk of the bill to renovate Lambeau Field. Today, Lambeau Field is a 365-day-a-year ATM, a financial juggernaut that continues to gain momentum through further improvements to the venerable stadium and, now, the Titletown District. Green Bay consistently ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in revenue, allowing it to spend — no, outspend — just about every team in the league, whether it’s on player salaries, training facilities or technology. Since the Favre deal, the Packers have won two Super Bowl championships and are perennial contenders every year.
“The worst thing I ever heard was after we won the referendum,” Harlan recalled in 2014. “Paul Jadin, who was the mayor at the time, 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.”
And it’s because of Favre. It wasn’t only that he carried a down-and-out franchise to the top of the mountain. It’s how he did it. He showed up. He did it with a smile. He played the position the way you played it on the playground.
“I wanted to play, and I think people who watched me play can identify with that, that that guy really had fun,” Favre said. “I always say this, if they had paid me $50, I’d still have done it the same way. The fact that they paid us a lot of money, I never told anybody, but when I would ride home, I would say, ‘You’ve go to be kidding me man, this is stealing.’ That’s the way I look at it.”
So did those who were around him through his career.
“The first thing is his passion for winning,” coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “I think that is something we all were fortunate to experience with him.”
And for those who played against him.
“I’m a very competitive person,” said Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss, who faced Favre while a member of the Seahawks in 1996. “It was fun to play against that team and they ended up smashing us that day. When you’re competing vs. the Hall of Fame-caliber player, you have nothing but great memories. You respect what he does. At that same time, in the moment of competing against him, man, it was all about trying to do your best vs. him because that’s what you’re trying to measure yourself up against.
“He’s a Hall of Fame-caliber player. This is a player that is elite. How do you match up? Can you match up with him physically? Can you match up with him mentally? That’s where those great players always try and find out exactly what they are to lift their game up. Brett just had that intangible about him. He was as big as life. I would love to week in and week out play against a competitor like that. It was awesome.”
The challenge for opponents started long before the Sunday kickoff.
“He was a different guy, a unique guy,” said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was Carolina’s head coach when the Packers stomped the Panthers for the NFC Championship in 1996. “Some of the things you would do against the large majority of the quarterbacks you couldn’t do against him because he had the arm strength and the courage to try to fit the ball into creases. For example, if you were playing a Cover-2, you had to play your Cover-2 with two deep safeties a little bit different against Favre than what you did against most people because he could throw that ball out on the sideline at 20 yards and it would get there quicker. And you could never relax with Brett. You didn’t want to let him get settled into a groove. But a tremendous competitor and extremely talented.”
As part of Thursday’s ceremony in which Favre received his Hall of Fame gold jacket with the rest of the Class of 2016, Favre watched a highlight montage. The kid who ran the wishbone for his dad at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, Miss., became the most prolific and most beloved quarterback in NFL history.
“I was watching them last night and I was like, ‘I was pretty good,’” Favre recalled. “I hope I didn’t give that impression but I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I was pretty good.’ And it wasn’t that long ago, so imagine 20 years from now how great I’ll be. Wow. But I find that I get more of a smile or a chuckle or more joy out of a celebration, which may be weird. It’s kind of cool to see me thread the needle and go, ‘How did I get it in there?’ but it’s cooler to see me tackle one of my guys after a touchdown because I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Now, what were you thinking?’ But on the flip side, I go, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ And trust me, it was not a pre-planned celebration. I just enjoyed competing with my teammates and whatever happened, happened.”
Those final three words define the Ol’ Gunslinger’s playing career. Style. Toughness. Charisma. Favre had it all. And he had timing. Packers fans craved a winner, and they latched onto Favre with a loving embrace that even two years in Minnesota couldn’t ruin.
Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame, players don’t go into Canton as a member of a franchise. But make no mistake about it. Favre is Green Bay’s favorite son.
“Let’s go back to Thanksgiving and then to July of last summer. Really, nothing else needs to be said,” Favre said. “Seventy-thousand-some people show up and there’s not a game to honor my career, (that) says it all. I’ll say more or less something (in Saturday night’s Hall of Fame speech) in regards to the connection I’ve had with fans. A lot of players maybe can say that, but I believe there’s always a connection and a perfect fit for me with Green Bay fans. I don’t know, small-town atmosphere, no one supports their team like the Packers. Packer fans are not only in Wisconsin, they’re all over the world. I’ve seen and witnessed that. I think the genuineness and the fact that what you see is what you get speaks volumes. For the average fan watching, I know if I were that fan, I’d want to see somebody just give their best and be authentic. The best way I can put it is if I never had the chance to play football and I was watching and I’d watch some player, I’d say if I were able to play, I’d play like that. I think most fans can relate to that. I don’t care about statistics, I don’t care about a number, I don’t care about where I rank. It really doesn’t matter, because the people who make this game great are not the players but the fans. And if they think what I hope they think, I’m OK with that.”
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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.