Favre-Packers makes for good theater
It will be rocking in the Metrodome tonight when the Packers roll in. Even without the drama of the main protagonists, the rivalry of these two teams has grown to replace the traditional Bears-Packers rivalry as the biggest games in the NFC North in recent years. There is much intertwined with these franchises, even before the arrival of a certain quarterback in mid-August.
Brad Childress, the head coach of the Vikings, was on his way to interview for the head coaching position with the Packers in January 2006 when the Vikings launched a preemptive strike to keep him from getting on a plane.
Darrell Bevell, the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, was an offensive assistant and then quarterbacks coach in Green Bay from 2000-2005. He was initially treated with some skepticism and was even dismissed by Brett Favre, but they eventually grew to have a relationship which -- as it turned out -- was integral to bringing Brett to Minnesota.
The Vikings pursued many Packers players who were free agents or even restricted free agents. When Darren Sharper wouldn’t take a pay cut and was released, the Vikings pounced. When Ryan Longwell hit free agency, he was signed by the Vikings within an hour. They also attempted to sign players such as Aaron Kampman, William Henderson, Craig Nall and others before they returned to the Packers. And, of course, they landed the biggest fish of all this summer after a year-long courtship of Favre.
Having been in most stadiums in the NFL, I can safely say there’s no noise like the Metrodome. When a play is made by the Vikings, the building roars as that blasted horn is blares incessantly. I wanted to step on that darn horn so much in the nine years I went up there; what a dreadful sound for opponents.
I especially remember a couple of trips there in my time with the Packers. One was Dec. 17, 2000, when, after having little success in the dome and enduring a mediocre season, we defeated their potent offense of Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, etc. It was Ron Wolf’s 100th victory as general manager of the Packers, and the bus and plan rides home were special times.
The other memory from the Metrodome was winning a tight game on Christmas Eve 2004, making the holiday especially festive until we learned the next day that our friend Reggie White passed away. Bittersweet times indeed.
A new memory will be created tonight, one involving the face of one franchise for a decade and a half now competing against that team for its neighbor-state rival.
Although it’s just a three-hour game and one of 16, tonight’s national stage will create a referendum on the Packers’ decision to move from Favre to Aaron Rodgers, an organizational decision that was difficult but necessary at some point. I have admitted to being a friend and fan of Aaron since the day he arrived at the Packers (despite his going to Cal, Stanford guy that I am). He has a great ability to not take things too seriously -- which served him well this past year -- and has natural leadership skills.
At the first practice of the first minicamp after drafting Aaron, he ran a play in which he showed mobility, read the defense and launched a rocket 60 yards to Donald Driver. I caught Ted Thompson’s eye, who gave me as expressive a look as he would ever give, meaning this player could be special. Aaron was the future; the only question was when. The “when” became 2008 -- after Aaron prepared to be the starter in the two previous offseasons while Brett decided whether to play -- as the Packers would not welcome Favre back from retirement.
Brett’s hands-off relationship with Aaron, especially in Aaron’s first year, was troubling to many at the Packers, but I understood. Brett was consumed with the Wally Pipp syndrome, knowing he got his job when the starting quarterback (Don Majkowski) was hurt, and he never relinquished it. I saw this up close with Matt Hasselbeck -- both as Matt’s agent and working with the team -- and then with Aaron.
As I’ve written many times, Brett is fundamentally a good and genuine guy -- with a sense of humor to match anyone’s – but with the same insecurities and frailties we all have. He grew more distant and sensitive in his later years with the Packers, primarily because of a lack of warmth coming from the general manager’s office, a relationship he became accustomed to through the tenures of Ron Wolf and Mike Sherman. He retreated to the comfort and friendship of trainers, equipment guys and security personnel at the Packers.
Now it’s on. The Packers’ signature player for a decade and a half now plays against them. My sense is he’ll play well, as will Rodgers. They’re both good guys, good quarterbacks and on good teams set to launch some compelling theater.
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