The hype surrounding this regular-season battle of NFC North rivals surpasses anything most fans will see in their lifetimes. The reality is that football fans in Wisconsin are stuck in the middle of the tension that developed between Brett Favre and the Packers. It was this way in August of 2008, when the whole thing blew up, and it isn't going to change for some time.
Both sides talk about respect. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said this week he felt the organization did well in not disrespecting Favre in that summer drama last year. Of course, the trade to the New York Jets simply put off the inevitable.
Was that a mistake? Should general manager Ted Thompson have traded Favre to the Vikings all along?
Thompson might have been criticized -- and rightfully so, for the most part -- for his handling of the Favre saga, but he would have been digging his own grave as an executive by trading Favre to a division rival. You're bound to read comments from alleged Packer fans on message boards, blogs, and newspaper sites that say Thompson is ruining the Packers. However, the team has only had one bad season since Thompson began overhauling the organization after the firing of head coach Mike Sherman.
Through all the hoopla surrounding Favre's presence in Minnesota, it's easy to forget that Green Bay is 4-2, and they're coming off back-to-back dominating wins. Yes, those wins came over bad teams, but you can only beat the teams the league puts in front of you, and the Packers have shown throughout the first part of the 2009 season that they're far from a bad team.
As pointed out in the Green Bay Press Gazette, Thompson's biggest mistake may have been reacting to Favre's push to return with virtually no action at all.
In an ideal world, Thompson wouldn't have to treat Favre like anything more than another player on the team. However, he gave 16 wonderful years to the Packers, and he was revered by fans and players alike. Covert attempts to paint Favre as a bad teammate or a disingenuous fellow were simply not going to work. Fans knew he was not a great decision-maker when it came to his retirement, but they weren't going to hold it against him.
While Thompson was right not to "beg" Favre to return, and the organization was right not to hold Favre's job open for him until he had fully made up his mind, Thompson's mechanical reactions and overall lack of outgoing compassion made him an easy target for Favre faithful.
Meanwhile, Favre likely overestimated his value to the Packer organization at the age of 38. While he may act now like he didn't have a problem with the Packers moving on to Aaron Rodgers, that was not the case in 2008. He felt like that job was his, and he was angry the Packers would be willing to move on without him. Of course, when you retire in March, and wait until June to inform the team that maybe you don't want to be retired anymore, it's hard to reasonably expect that the team is going to open their arms and welcome you back unconditionally.
The Packers were upset, as Andrew Brandt wrote on National Football Post, when the NFL cleared the Vikings of tampering charges last year. Favre claimed he was just chatting with his friends, who happened to be Minnesota head coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. It was clear Minnesota was his desired destination, and it turns out his desire to play there was so great that he was willing to play a full season with the unfamiliar New York Jets just to make it happen.
This all brings us to a day Packer fans probably thought they'd never see. Brett Favre dresses in the visitors' locker room at Lambeau Field, and he will face a hostile crowd in his former home for the first time. People have been asking about the potential reception at Lambeau for a long time, but there's really only one answer that makes sense.
During the summer of 2009, former Steelers safety Rod Woodson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his speech, Woodson referenced Pittsburgh fans, who booed him mercilessly when he returned to Pittsburgh as a rival Baltimore Raven.
I want to say thank you for giving me ten wonderful years there. To the Steeler nation thank you for accepting me. For cheering me on. And after I left, for booing me. No, I'm serious for booing me. Because you know, if you cheered me when I put on a Raiders uniform or a Ravens uniform, I think I would have lost a little respect for the Steeler nation. So I'm glad you booed me, because you should.This is what Favre should expect today. It's not about blaming Favre for his departure, or absolving Thompson and McCarthy of their responsibility for what happened.
Favre is the enemy now. There would be no greater respect Packer fans could show than to boo him. Respect for the game and the traditions created by rivalries is greater than respect for individual players, and this fanbase is one that understands and respects history. There is a time and a place to cheer Brett Favre. Sunday afternoon is not it.