Time healed these wounds

Neither Antonio Freeman nor Brett Favre left Green Bay on the best of terms, but all appears to be forgotten for new Packers Hall of Famer Freeman. Our Matt Tevsh presents an interesting angle.

Antonio Freeman was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame last Saturday.

Brett Favre appears ready to become a member of the Vikings, possibly by Friday.

How are these two major happenings in Packerland this week related?

Well, besides Freeman and Favre being members of the same Super Bowl championship team and the most prolific touchdown combination in Packers history, they both exited Green Bay during the end of their careers on bitter terms.

While the situation was different than Favre's, Freeman's was no less noteworthy. He was a Packers legend in a number of ways — not only having some of the best receiving seasons in team history, but by emerging as the hard-nosed leader of a wide receiver group during the Packers' Super Bowl runs. No one questioned Freeman's production or toughness.

Just before the 1999 season, Freeman signed the then-biggest contract ever for a wide receive, a six-year, $42 million deal. It was the second-largest contract ever given by the Packers, and deservedly so, after Freeman caught 84 passes for 1,424 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1998.

After the big contact, however, there was a drop-off for Freeman on and off the field. His numbers annually declined. Minor brush-ups with the law and apparent feuds with coach Mike Sherman came to a boiling point when Freeman was mysteriously missing from the sideline for the 2000 season finale against the Buccaneers as the Packers battled for a playoff spot. It was later learned that Freeman's absence was basically a suspension for reportedly missing team meetings the day before. There were rumors that it may have been for something else.

Sherman simply told Freeman to "stay away," and though the Packers beat the Buccaneers that day, they missed the playoffs based on the outcomes of other games. It was an all-around bittersweet ending to Sherman's first season in Green Bay.

Freeman returned in 2001, but posted his worst statistical year since his rookie season (1995). The Packers released him primarily for financial reasons, but the writing may have been on the wall anyway. Packers fans, the team's brain trust and Freeman had different perceptions of each other. The once-beloved relationship between the wide receiver and the city had been damaged.

That point was made even clearer when Freeman made his unlikely return to Green Bay in 2003, after spending one year with the Eagles. Decimated by injuries at the wide receiver position, the Packers shifted to desperation mode and re-signed Freeman to a one-year deal. In what can only be described as an uncomfortable reunion at the press conference to announce Freeman was back, a humble, yet honest Freeman said: "I never envisioned coming back."

Fast forward to 2009, and any animosity Freeman had toward Green Bay and the Packers seems to be gone. To Freeman's credit, he was focusing on the good times and was all smiles this past weekend when discussing his time in Green Bay. Time, it appears, has healed any wounds.

So how will the Packers' relationship with Brett Favre be some five or six years down the road? Will all of the drama of the past two years be forgotten? Will his expected signing with the Vikings have a destructive impact on his Packers legacy?

Well, not if the Freeman case is any indication.

Though Freeman falls short of the superstar class Favre is in, he is one of the greatest receivers in Packers history and does hold a position of celebrity in Green Bay. All Packers Hall of Famers do.

As tough and as wrong as it will be when Favre plays for the Vikings, he still will, like Freeman, be a Packers Hall of Famer, and will more than likely stand alone with Hutson, Canadeo, Starr, Nitschke and White on the Lambeau Field's retired uniform numbers wall — someday. Favre's latest un-retirement saga only delays matters, even if it frustrates fans who try to grasp the complexities of Brett Favre the person, more than Brett Favre the football player these days.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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