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The Favre-Packers Divorce

On the eve of Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay to be inducted into team’s Hall of Fame, let’s look back at how it all ended in the first place. Plus, mailbag questions about Ken Stabler’s HOF status, Tom Brady, the Washington nickname and eating hot dogs

News item: Brett Favre to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Green Bay.

In so many ways, this is a “Wow” moment for Favre and the Packers, particularly for coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson. I thought on the eve of the event, it would be proper to put the ceremony into some perspective.

Seven years ago next month, Favre and the Packers divorced, citing irreconcilable differences, and I had a front-row seat. Settle back. The story’s pretty interesting—and it’s a big reason why I find it amazing that after just seven years, Favre and the Packers can pledge their love for each other again.

I’ll never forget a few things about that spring and summer of 2008. When Favre announced his retirement in March, it stunned the world. The Packers wanted a decision from Favre in March on whether he’d play in 2008, and if that decision wasn’t forthcoming, they were giving the job to Aaron Rodgers, who’d sat and learned the job behind Favre for three years. Favre wasn’t ready to commit, so he retired.

A couple of months later I was washing my dog in my New Jersey driveway (true story) when my cell rang. It was Favre. I put down the soap and hose and talked to him. He said he was having second thoughts. Lots of them. He said he still wanted to play. He said he was thinking of asking for his release so he could play somewhere else. Chicago or Minnesota, maybe. I told him I didn’t think the Packers would release him so he could torment them from within the division. I remember saying to him that day he should think about all the kids with Brett Favre posters on their walls; they’d be heartbroken if he ever walked into Lambeau as a Bear or Viking. At the time he wanted to keep his ruminations quiet, because he was still thinking about what to do.

A Week in Life of '95 Packers

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July. Almost time for training camp. Now news broke that Favre, 38, still wanted to play, and he was going to try to force the Packers to release him so he could play elsewhere. I talked to Thompson, and he was adamant that the Packers would not let Favre go. They might consider trading him, but a release? No way.

On the Saturday before the Packers were due at training camp, I visited Favre at his home outside Hattiesburg, Miss. He and wife Deanna were there, and agent Bus Cook. We went to dinner with some relatives, then back to the house on his 465-acre spread. That day, Thompson asked Favre for a list of teams he’d agree to be traded to. Favre wouldn’t give him one. If Favre couldn’t go to Minnesota or Chicago, his preference was to force Thompson’s hand, and come back to play quarterback for the Packers. For Thompson, that was a non-starter.

Cook’s stance was the Packers would likely back down if Favre pressed his case to be released. I said I didn’t think Thompson would release him under any circumstances. I hadn’t seen Favre agonize over many decisions in his life, but he sure was on this late night sitting around the polished marble kitchen counter.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,’’ he said, massaging his ever-present stubbly beard. Then he bled a little bit, verbally.

“It’s strange to think I’ll never play for the Packers again. Does it hurt? Hurt’s not quite it. To see those fans I love cheer for another quarterback … That’s the way it goes, but it’ll be hard. Maybe I won’t play. If I don’t, I’ve had 17 great years in the NFL. Loved every minute of it. Loved playing in Green Bay.”

“You’re a football player,” Deanna said pointedly. “You need to play football.”

Favre had a couple of realistic options. Commissioner Roger Goodell told him if he sat for a while, maybe a team that got a quarterback injury would reach out to acquire him. True, but not something Favre wanted. Or he could agree to go to Tampa Bay or the Jets; both teams had been granted permission to talk to Cook and Favre in hopes they could convince Favre to get interested in playing for them.

But Favre wanted to play for the Vikings, or possibly the Bears. Both needed passers. Next option: the Packers.

Two or three times that night, well into the evening, I told him Thompson wouldn’t bend. The GM would get killed in Wisconsin if he handed Brett Favre to an archrival. Favre knew, but he had trouble accepting.

