Massive hands that gripped and ripped the football for 244 yards and four touchdowns now clutched the side of a podium on a small stage in the visitors' media room, where a couple dozen television cameras on tripods and more than 80 reporters had crammed in to hang on his every word. Dressed in a tan sweater with the sleeves pushed up, jeans and sneakers, one thing Favre rarely wore during his 12-minute talk was a smile.
This game wasn't just hard on the fans, it was for Favre, too. Even in victory. He's too emotional of a player and a person for it not to be.
After a Packers victory, especially one in which he tossed four scores, zero picks and didn't get sacked, Favre would've worked the spacious home team media auditorium the way Jerry Seinfeld worked the crowd at a comedy club. But this Favre, positioned in front of a Minnesota Vikings pull-down backdrop that didn't quite cover the Packers logo-emblazoned wall behind it, was much more subdued. Definitely not sad, nor apologetic, Favre was clearly glad that his team got the ‘W.' But he looked, understandably, a little emotionally spent. He also seemed cognizant of the fact that he came into a stadium, a state, and really a state-of-mind — that he owned like maybe no other professional athlete ever had — and defeated them. Maybe in more ways than just on the field.
Packers fans had watched Favre play one of the best games of his 19-year career four weeks earlier, when he led Minnesota to a 30-23 win at the Metrodome by throwing three touchdowns with no interceptions or sacks. But this was different. This was Favre coming into Lambeau Field through the visitors' tunnel, heading to the enemy sideline and then playing as well for his new team as he'd ever played for his old one. This one hurt a little bit more, and it was all about location. So, when the crowd caught their first glimpse of their former quarterback, they let him have it with a thundering round of boos. And they weren't going to let up anytime soon.
"It was about what I expected," Favre said. "It was probably worse every time I took the field. I consider it a good thing. It's better than saying nothing, I guess. I know what I did here; you can ask the teammates that I played with here, that I played against tonight. I've been criticized a little bit for saying that this may be as good a football team, the best as far as talent that I've ever played with. I got criticized for that, but I would venture to think that all of the guys that I played with would speak positively about the way I carried myself. From that standpoint, I'm very proud of what I've done and what type of leader I've been, what kind of teammate, regardless of what people think."
Favre devoted a good portion of his press conference to reminding reporters, and ultimately the fans, what kind of player and teammate he's been, and noting that he's got nothing to prove. He gave his two cents on the critical comments of former teammates, and framed the Vikings' 7-1 record by saying that they haven't done anything yet — pointing out that the 1996 team (Green Bay, that is) won the Super Bowl. Nearly two years removed from his last game at Lambeau Field, he also had plenty to say about the Packers' fans.
"It was kind of mixed emotions coming in because I know how special these fans are," said Favre, who lightened up briefly when talking about some fans who flipped him the bird as the Vikings' bus neared the stadium. "And it was always nicer to be the home team. It was loud; it's what makes Green Bay such a special place. I want to lead this Viking team to the Super Bowl, believe me, I do. And I'm going to do everything in my power. But I also know that the Packer fans that make this organization so special, so unique, will never change. And how could you not miss that?"
Packers fans weren't making too much noise by the end of the first half, however. Even the boos for Favre had trailed off early in the third quarter, when he hit Percy Harvin deep down the middle for a 51-yard score that pushed the score to 24-3. But if Packers fans had resigned themselves to a loss, Packers players had not. Behind a 26-yard Mason Crosby field goal and two touchdowns by tight end Spencer Havner, Green Bay had pulled within 24-20 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
Favre, of course, wasn't quite done. He sandwiched two more scoring strikes to tight end Jeff Dugan and receiver Bernard Berrian around an Aaron Rodgers-to-Greg Jennings score for the final margin and a series sweep of their NFC North Division rival. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Favre walked across the field to greet his old teammates, coach and the quarterback who replaced him. Dejected fans could only watch the surreal scene unfold. Well, watch and boo.
"You know, I think that deep inside, I know how they feel," Favre said. "But Packer fans cheer for the Packers first, I know that. And I hope that everyone in the stadium watching tonight said, ‘You know, that joker's on the other side, but he does play the way he's always played, with his excitement and passion for the game,' As long as I play, that's not going to change and I think that's what people have admired about me throughout my career. So, that's all I can do. What I've done here, as I've said, speaks for itself. What I was a part of was awesome. That will never change."
Even if his uniform did.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.