One pundit even went so far as to ask if Favre's skills had diminished so much that in comparison to his own talents, the team does seem better than before. In 1996, say Favre was a nine on a scale of 10. The rest of the team was an eight, so Favre saw himself as above the average. In 2006, is he a five and consequently the team which is a five at best, seems better in contrast?
Brett had qualified these statements by saying that they were maybe the least experienced team he has been on. The national media never touched on this aspect of the press conference. I guess it would have detracted from their desire to cause an argument and create conflict, which is the function of pundits and analysts as far as I can tell. How could they mock Favre if they addressed the two sides to his statement?
Favre is very optimistic if he thinks today's team can match the mid-1990's teams for pure talent and skill. It is ridiculous to compare those teams to this one, which has shown nothing and accomplished nothing. I know what he was trying to say, before the media seized on one aspect of his comments. He believes that they have potential, they have skills, but they are young and lack the savvy and experience of their counterparts from 10 years ago.
And what does anyone expect him to say? He has to say something nice and I believe that I know what he was up to. I was not at the press conference, so I do not know if a question prompted his quote, but to me the reason he said it is more interesting than what he said. A lot of people have scoffed at his statement and initially I scoffed. But I do not think Brett was talking to me and you. I think he was talking to the guys in the locker room. Some of these young guys on this team have been watching Favre since they were in knee highs. Anyone who is 21 today has been watching Favre since they were in kindergarten. What he says and does carries a lot of weight with his teammates.
The national magazines and experts have already written this team off as dead. No one has any faith in the Packers. The only positive thing I have heard anyone say about their chances is that since the NFC North is weak, the Packers have a chance to back into contention. Because the Lions and Vikings are perennial underachievers and have new coaches, the Pack has a chance. Even though the Bears had a good season last year, there is a feeling that they could be in for a letdown. If Green Bay were in the NFC East or NFC South or AFC South, the Packers would struggle to win a conference game.
The players see this stuff; they hear that nothing is expected from them. They hear the comments and know that folks think this team stinks. When the rookies were drafted, I am sure that they heard condescending comments about the Packers' record. Free agents probably took the Packers performance into account when deciding where to sign. It takes its toll on the players.
The mental side is an important component of football, possibly more so than the physical. I saw this when I was at Vanderbilt. When there is a tradition of losing, it is hard to shake. Setbacks are seen as a continuation of that tradition. It is easy for players and coaches to get down quicker, because of that tradition. The Packers have not established a tradition of losing - yet. But they are on the verge of entering a down spiral that could hamper their chances of putting a winner on the field in years to come. At Vanderbilt, we had academic requirements that prevented us from recruiting many players. When it comes down to going to Vanderbilt or LSU, even the academically qualified players go with a winning program.
I think Favre was talking to his teammates more than the public. He was sending a message to his teammates that in spite of their youth and lack of experiences, he has faith in them. Coming from a legend like Favre, that means a lot to a kid who may have just been out of diapers when Favre came to Green Bay. I can see some of them sipping a Coke and saying, "Hey Brett Favre thinks I'm good."
Favre is not a vocal leader like Reggie White, but he does what he can. Knowing that Brett believes in you leads to confidence which improves performance. It could win some games.
And in the weak NFC North, a couple of extra wins could mean playoffs!
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.