“Ted told me, ‘Aaron's our starter,’ ” Favre said at one point. “I asked if I could compete for the job. He said, ‘That is not an option.’ He said, ‘Coming up there obviously is not good. Things have changed. We've moved on.’ He basically said, ‘You're not going to play here.’ ”

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I flew to Green Bay the next day. Thompson reiterated there’d be no release. Favre, that night, texted me thusly: “Tell Ted to release me.” I don’t recall what I said, but it was something like, Not happening.

Two days later, I’d arrived in Charlotte to cover the Panthers at camp the next day. I’m a minor-league baseball fan, so I was in the stands to see the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators when my phone rang. It was Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. How can we sell our program to Brett? That’s what Tannenbaum wanted to know. I thought that now that he had permission to talk to Favre, he should go to Hattiesburg and try to make his case. I’d have told someone from the Bucs the same thing had they called. Tannenbaum did make the trip, and he must have been persuasive. A few days later, he made a deal for Favre, and Favre played one year for the Jets. He played 2009 and ’10 for the Vikings, of course. The Vikes went 2-2 against the Packers, with Favre splitting a pair at Lambeau. And then it was over.

Now the ugliness, the hard feelings … poof. I don’t know why—but it seems it should have taken longer than seven years for the healing to happen. But good for all sides it didn’t.

One last thing. Remember when Jerry Rice was trying to keep his career going forever? I saw him in camp with the Broncos in 2005, at 42, trying to stick as a backup wideout. And I saw a free-agent cornerback from Bowling Green (I don’t recall the name) playing him straight-up in man coverage. Jerry Rice is ruining his legacy! Or so the talk went that summer.

But it didn’t. That, too, passed. As did the Favre bitterness in 2008.

This is what Favre said just before we parted that July Saturday in Mississippi:

“If this doesn't work out, there's no way to duplicate the relationship I have with the fans. When Bart Starr was fired by the Packers as coach, it was rough, but look now. He's much bigger than that. He's Bart Starr. Fans forgot the firing. Whatever happens, that will never have an effect on my love for the team or the fans. This is the ugliness of business. I understand.”

Nothing will feel ugly Saturday night. Good for Favre, and good for the Packers, and good for the fans who loved him.

* * *

Ken Stabler went 96-49-1 as a starting quarterback, giving him a .661 win percentage, currently seventh best in NFL history. (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

Ken Stabler went 96-49-1 as a starting quarterback, giving him a .661 win percentage, currently seventh best in NFL history. (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

I’ll start the email with five on Ken Stabler and his Hall of Fame candidacy. Then I’ll get to other topics.

STABLER ROSE TO THE OCCASION. Stabler wasn’t a statistics compiler but a man of moments, whose great plays transcended the mundane. He is the Lynn Swann of quarterbacks. And he did indeed call his own plays and proved himself a chess player on the field. He was the king of the comeback and made so many memorable plays in critical moments. The Raiders had an excellent running game and defense, but they rode him to victory always. If not for the Immaculate Reception, people would talk about the kid who hadn’t played all year, drove up the field on a defense that had stoned Oakland all day, and ran 30 yards for the winning TD. The game-winning rally against New England in the AFC Championship of 1976, capped by his TD run; the Ghost to the Post—still the gutsiest throw I have ever seen; the surgical precision with which he carved up Minnesota’s superb (if a bit long in the tooth) defense in Super Bowl XI; the crazy Sea of Hands throw putting the ball in the perfect spot to a poor receiver among five defenders; the Holy Roller (an overrated play, but still an amazing one); and the comeback against New Orleans in ’79 from 35-7 down to a 42-35 victory. Even in losses to Pittsburgh he made great plays, such as the bomb to Branch that put them in scoring position before time ran out in the ’74 Championship Game. 

Stabler caught the zeitgeist of his era better than any other QB. It was a rebellious, individualistic time, and he was the ultimate individual. Unlike today, players in his era saw it as a game, even if a very serious one. But they lived during Vietnam, and they knew what real life was, and where football stood in relation. Staying out late before games was not unusual. He had a style like Namath did, if a bit different, a cool confidence that he could pull things out when the chips were down. The long hair coming out of his helmet, the smooth saunter into the huddle no matter how tense the situation, the ability to throw darts in the teeth of fierce pressure—they are iconic moments in ’70s football. He went against two of the very best teams in NFL history, the Steelers and Dolphins, and players of both teams looked at him as a great warrior. In the ’70s, there was Staubach, Stabler, Bradshaw and maybe Tarkenton, and everyone else was an afterthought.

