The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

July 7, 2008

#4 and #12

I was going to write about this subject — the most pressing subject faced by those of us who live in Wisconsin — later this month, but events got in the way.

I am referring, of course, to the brand new quarterback controversy at 1265 Lombardi Ave. in Green Bay. Brett Favre, who surprised the “experts” by coming back for the 2007 season, then surprised the “experts” by retiring after the 2007 season, now, rumor has it, is reconsidering retirement. (I hope Favre realizes that to say “It’s all rumor” is not a denial that he is considering coming back.)

Which shouldn’t be surprising. Favre as much as admitted that he might feel the urge to return when he decided he was done following the Packers’ surprise 2007 run to the NFC championship game. Sophisticates in the sports departments think Favre manipulates the media. I think he changes his mind a lot — he says what he thinks at a particular time, and that indeed is the truth at that particular time. He was mentally blown out after the 2007 season, so he decided to retire. Now, after a few months of rest, maybe he is indeed feeling the urge to put the pads on again.

I’m not Favre. (If I was, I wouldn’t be writing this.) I felt he decided to retire too early — since I’ve never understood being told to quit doing something you like and are good at, I would be there until pushed out the door — but neither I nor anyone else reading this (I assume) knows what being an NFL quarterback is really like, particularly the mental part of the game. If you needed a tipoff that Favre was looking to hang it up, it came in the Sports Illustrated 2007 Sportsman of the Year story, which painted a rather melancholy picture:

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a loner,” Favre says. “You’ve just been out there in front of 80,000 screaming people, everyone watching every move you make, the pressure of all that — it’s fine and dandy for three hours, but afterward....” Here Favre takes a big, billowing breath. “I used to thrive on that adrenaline. I never wanted it to end. Now I need to get back to reality.”

Of course, Packers fans didn’t want reality. They wanted the Favre of 2007, who had few better seasons in leading the Packers to a completely unexpected NFC North title. There has never been a Packer quarterback — including Bart Starr, of the five NFL titles and first two Super Bowl wins — more identified with this franchise than Favre, and there never will be again. It’s impossible to imagine another coach so willing to tell another quarterback, as Mike Holmgren told Favre, that they would either fly together or die together. (The vast majority of football coaches, being of rather conservative nature, hate to be so tied to a quarterback, to have the fortunes of the franchise in one player’s hands.)

The Green Bay Press–Gazette’s Rob Demovsky identifies four logical options (though there may be more) for the Packers:

(1) Let him come back.

If they do that, they should trade Rodgers. There are plenty of NFL teams dissatisfied with their quarterback situations, which leads to …

(2) Cut him so that one of the 20 or so teams that would pick him up today if he were available could sign him. (Of course a Chicago sports writer would choose this option.)

(3) Trade him to one of the 20 or so teams that would pick him up today if he were available.

Imagine Favre in a Bears uniform. (I’ll pause until the screaming subsides.)

(4) Convince him to stay retired.

There is some logic to cutting ties with Favre. Baseball general manager Branch Rickey maintained that it is better to get rid of a player one year too early than one year too late. (That looked like 2005 to many.) At some point the Packers will have a different starting quarterback — if not this season, then soon.

Even though the Packers have moved on, there is a lot of fear in Packer Nation (who thought up that name anyway?) these days. You may notice a certain lack of confidence among the fan base in Rodgers, who already has missed more time due to injury (as a backup) than Favre did in his entire career (as a starter). It’s not personal; any replacement of Favre, and perhaps future replacements, will deal with the same issues. (Which is what made the Sports Illustrated story featuring Rodgers’ intemperate, shall we say, comment, so interesting. )

The real fear is that what Packer fans have experienced every season except two since 1992 is going away, and perhaps for a long time. Remember how the San Francisco 49ers dominated the 1980s through the mid-1990s? They were 5–11 last year and show few signs of resurgence. Remember when the Denver Broncos were a perennial playoff team? They were 7–9 last year. Remember when the St. Louis Rams presented nightmares for defensive coordinators? They were 3–13 last year. The Chicago Bears went from getting to the Super Bowl to missing the playoffs entirely. How about the Miami Dolphins, the only perfect team (17–0) and always competitive with Dan Marino at quarterback? They were nearly a perfect team in the opposite direction last year, 1–15. (Yes, they have Bill Parcells running the team now, but have you noticed, since Parcells left the Giants, the diminishing returns his succeeding employers have been getting?) For that matter, remember the "Gory Years" between Vince Lombardi's resigning as coach and Mike Holmgren's hiring as coach?

The Packers have made the right calls off the field almost all the time since Packers president Bob Harlan hired Ron Wolf as general manager in 1992. That’s why they’re in the financial condition they’re in, with a stadium that is the envy of the rest of the league. Thanks in large part to Favre, the most charismatic quarterback of his generation (anyone else think it’s appropriate that he holds the career touchdown pass and interception records?), the Packers have a worldwide fan base. When Favre was the quarterback, no game was out of reach, and in no season, save 2005, was a Super Bowl berth out of the realm of possibility of Packers fans. Fans usually give more credit for that to the quarterback than to the coaches and general managers.

Packer fans are concerned that what we've so enjoyed during Favre's career is going to go away and not be happily replaced, and that’s why they’ve jumped on the “rumors” (again, Brett, rumors sometimes come true) that Favre is thinking about returning. This past winter and gas prices were and are bad enough.

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