Packers Should Not Retire Favre’s Jersey

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made some small headlines last week by urging the team to retire Brett Favre's jersey, and to do so before Favre is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Rodgers' suggestion was a kind one, but he's wrong.

"It's been too long. I think our country and the state of Wisconsin, these people are people of second, third and fourth chances, and I think it's time to let the healing process begin for those who are still upset about what went down. I was totally okay with being out front of that, and I'm very secure of the things I've been able to accomplish with the team and individually here, and excited about the chance to see him again and get his number retired here before he goes into Canton."

Aaron Rodgers seems like a nice guy. He's also a Pro Bowler, All-Pro, Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP, and NFL MVP. He can afford to be gracious, because he's probably the best quarterback in the world, and he doesn't need to share the spotlight with Brett Favre, or anyone else. There's no reason to think Rodgers' comment was insincere, but it was a great PR move. He comes off as magnanimous and forgiving, and even fans who disagree him with will direct their displeasure at Favre rather than Rodgers. It's a no-lose direction for Rodgers to go.

But the Packers should not retire Favre's No. 4 jersey, at least not yet.

Brett Favre was a great quarterback. In a 20-year career, he made the playoffs 11 times as a starter, including on the team that won Super Bowl XXXI. He set all-time records for pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns, and for consecutive games played. He won 3 NFL MVP Awards, from 1995-97, the last one a co-MVP shared with Barry Sanders. He deserves to make the Hall of Fame, and he will probably go in on the first ballot.

Favre played for four teams, but most of those accomplishments came with the Packers, from 1992-2007. The team will probably choose to retire Favre's jersey at some point, and that's probably appropriate. But "some point" hasn't come yet.

For years, Brett Favre was the most popular player in the NFL, maybe the most popular athlete in the United States. He was a great quarterback, of course — the greatest quarterback, for a few years. But he also made himself accessible to the media and sympathetic to fans. His insistence on playing through injuries caused him to become dependent on painkillers, and he was open about his struggle with addiction. He played on Monday Night Football shortly after the death of his father, and for many fans it became the most memorable game of his career. Favre even grew friendly with many rivals, most famously Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan.

Even more than players and fans, though, the media worshipped Brett Favre. Besides being a great player, he loved the media. He loved cameras, loved microphones, loved to talk to the press. And he had a story sportswriters loved equally. Joe Posnanski wrote a charming piece called I Really Didn't Need That Stew, about the embarrassment of riches in the Rulon Gardner story. That was Favre. He encouraged the media to visit him on his Mississippi farm, and they couldn't get enough: the best QB in the world, and shucks, all he really wanted was to be a farmer.

The most notorious Favre fan was Sports Illustrated's Peter King, but other outlets were no better. Former ESPN ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber, in her final column, wrote at length about the network's over-coverage: "Favre was one of my favorite players in the NFL," wrote a fan from Kansas City. "Now I'm just sick of hearing about him."

Across every major sports media organization, Favre was relentlessly hyped, and it was understood that he was not to be criticized. There are two particular moments that have always stuck with me; they're representative of a sample that seems like hundreds. During a game in the mid-'00s, Favre threw an illegal forward pass from beyond the line of scrimmage. Cris Collinsworth, announcing the game, spent the better part of two minutes praising Favre for the penalty. "The best part is, the official could barely call the penalty he was laughing so hard!" The quote is paraphrased, but I didn't see the ref laughing at all. Collinsworth was the only one who viewed the play as anything other than an error.

My favorite, though, was when John Madden missed the memo that you couldn't say anything bad about Favre. It was a Monday Night Football game, and Favre threw an interception nowhere near his receiver, obviously a disconnect on which route the receiver should run in that situation. Al Michaels said something to the effect of, "Well, I think we know whose fault that was." He was taken aback when Madden replied, "I think it was Brett Favre's fault," and then showed viewers why the receiver ran the correct route and Favre made the wrong throw.

The sad thing is, Favre-worship reached its height a decade after his prime. So you've got this guy who can still play, but he's nowhere near the best QB in the league any more, and you've got writers who deify him and announcers who refuse to admit when he makes mistakes. Combine that with hours of coverage, far more than that given to say, Drew Brees during the same years, and fans who had always liked Favre turned against him.

