As the Brett Favre saga has dragged on like a graduation ceremony commencement address through the muggy days of summer, I’ve avoided weighing in. It’s not like there’s been a shortage of voices chiming in on the topic.
But I’m breaking my silence now, in part because so many have asked me my opinion, but also because, well, I have to. So here we sit July 31, and the latest word is that the Packers have offered Favre up to $20 million to stay retired and would now consider trading him to the Vikings to make this mess go away.
From the start Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have insisted they will make the decision that’s in the best interest of the Packers, which they believe is to convince Favre to stay retired.
ESPN analyst and former NFL fullback Merrel Hoge gave an exasperated take on this on NFL Radio recently, trying to picture Mike McCarthy standing in front of his team, with Favre and Rodgers standing beside him, looking his players in the eye, and telling them Aaron Rodgers gives them the best chance to go to the Super Bowl this year.
I have to wonder if Aaron Rodgers made some monumental leap nobody is aware of since last December? He wasn’t better than Favre in January but he’s undoubtedly better now, with nothing but no-pad minicamps to prove it?
The Packers have insisted all along that this is a business decision. That they can’t just sit and wait for somebody to make a decision. That nobody, even Brett Favre, is bigger than the team (which I quibble with. Sans Favre, Reggie White never plays for the Packers. Sans White, neither do Keith Jackson or Sean Jones. No Super Bowl in 1996, and most likely no new stadium in 2000 – remember the referendum barely passed even with all the success of the 1990s – and if you believe what Bob Harlan said back then, no Packers in Green Bay today. That’s a pretty vital contribution to the franchise).
McCarthy and Thompson seem to think they deserve credit for standing up and making a difficult decision. They are mistaking stupidity for difficulty. If they wanted to make the truly difficult decision in the best interest of the team, they would have called Rodgers in June and said, “Sorry Aaron, we know you’ve worked hard, but Brett wants to play. He almost won the MVP last year, he IS the franchise, and he gives us the best chance to win the Super Bowl.”
You think the Colts are going to worry about Jim Sorgi’s feelings? You think if Favre ends up in Tampa Bay Jon Gruden’s going to have any trouble telling Jeff Garcia (a man who has been to the Pro Bowl multiple times and won two playoff games), “Um, Jeff, sorry. We just got Brett Favre. BRETT FAVRE! You’re the backup. I know it’s tough timing, but, well, he holds every major passing record in the history of the game. Also, he’s beaten you head to head several times. Pick the clipboard you like best and go get fitted for headphones. And don’t stray too far from me on the sideline, I don’t like my chords getting tangled.”
But the Packers, of course, want to protect Rodgers’ fragile psyche. Don’t want to “slap him in the face” and bench him after he’d spent so long…er, two months, preparing as the starter. Just like they wouldn’t want to mess with Ryan Grant’s psyche if, say, Ladainion Tomlinson said he wanted to play for Green Bay. I can almost hear Thompson: “We spent the entire off-season preparing for the season with Ryan as our running back. We can’t pull the rug out from underneath him now, even if it is for one of the top 10 backs of all time.”
Since when did the Packers begin running the team like a middle school basketball squad? What’s next, everybody plays equal minutes? Donald, take a seat, it’s Ruvell’s turn.
When did adjusting to change become impossible? In 1993 the Miami Dolphins started the season with high aspirations, only to lose Dan Marino for the season with a ruptured Achilles in Week 1. In 1997 the San Francisco 49ers lost Jerry Rice in the first game. In 2000, the Packers lost Antonio Freeman to the buffet table. You never know when a key player will go down.
In 2004, the Miami Dolphins famously dealt with the retirement of one of the NFL’s leading rushers, Ricky Williams, the night before training camp. Guess who’s still a Miami Dolphin?
Teams lose their quarterbacks, running backs, linemen, and everyone else in a sudden crushing blow every week, and they have to alter a year’s worth of planning, scheming, and hopes at the snap of a finger. The Packers have been hit with a sudden change to adjust to as well. Three months before opening day, they were faced with the “trauma” of a Hall of Fame Quarterback, a man who finished 2nd in MVP balloting the prior year, and one of the top 10 players in the history of the game, declaring out of the blue that he wanted to be their starting quarterback. Yup, a crippling blow to the franchise.
Going from an untested, fragile young quarterback who has thrown 59 career passes to a sure-fire, first ballot Hall-of-Famer who has started every game since Mr. Rodgers was eight years old is quite an ordeal for a team to overcome. Not to mention having to deal with it on such short notice, only seven weeks before training camp.
I remember when the Chicago Bulls were faced with a similar dilemma in 1995, when Michael Jordan wanted to return to the team and supplant journeyman Pete Meyers as the starting shooting guard. Of course, the Bulls said no, as such a move would have disrupted an entire season’s worth of planning and teamwork…oh, wait. No, come to think of it, they took Jordan back. Not even then-Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause (whom Thompson seems to have trained under) was that stupid. They didn’t even hold a competition for the starting spot.
Jordan’s teammate Jud Buechler famously said to Steve Kerr, when he asked if coach Phil Jackson should start Jordan, “Steve, as a general rule, when you have your own statue outside the stadium, you don’t come off the bench.”
If only such an obvious conversation had been had back in June between Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. One could imagine it going something like this:
Greg Jennings: “Donald, if he comes back, does Mike make him the starter?”
Donald Driver (Rolling his eyes): “Greg, as a general rule, when you’re the reason the franchise still exists, you don’t hold the clipboard.”