Favre And Vick, Oh My!

These are interesting times in the media coverage of NFL players. On the field, it’s time for minicamps and OTAs (Organized Team Activities), the necessary spring development of the fall product, a galvanizing time for the team to learn from and about each other in building the team dynamic for the coming season. No matter whether the team has a lot of turnover or hardly any at all; each group is different and each group dynamic is separate.

From a front-office perspective, I found this time of year intriguing in watching the team bond, seeing who the alpha dogs were going to be, seeing which players were coming out of their shells, which leaders were developing, etc.

Off the field, though, it’s quite a different story here in May 2009. The two central figures of media coverage this month may not play a down of football this year (or they might). They are admired and reviled at the same time. They are now both surrounded by friends and family while somewhat isolated in their large southern homes. Their moves are being tracked with copious detail every day. They have reporters delivering updates from in front of their homes, although what passes for news is quite fluid with these two players.

The two names, of course, are Brett Favre and Mike Vick. Their situations are born of vastly different circumstances, yet there is one thing they clearly share: Neither of the teams with whom they achieved rich glory and fame wants them back.

Eleven months ago this week, Brett had the fateful conversation with Packers coach Mike McCarthy in which McCarthy’s answer to Brett’s request for his helmet was, “We’ve moved on.” Those words still ring in Brett’s ears.

Vick is technically still the property of the Atlanta Falcons. However, in a preemptive statement, Falcons owner Arthur Blank let the world know that Vick will not be playing for the Falcons again (his version of “We’ve moved on”).

Two superstars. Two faces of their franchises, adored in the cities they came to symbolize. Two drivers of the product for the Packers, the Falcons and the NFL. Now – for different reasons – they are not welcome to play in those spaces anymore.

The coupling of these names brings back a bad memory for me. It was the playoff game of Jan. 4, 2003, a season where we at the Packers felt we had a respectable shot to win the whole thing. With an 11-0 record in playoff games at Lambeau Field, things seemed in place against the underdog Falcons. They would be coming into the freezing temperatures of Lambeau Field -- although it was a balmy 28 degrees -- and pack it in soon after trying to compete in the brutal weather. Or so we thought.

My images from that game remain: a blocked punt for a touchdown by the Falcons early in the game, a bad early sign; Vick running wild – through, around, over and in between our defense, making even the most mobile of our defensive linemen, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, appear slow-footed; snow falling, temperatures dropping and the realization that the cold and long offseason in northeastern Wisconsin was upon us sooner than we anticipated; the absolute quiet of the evening, both in our box and, unfortunately, in the stadium (it was perhaps the quietest I have ever seen Lambeau aside from the time Lawrence Tynes kicked the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship game a year ago); the noise and celebration a couple of boxes away, where Arthur Blank and his guest, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, were pumping fists, high-fiving and relishing the win; the speculation about Favre retiring starting a few hours later.

Favre and Vick, together on the field that night, are now together as lightning rods that the media has latched on to in this spring of 2009. Watching the media cover these two stories is like watching four-year-olds play a soccer game, where clusters form around the ball wherever it goes. Similarly, clusters form around the Favre home in Mississippi and the Vick home in Virginia, moving with the “news” of Favre staying retired/un-retiring, surgery/non-surgery, talking to the Vikings/not talking to the Vikings, etc. and Vick’s arrival from prison and sighting around the house. Soon, the cluster will move to Vick’s construction job and Favre’s throwing to high school kids. As with the four-year-olds and their soccer game, no one knows where the cluster will move next.

Favre and Vick, the media antidote for a lull in the NFL calendar. Cluster ball at its best.