From talking to sports fans over the last decade, I can say this with confidence: in the late 1990s and early 2000s, almost everyone liked Brett Favre. Today, most fans dislike him. There are exceptions, of course, but I feel little doubt that during the '00s, a majority of sports fans in the U.S. shifted from strongly liking Favre to strongly disliking him.

Some of this is just the way our sports media operates right now, but Favre isn't blameless, either. In the last few seasons of his career, fans saw an ugly side to the athlete they'd admired so long: a manipulative, selfish quality. He went publicly back and forth on retirement countless times, so that fans who initially hoped he'd keep playing eventually wanted him to stop just so they wouldn't have to hear about it every week. He became obsessed with his own stats and his legacy within the game. But most disappointing, Favre engineered his exit from the team with whom we associated him: the Green Bay Packers.

I'm not a Packers fan. My editor is; he used to be a huge Favre fan, and I'm not sure how much of this article he'll agree with. Maybe I'll find out when it's published (gulp). But I'm not a particular fan of the Packers, or any of their rivals. I'm just a guy who really likes football. I've always respected players like Cal Ripken and Chipper Jones, Darrell Green and Tom Brady, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan, who spend their whole careers with one team. I don't hold a grudge against players who get traded, or leave in free agency, or get released and keep playing elsewhere. But I don't like it — and I know I'm not alone — when a superstar deliberately leaves behind the city, team, and fans that have grown to adore him. He's not even chasing money; he just wants out. LeBron James is the most infamous example, and Ken Griffey Jr.'s exit from Seattle always bugged me, but Favre is perhaps the worst offender.

More than wanting to leave Green Bay, he wanted to play for Minnesota, a hated division rival. When Donovan McNabb got traded to Washington in 2010 and returned to Philadelphia in a different uniform, the most ruthless fans in sports gave him a standing ovation. A year earlier, when Favre walked onto Lambeau Field wearing Viking purple, he was resoundingly booed. Fans can tell the difference between a player who was traded in a situation largely out of his control, and a narcissist who deliberately made things difficult for his old club.

After a shaky year with the Jets in which he played unevenly and allegedly texted a photo of his penis to a female employee, Favre's image with the public got even worse in Minnesota. While loyal announcers celebrated his career-high passer rating, Favre publicly feuded with head coach Brad Childress, and eventually got the coach fired, less than a year after an NFC Championship Game appearance and contract extension. Favre wasn't willing to defer to anyone or compromise on anything. No one likes an armchair psychologist, but I invite you to read a list of diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), better known as megalomania. Among the possible causes of NPD is "excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback."

I've never met Brett Favre, and most people who have seem to like him very much. But his image changed decisively, from that of a nice guy living the dream to that of a self-centered diva trying to manipulate his own legacy. It rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and it bothered not only Packer fans, but everyone who admired Favre partly for his devotion to the NFL's last town team.

Favre was a great player, probably one of the top 10 QBs in history. He is a Packer legend, and I imagine the team will want to retire his jersey eventually. But not now, and not in the next few years. When the team hangs No. 4 in the rafters, it should be a joyous occasion, with fans concentrating on their good memories of the success Favre had in green and gold.

Today, we're still too close to the betrayal. If the Packers retire Favre's jersey in 2013, I suspect he would hear as many boos as cheers. Like him or not, Favre deserves to hear nothing but positives at that moment. I don't blame the fans who might boo him, because they have cause. I just think we need some more distance, some time to forgive. Keep No. 4 on the shelf; don't give it out to other players. But save an official retirement ceremony for a decade down the line. Give Green Bay and its hero some time to remember what they liked about each other.

Comments and Conversation

June 4, 2013

Doug Youngs:

I’d like it of the author of this yarn to supply actual numbers for his claim that there are all of these sports fans out there who dislike Brett Favre. And where are these people located. Ya see, the only opinion that is relevant is that of Packer fans. What other people think doesn’t matter. The actual number of people who still have hard feelings amounts to something you can stick in a closet, and the author knows that. This story or article or tantrum or what ever you choose to cal it represents the opinion of one person. packer Nation is ready to move on, and like it or not, without Brett Favre we would have continued on with the tradition of losing year after year that was established after Mr Lombardi left. Just as we owe Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren for the glory from the 90’s to now, so too do we owe Brett Favre. It is rediculous to think he will be inducted into the Hall of fame before being recognized by his own team, and childish on the part of a few disgruntled fans

June 5, 2013

Brad Oremland:

Here’s an actual number for you, Doug: 71,107. That’s the attendance for Favre’s last appearance at Lambeau Field, when he was loudly booed every time he stepped onto the field. That doesn’t happen to Christian Ponder.

