Past and Present Clash at Lambeau

Two summers ago, everyone understood the circumstances. Favre got the itch to play again and wanted to do so with the Packers. Now? He'll be blasted with a grenade full of boos. Our Tyler Dunne, who had a training camp ticket to the madness of 2008, lends his perspective.

He refused to take refuge behind a podium. After Aaron Rodgers' first training camp practice as the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback, the team's public relations staff gave him a choice. Answer the questions from the podium — peaceful and spacious. Or from his locker — stressful and crowded.

And Rodgers welcomed suffocation, welcomed the throng of cameras, recorders and elbows stuffed into his face. When he exited the showers, Rodgers nearly tripped over himself trying to weave through the media mob back to his locker. He took his position and answered all questions with class. Retired Brett Favre was on a warpath to steal his job and Rodgers didn't flinch. He could have erupted into a Ryan Leaf temper tantrum and nobody would have blamed him.

So gradually, infuriated Cheeseheads have grown to embrace such humility. As for Favre? After using and abusing the New York Jets like a dingy dishrag last season, the 40-year old curmudgeon is where he wants to be — fulfilling his vengeance with the Minnesota Vikings.

Don't be surprised when Favre is showered by a grenade of boos today.

This is an unprecedented change of allegiance. Never before has an athlete of this magnitude crossed enemy lines. There's a street named after him, a restaurant named after him and thousands of individuals that have lived vicariously through him. But Brett Favre turned his back on it all in spite of one man, Packers G.M. Ted Thompson.

What was once as polarizing as a health care debate is mostly pro-Rodgers now. Many fans despise Favre with the venom of a local election advertisement. They feel betrayed. They feel cheated. They conducted a three-hearse "Funeral-4-Favre" this week to formally bury Favre's legacy in Green Bay. Because today, Favre commits public adultery on all of them. He plays for the same team whose fans once pointed red lasers in his eyes. He plays for the same team he burnt for countless fourth-quarter comebacks over two decades.

Anybody out there that still believes there is loyalty in sports was heartbroken in Tooth Fairy-disappointment last summer. For years, Favre has been worshipped for his unfiltered, raw passion for the game. Green Bay fans rallied around the ebbs and flows of Favre's life as if he were an extended cousin. His addiction to painkillers, his wife's fight against breast cancer, his Monday night spectacle after his father's death and his annual bruised or broken appendages.

Fans embraced his struggle. They loved Favre and expected the same in return.


The fans remain divided, though many more back Aaron Rodgers than Brett Favre.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Thus, healing will take time. Right now, the gash is deep and tender in Green Bay. The stadium Favre literally built — see the $295 million renovations in 2003 — is suddenly a house of horrors. In truth, Green Bay fans are not confrontational. Opposing fans are offered a cold beverage, not bloodied like they are in Philadelphia. But expect the boos to drown out the cheers today. All major polls online indicate such a bizarro-world reality. Heck, when former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell returned to Lambeau Field with Minnesota in 2006, he was booed.

To Midwesterners, loyalty does matter.

Two summers ago, everyone understood the circumstances. Favre got the itch to play again and wanted to do so with the Packers. Logical enough. It was only July. Thompson should have rolled a red carpet out to Favre from Lambeau to Kiln, Miss. Back then, I admittedly sided with Favre. How any team spurns anyone that took you within one pass of the Super Bowl seemed senseless.

So, yes, through his one-year fling with the Jets, many fans bought into Favre's love-of-the-game stump speech, all while gritting their teeth through a 6-10 season. Now? The mood is different. This is about revenge and attention, no matter how many times Favre pleas otherwise. He's Richard Heene — without the twisted urge to name his son a bird species. Just like balloon boy's dad, it's national attention Favre craves. Long days on the tractor didn't suffice.

Well, he will get plenty of attention today. Every sports fan will watch his every interaction with fans. Favre is bumping into his ex-wife of 16 years. There will be awkward pauses and sentimental reminiscing. But by now, the anger has run too deep on both sides for any immediate reconciliation.

For Packers fans, there is one silver lining — the emergence of Rodgers. Favre wasn't shunned for false hope. On pace for more than 4,500 yards, 30 touchdowns and only five interceptions, Rodgers is quickly carving a new direction for the franchise. He waited patiently for this moment.

As Favre John Kerry'd every offseason, Rodgers quietly improved behind closed doors. And nobody bothered him in the locker room. One or two reporters — tops — talked to Rodgers after practice back then. One day, he talked about his mustache, or as he called it, "facial power," which he grew because "all the greats" like Jesus Christ, Tom Selleck and Chuck Norris had one.

Over time, more and more fans are embracing this new personality, this new identity. But today at Lambeau Field, Favre will tease Green Bay. Each thread-the-needle laser will serve as a painful reminder of what life was once like.

For Cheeseheads, the past and the present are clashing like never before.


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Tyler Dunne is a frequent contributor to Packer Report and helped cover the team during the bizarre 2008 training camp. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.


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