Sunday's rematch at Lambeau Field? Now that's the main course — and from the fans' perspective, hopefully it won't provide the same feeling of nausea.
Brett Favre, who won an unprecedented three consecutive league MVP awards and rewrote the NFL record book during 16 star-studded seasons for the Packers, returns to Lambeau Field this weekend as quarterback of the arch-rival Minnesota Vikings.
How big is this game?
The Packers' director of public relations, Jeff Blumb, said press credentials were at a level comparable to a playoff game.
Nose-bleed seats were starting at $215 apiece at Event USA on Tuesday. Want to sit in a skybox? That'll cost you $900. Want to simply park at the stadium? A Lambeau Field parking pass was being offered for $100 on Craigs List. Grill and beer not included.
"It's one of the most significant fan-demand games in Lambeau Field history that I can ever recall, and we've been doing this for over 20 years," Event USA owner Dennis Garrity said. "It's on a par, I would say, with the championship game of a couple years ago, which was a big, big deal. That's significant because we haven't had a lot of them at Lambeau in the last 30-some years, only two since 1967.
Brett Favre celebrates after one of his three touchdowns on Oct. 5.
Tom Olmscheid/AP Images
That interest and drama means Garrity has been selling tickets to more than just Packers and Vikings fans. There will be celebrities, sports stars and Fortune 500 executives in attendance. Garrity wouldn't name names because they want to keep a low profile, though he did say a "famous movie producer" or two was coming to town.
"They perceive this as quite a significant sporting event," he said.
So significant that an investment banking group is flying in from out of the country to see Favre's return to Green Bay.
"They want to have a tailgate party like they live in Green Bay," Garrity said. "So, we actually have set up for them a spot in the parking lot and we're getting vehicles for them — like the vehicle you or I may jump into to drive to the game — complete with fold-up tables and chairs and Packer tablecloths and typical tailgate food like bratwurst and burgers. We've got to set up a grill because they want to grill their own food. They want to experience a tailgate party like people in Green Bay. And then they'll jump back on their Leer jet and fly back to their country."
On the heels of ESPN drawing a cable-TV-record audience for Round 1 of Favre-aggedon, the global interest in the rematch is understandable. If the old Yankee Stadium was the "House That Ruth Built," then the renovated Lambeau Field is the "House That Favre Remodeled." Without Favre's singular brilliance, the Packers don't reach three consecutive NFC championship games in the mid-1990s and win Super Bowl XXXI.
Even with that success, a referendum to revamp the historic stadium with a 0.5 percent sales tax to help fund the $295 million project barely passed in Brown County. Without Favre's panache and ability to hoist a team on his shoulders, that referendum almost certainly would have failed — and the ability of the franchise to compete regularly at a high level would have been in jeopardy.
With the indestructible Favre's place in the starting lineup as certain as death, taxes and the famed tundra being frozen in December and January, the Packers had only one losing season during his 16-year run. The Packers' record at Lambeau during his tenure was the best in the NFL.
While Favre was at the height of his statistical brilliance while averaging 4,060 passing yards and 35 touchdowns when winning MVPs in 1995, 1996 and 1997, Favre has said his best season came in 2007. Before that season, he said that team was the most talented he had played on. Fans and reporters chuckled, and then Favre went out and threw for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns. The Packers finished 13-3 and hosted the NFC championship game.
Favre's last pass of that season and that brutally cold night, however, was intercepted in overtime, and the Giants won the game before stunning the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Brett Favre trudges off the field after losing in the NFC title game.
David J. Phillip/AP Images
But then, Favre's feel-good story took a nasty and seemingly irreparable detour. He had second thoughts about retiring but decided to stand by his decision. The Packers groomed Favre's successor, Aaron Rodgers, to be the starter. They selected two quarterbacks in the draft — including using a valuable second-rounder on Brian Brohm. Rodgers, Brohm and seventh-rounder Matt Flynn went through the offseason program. They competed in organized team activities and minicamps.
And then, with training camp just a couple weeks away, Favre wanted his old job back. The Packers said no. Favre asked for his unconditional release — presumably so he could sign with the Vikings. The Packers said no, and desperately tried to convince Favre to stay retired. It didn't work. Favre arrived in Green Bay on the night of the Packers' Family Night Scrimmage. A few days later, he was dealt to the New York Jets.
That one season in New York, in retrospect, seems like a mere fork in the road to delay Favre's arrival in Minnesota. After his one season with the Jets, Favre retired again. After the Jets drafted quarterback Mark Sanchez in the first round, Favre asked for his release. At that point, his signing with the Vikings seemed like a mere formality, and after hemming and hawing long enough to avoid the dreaded stay in the dorms for training camp, Favre signed with the Vikings in time to play in the second preseason game.
During a conference call before the first Packers-Vikings game, Favre said his return wasn't about revenge and denied telling Sports Illustrated's Peter King that he wanted it to "stick it" to Packers general manager Ted Thompson. Favre said he returned to win another championship. When this writer asked Favre why he didn't just try to do that with the Jets, an uneasy Favre refused to answer: "Well, first of all, none of that matters now, anyway."
When Favre was traded to the Jets, polls on PackerReport.com and elsewhere showed about a 50-50 split between the pro-Favre faction and the pro-Packers faction. When Favre signed with the Vikings, the anti-Favre vote had swelled to 79 percent. The prevailing sentiment: If you want to play, fine, but to do it with the Packers' biggest rivals? That's being a traitor.
Right or wrong, Sunday's game is the ultimate referendum of the Packers' decision to jettison their iconic legend. The Packers weren't supposed to beat the defending division champions at the Metrodome, and didn't, losing 30-23. It probably didn't matter who was at quarterback for the Vikings — though Favre was nothing short of brilliant in throwing three touchdown passes that night.
Sunday's game is different. It's at Lambeau Field. With two consecutive wins, the Packers seemingly have their act together. Rodgers has been brilliant, and a defense that was sliced and diced by Favre has allowed a grand total of three points the last two weeks.
"They're a good football team; we're a good football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "I think it's going to be a hell of a game."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.