Probably no player in NFL history has retired at a time when he had so alienated fans of his primary team, and pushing an accelerated timetable does no one any favors, including Favre. The Packers will retire his jersey eventually, but maybe he should wait as long as Ray Nitschke.

June 5, 2013

Mario:

God, this was a complete waste of time to read.

June 5, 2013

JTP:

Brett retired, yes. Then wanted back, yes. Packers had Rodgers, so didn’t want brett back, business decision? Yes. But to say Brett wanted out and to play for Minnesota because he wanted out? Complete waste of time of an article. Sure, fault lies on Brett for un-retiring. But the Packers could have handled it much better. Why not let him go play wherever he wants? It is unfair to say “we don’t want you, and we’re also going to restrict you from going where you want to go.” Let the man play football.

June 5, 2013

CAROL:

we love you…

June 5, 2013

Karl:

I wholeheartedly agree with the author. And I love the Packers. I’ve been a season ticket holder for over 35 years. Yes, the organization could have handled the situation of Favre’s parting better, but in the end, no one is bigger than the organization. And year in and year out, Favre acted like a diva, putting himself above the organization with his “Will I or won’t I retire?” yearly drama. It hurt the organization. After Favre gave the game away in the 2007 NFC Championship with another ill adviser pick, it was time to let him go. That Favre chose eventually to go to the Vikings was a small, childish, short sighted move designed to hurt the Packers. The organization without which Favre would never have reached the heights he did.

June 5, 2013

Brad Oremland:

JTP, your view is in the minority. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute found in 2008 that residents supported Ted Thompson and the Packers, not Favre, by a huge margin — 60% to 16%. Favre put the team in a bad situation.

June 6, 2013

David:

What the hell? Really ? Favre didn’t want to leave the packers! He asked to come back and they said no. So he got traded to the jets .. Who the packers thought had no chance at success. Then a year later he signed with a good team that needed a QB. How is that wrong of favre? Should have he gone with a worse team just because mn was a revile of a team that he used to play for that no longer wanted him? That doesn’t make any sense

June 6, 2013

David:

If the packers didnt want favre and favre still wanted to play the packers should have just released him like the colts did Payton. All of this drama would have never happened !!

June 6, 2013

hana amoro:

Thank you David, well said. Don’t want him? let him go, god knows he earned that much from the Packers. But TT & MM thought to send him off to a 4-12 team so he can WIN, a classy move!
Favre would probably never went to min. had the packers released him, but when he found out just how vindictive TT& MM (4-12 team…really??)
he came back to the same division to deservingly stick it to them ..which he did, TWICE! and power to you Favre!

June 6, 2013

Brad Oremland:

A number of readers have misunderstood my point: if the Packers retire Brett Favre’s jersey this year, he is going to get booed. I believe the team should wait until GB fans have had time to forgive Favre and give him unconditional cheers.

That said, hana amoro and David, you are misinformed. Favre wanted to play for the Vikings all along, and the Packers actually filed tampering charges against Minnesota.

Players sign contracts. If that team no longer wants them, they are either traded (if they have value) or released (if they don’t), and they are almost never traded to a division rival. It’s unfair to expect the Packers to do something that is basically never done. Favre’s friend Peter King wrote, “If Favre and agent Bus Cook … believe that the Packers will allow him to go free so he can sign with Minnesota, they’re crazy.” This isn’t the Packers being ogres, it’s Favre thinking the rules shouldn’t apply to him.

Favre dithered about retirement for years, officially retired, then un-retired a month after the draft, when he knew the team had moved forward with other plans. When the Packers wouldn’t let him go to Minnesota, he missed no opportunity to bad-mouth the organization that he played with for 16 years. I don’t see how that’s classy or loyal. Aren’t these things a two-way street? As Christopher Gates at The Daily Norseman wrote, Favre never loved Green Bay as much as Green Bay fans loved him.

Most of all, I don’t get feeling bad for a rich, famous guy because he had to wait a whole year before playing for the team he wanted to. Brett Favre has led a charmed life, and he doesn’t need anyone’s pity because there was this one time he didn’t get his way.

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