Can you remember what you did on January 20, 2008? If you’re like me, you nervously waited all day for the NFC Championship game between the Packers and the Giants. We all know how it ended, but do you remember how you felt that day and that season? Those young Packers came from out of nowhere to win 13 regular season games before beating Seattle to a pulp in the Division Round. What a game! The weather made Lambeau Field look more like a snow globe than a stadium. Then the Giants upset the Cowboys and the Packers stood on the doorstep to one of the most improbable Super Bowl berths of all time.
Now, try to remember how you felt about Brett Favre that day. Try not to let how you feel about Favre now cloud your memory. In 2007, Favre brought new meaning to the word legend. He was George Washington, John Wayne and Iron Man all rolled into one. Even in his late 30s, he still had an arm like a cannon. The media loved him, players around the NFL loved him and fans the world over loved him. After shattering every passing record in the books, earning a Super Bowl win and three MVP awards, he poured his heart out for all to hear on March 6, 2008. Favre said he would walk away from the game he loved. Teary eyed, he thanked the Packers and their loyal fans for 16 great years, and teary eyed, we thanked him too. Favre walked away a hero, but in the events since then, a lot has changed.
To be clear, I have supported Favre through thick and thin since his departure from Green Bay and I’ll continue to do so until his career comes to a merciful end. Immediately after Favre’s exit, the Packers fan base stood split -- one camp backing Favre, another agreeing with the Packers. It was easy to support Favre. The Packers struggled in their first year with Aaron Rodgers under center. Favre had one of his best years in 2007 and still displayed ample skills in 2008. Even when he flamed out at the end of the year and retired again following his lone season in New York, few Green Bay supporters voiced anti-Favre sentiment.
Then, to no one’s surprise, the old gunslinger decided to lace up his cleats again. Favre’s defection to Minnesota, Green Bay’s hated rival, severed most of his ties with Packers fans. Fans of the green and gold made their overwhelming sentiment clear when Favre returned to Lambeau. They booed him out of the building, off the field where he had won more games than any other quarterback in history. The Vikings won the game, but the fans had spoken. Favre lost support in the place where he once had it most.
Of course, Favre had a phenomenal year in 2009, perhaps his best ever. The media and non-Packers fans still loved him. He still made impossible throws, and at 40 years-old he made middle-aged men feel like anything was possible. The Wrangler wearing quarterback led the Vikings to within a game of the Super Bowl and he captured America with his southern drawl, his devoted wife Deanna and his unconditional love for the game.
Then Favre announced another retirement and staged a "will-he-or-won’t he?" summer that culminated in the Vikings panicking and sending three of his buddies to Mississippi. They dragged him off his lawn mower and back to the practice field with the hope of one last run at a magical season. By the time the season opened in New Orleans, the magic had clearly run out. Favre looked inaccurate, uninspired, and beaten up; he had aged seemingly overnight. Since then, the interceptions, the losses, the injuries and the criticisms of Favre have piled up. He and Brad Childress verbally sparred in the media and after a 31-3 embarrassment against the Packers, Childress got the axe. Instead of an ageless wizard capable of turning back time and playing like a 25 year-old, Favre has become another classic example of a great athlete who tried to hang on to glory for too long.
Off the field issues have hampered Favre’s legacy more than his pedestrian play in 2010. Favre’s alleged lewd messages sent to Jenn Sterger during his time in New York have turned the once beloved family man into a run-of-the-mill womanizer and a national punch line. Prior to the allegations, fans loved Favre not just because of his on the field heroics, but because of his image as a loving father and a devoted husband. In the 90s, Favre’s wife Deanna stood by him through his addiction to pain killers, his bouts with the bottle and even infidelity. Over the last decade though, Favre has publicly acknowledged his previous misdeeds and his renewed devotion to his family. He grew up before our very eyes and we loved him for it. All of that vanished when he reportedly admitted to leaving Sterger voice mails. To many, instead of leaving behind the legacy of a man who had conquered his demons and made his family his top priority, Favre had become just another two-timing pro athlete.
Despite his many faults, I still love to watch Favre on Sundays. Is he the good old country boy with no ego that I thought he was three years ago? No, but in a lot of ways he probably never was. Many of us were just naïve in thinking that way. Naïve thinking or not, Favre walked away from Green Bay a hero and not a lot of athletes can say that. He avoided scandal, brought a championship to a proud organization rich in tradition, and could have left after one of his best years ever. Instead he continued and the aforementioned incidences have taken a serious toll on his image and, ultimately, his legacy. Watching him take such a pounding this year and watching his personal missteps unfold before the world; I can’t help but wish he hadn’t decided to play following his emotional press conference less than three years ago. In most people’s eyes, Favre was a hero that day; I can’t say the same for today.