Friday October 9th, 2009

With everybody from David Letterman to Lamar Odom revealing their most intimate secrets these days, I guess I ought to be up front: I like a woman in a Green Bay Packers sweater.

I caught a fleeting glimpse of one in Minneapolis on Monday night. On the back of the green and yellow sweater was a score, which appeared to be HOME 21 AWAY 7. Apparently Wisconsinites are good enough sports not to post a shutout on their sweaters.

I'm not a fan of the Packers. I'm a fan of Packers fans. And so I'm trying to imagine what this week was like for them, after Brett Favre tore apart his old team in front of the biggest audience ever for cable television.

By now, monkeys in South America know that Favre and the Minnesota Vikings beat the Packers on Monday night. But this isn't just about Favre. It's about what he meant to Green Bay, and what its like to be Aaron Rodgers right now.

Rodgers has two problems, and neither is of his own making. One is that he can't beat the Favre of 2009. The other is that he can't beat the Favre of 1996.

He can't beat the latter for obvious reasons: That is the iconic Favre, the player who was on his way to becoming one of the great quarterbacks of all time. And Rodgers can't beat Favre in 2009 because Favre has better talent around him. This was obvious on Monday night, nowhere more so than on the offensive line, with the players who can make a quarterback look great or terrible.

Rodgers was sacked eight times, while Favre had the leisure to retire and unretire before he had to get a pass off. It was a joke. But what could Rodgers say? He stood in the Packers' cramped Metrodome locker room after getting beaten up all night, and took a bullet.

How would he assess his performance?

"Below my expectations," Rodgers said. "Three possessions where you're in their territory, you come away with zero points. Two of them were directly related to mistakes by myself. Disappointing."

This is true. He fumbled once (while being sacked, of course) and tossed an interception. He also threw for 384 yards and had a passer rating of 110.6, but that was not the time to bring up those numbers.

Rodgers couldn't win in the game or in the media crunch afterward. And the maddening thing is that Favre can't seem to lose.

I think Favre has become such a parody of himself -- partly because of his retirements and comebacks, but also thanks to the work of TV announcers who gush even over his incompletions -- that we forget what he meant to Green Bay all those years. Remember: After Vince Lombardi left, the Packers pretty much stunk for two decades. An entire generation of fans grew up wondering why Green Bay even had a team, and why it wanted this one.

If you told a typical Packers fan in 1991 that you could give him a Hall of Fame quarterback who would win a Super Bowl, take the Packers to another, never miss a game, love the cold weather even though he was from Mississippi and outlast pretty much every other quarterback in the league, and all it would cost the fan was a kidney, he would have reached for a scalpel.

So Favre comes along and makes it fun to be a Packers fan. He gives the ice fishermen and the factory workers a champion, but more than that he seems like one of them. He plays with the joy of a kid, he never takes the job for granted. He belongs to Green Bay. He is theirs.

And then he retires, plays a season in New York (of all places), retires again, and then finds his way to the Packers' biggest rival. He says he isn't worried about his legacy because it belongs to him. Through it all, it feels as if the whole relationship with Green Bay, which meant so much to the fans in Wisconsin, never meant anything to him.

If you're a Packers fan, maybe you can forgive Favre. Maybe you even wish him well. But more than anything, wouldn't you want for him to lose to Green Bay, just to see how it feels?

Instead, Favre gets to play with Adrian Peterson and maybe the best offensive line in football, while Rodgers deals with a revolving door of left tackles who play like revolving doors. Favre gets to contend for another Super Bowl while Green Bay is just another decent team. That doesn't bode well for the rematch, at Lambeau on Nov. 1.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that he has a big-little offense right now: big yardage one play, nothing the next. That sums up the larger story, too. Brett Favre gets to stay big, while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are stuck being little.

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