—Bobby D., Winter Park, Fla.

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STABLER PLAYED TOUGHER FOES.I think there is another aspect of the case for Stabler that deserves consideration (when compared to Namath). Namath was at his best playing against weaker AFL teams, while Stabler played mostly after the merger. Yes, the Jets and Kansas City won Super Bowls, but the competition in the AFL was much weaker than the competition in the old NFL. All-decade team for quarterback is surely different than for guards and tackles. Don't think you are giving enough credit to that.

—Barry D.

STABLER HAD GREAT STATS.I think by far the strongest Hall of Fame argument for Ken Stabler is his career winning percentage of 66 percent over an 11-year career as a starter. Stabler has the sixth-highest winning percentage in history. The five people above him are named Brady, Staubach, Manning, Montana and Bradshaw. The five QBs ranked right below him on this list are named Young, Unitas, Elway, Kelly and Favre. Clearly this list includes the greatest QBs of all time, and for Stabler to be right in the middle of this list puts him in the elite category and qualifies him for the Hall of Fame. He did not win all of those games by handing off to a great running back (Griese) or having a great defense behind him (Bradshaw). He is also one of the few (only?) quarterbacks to have winning records against the Steel Curtain, which was without question the greatest defense of all time over an extended period. Also being at the center of some of the most memorable games of the ’70s should count for something as an intangible. Thank you!

—Michael L., New York City

STABLER WAS AN ARTISTE.Looking at Kenny Stabler's numbers and statistics is akin to looking at the Mona Lisa and judging it by the Pantone color charts that make up the masterpiece. He was a successful, dynamic quarterback who led his teams to victories. He was a clutch player who delivered time and time again when the game was on the line. He was a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. He was the face, heart and soul of the Raider franchise. He was a franchise player, before the technical definition of the term. That is why his case deserves greater scrutiny and weight.

—Tony T.

STABLER WROTE NFL HISTORY.Just read your opinion of Stabler and the HOF.  I always hear voters saying “Can you write about the history of the NFL and not include so and so?” With Stabler, you can’t. He is an integral part of the history and thus belongs in the HOF.

—John V, Mooresville, N.C.

Thanks for the emails. Bobby D., your letter was fantastic. A few thoughts:

• There’s not much above that I disagree with. My main thrust was on the body of work: five invisible seasons, five great seasons, three ridiculously careless seasons (80 interceptions and zero playoff wins in three years), four nothing seasons in decline. Did he do enough in the five years as the leader of the Raiders to merit entry to the Hall? I say no. Most of you say yes.

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• I believe you cannot be a slave to numbers when you consider quarterbacks from 30 to 50 years ago, but you have to consider the numbers for something.

• Regarding reader Michael L.’s stat case, a few corrections: In his career, Stabler was 4-4 as a starter in the regular season against Pittsburgh, 2-2 in the playoffs. (That doesn’t count the playoff loss in 1972; Stabler was a reliever in that game.) Stabler’s winning percentage all-time among players with 100 career starts or more is actually seventh. And to say Stabler played without much help on those Raider teams … I mean, come on. In his five glory years, 1973 to 1977, Oakland ranked third, ninth, seventh, 12th and 15th in team defense, and fourth, third, third, 10th and second in rushing offense.

As I said, Stabler’s got a case. And if he were in, I wouldn’t think it was some great injustice. I wasn’t in the room when most of the quarterbacks from that era have been considered for the Hall of Fame, so it’s hard when someone says, “Griese’s in, so Stabler should be.” That’s a good argument. I wasn’t there, so I didn’t hear the arguments from the day.

CHANGE THE NAME.I don’t really see what the downside is to changing the name. Many businesses might have spent decades building up brand loyalty and name recognition that would be tough to replace. But the Redskins aren’t going to lose significant business. Their share of revenue from TV will continue to roll in. Maybe some fans will drop season tickets in protest, but other fans will take their places. They will probably have a huge surge in revenue from people buying up the old-school gear and others buying the new gear. So I think they ought to just get on with it.

—Joe B.

Are you in my head, Joe?

SNYDER’S FANS DON’T WANT THE NAME CHANGED.In regards to the Redskins stuff: Do you think it's possible that one of the reasons Dan Snyder has been so resistant to a Redskins name change is that he's repeatedly heard from a large portion of his fan base who say they don't want the name changed? In fact, I would venture to say that the vast majority of Washington fans do NOT want the name changed and would just prefer for this all to go away. So does that make all these fans racist? And that has been echoed to me by many of my Redskin fan friends. And they're the ones who vote with their wallets, at least as far as Snyder is concerned.

—Rick, Purvis, Miss.

I’m sure that has a lot to do with it. Sometimes the man who runs the business has to make a tough decision that many of his followers disagree with, because it’s the right thing. That’s what I think Snyder should do right now.

I MISSED THE POINT.I am a Redskins fan and support a name change, but you've totally missed the mark here. The South Carolina governor and “her cadre of smart political leaders” did not do the right thing because it was the right thing to do; they did it because they had insurmountable pressure to do something in the wake of a racist massacre. It blows my mind that people can't see that fact. Gov. Haley supported the flag flying over the Statehouse until she was slapped in the face with a reason she couldn't fly it any more. (She actually said last year that's it's okay to fly the flag above the Statehouse because not a single CEO has complained about it.) So, please, stop giving them credit. Snyder should not be given credit when he changes it because he has to either.

—Adam, Charlotte

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Good point. Thanks for making it.

ON THE BRADY BAN.As a longtime reader of The MMQB, I have noticed that you rarely pass judgment on an issue unless the facts are clear (i.e. you didn't hammer Kromer too hard for his alleged actions). I am curious, however, if you were in Goodell's shoes would you reduce Brady's suspension to one or two games, get rid of it altogether, or leave it as is? The facts are unclear and if the suspension stood Brady would be handed the same punishment as Greg Hardy. (I am a Jets fan and I still don't think that's right.) What would you do given the lack of evidence?

—Chris, Stamford, Conn.

What I would have done is I would never have banned Brady in the first place. I don’t think the Wells Report proved that Brady ordered the balls to be deflated. What would I do now? Certainly reduce the sanction to either one or two games, but I’d never be in this position, because I would come up with a different penalty in the first place.

LET THEM EAT HOT DOGS.In Peter's column he goes out of his way to criticize a hot dog eating contest because there are people in the U.S. that suffer from not having the resources to have enough food to eat. Yet just a few paragraphs later he talks about buying and drinking very expensive beers and coffees, which are a part of MMQB every week.

Is that not just a bit hypocritical? If you are sitting at home hungry and you get offended by people eating hot dogs, how do you feel about people drinking beer and coffee that cost more for a single serving than a full meal costs for your hungry kids? Just a thought.

—Wally B., Laurel, Md.

Shoving 10 to 15 pounds of food down one’s throat in record time is objectionable for so many reasons. I can think of about 300 of them, the biggest of which is that it’s a waste of food that could be used for far better means—feeding hungry people. Regarding having a few beers each week, and an expensive coffee each day … that’s a little bit different than gorging oneself on 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Just a little.

THIS IS ACTUALLY A GREAT POINT. We are a culture which, right or wrong, celebrates excess regularly. I often see your statements that a player is “worth” the money he is paid. Why no outcry at the inflated salaries of these athletes while children suffer in poverty in this country? You seem to me to be in an awkward position as a professional and thereby professional beneficiary of one of our culture’s largest obsessions with excess—the NFL—to be a critic of this much smaller excess.

—Chris, Grafton, Ohio

You’re right. I should be more critical of that.

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