Packers, Favre set stage for 'special' reunion
Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers envision the to-be-determined 2015 game for No. 4's retirement ceremony starting like this:
Favre and Bart Starr walk together to midfield as honorary captains for the pregame coin flip. Aaron Rodgers is there as one of the Packers' captains. The three greatest quarterbacks in franchise history, one in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, another a surefire first-ballot choice in 2016, and the third on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
"I've got chills right now thinking about it," said Favre via teleconference Monday.
Then at halftime, Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren, the general manager and coach, respectively, who brought Favre to Green Bay, developed his talent and won a Super Bowl with him, join Favre and his family on Lambeau Field. The ceremony will unveil Favre's retired No. 4 on the stadium's north facade, only the sixth number retired in Packers history.
"They do the coin flip and have that ceremony, my God that will be unbelievable," said Steve Mariucci, Favre's first quarterbacks coach with the Packers and now an analyst for NFL Network. "It will be a big night in NFL history."
Mark Murphy, the Packers' president and CEO, says creating that scene is more than feasible.
"I'd hope so," Murphy said. "As long as they're healthy I don't think that should be a problem at all."
So the rapprochement between Favre and the team he led for 16 years is official: The Packers on Monday announced they will induct him into the Packers Hall of Fame next July 18 and will retire his number at a game to be determined in the 2015 season. The other five players who have had their numbers retired for a franchise that dates to 1919 are Don Hutson (14), Tony Canadeo (3), Starr (15), Ray Nitschke (66) and Reggie White (92).
Favre will be the first person to have his number retired and Hall induction in the same year.
"I always dreamed of playing pro football as a kid," Favre said, "but I had never dreamed of hall of fames and jerseys being retired and things of that nature. I just thought about playing and how much fun that would be. To be able to play one game is Green Bay is enough. To be able to play 16 years, wonderful years, in Green Bay is just an amazing honor. There's no place like it."
The plan to induct Favre in the Packers Hall and retire his number actually was set last year, though the team waited to announce it so it wouldn't overshadow this summer's inductions of Ahman Green and Ken Ruettgers.
Bob Harlan, the Packers' chairman emeritus, was a key figure in getting the parties together after Favre's ugly divorce from the team in the summer of 2008. Harlan's close relationship with Favre dates to the 1990s, so he was the ideal go-between for the franchise and its estranged star. Harlan also is on the Hall's executive committee — the Hall is an independent corporation from the franchise — and helped mend the occasionally frayed relationship between the Hall and the team's upper management.
Harlan last November had the idea that Favre should be the first player inducted into the Hall and have his number retired in the same year. In mid-November he broached the idea to the Packers, the Hall and Favre, and each was immediately on board.
Harlan then stayed in touch with all parties through the winter and offseason to assure everyone the announcement would come off.
"It gives us a special way to treat a special player," Harlan said after Monday's news conference.
The announcement took place in the new Hall of Fame, which still is under construction in the Lambeau Field Atrium. The Hall's president, Perry Kidder, made the announcement of the two honors; Murphy then made brief comments and introduced Harlan; and Harlan then introduced Favre, who took part via teleconference.
"My goodness, 16 years in Green Bay," Favre said, "wonderful years, and playing almost every single game which I suited up for. That's what I am, that's how I look at myself and how I will be remembered, as a Packer. Not long after I retired from playing, I felt it was time (to return to the franchise). It's amazing how quickly time passes by. It seems like the older you get, the quicker it goes, and here we are several years later talking about it, but now it's in stone."
Mariucci asked the first question in the news conference and in effect urged him to return for a game this season. Favre left the door open to that possibility and said he tried last year, but he couldn't make it because he was offensive coordinator for Oak Grove High School in Mississippi, and his team played into December and won a state championship.
Favre hasn't been to Lambeau since playing the Packers as a member of the Minnesota Vikings during the 2010 season.
"I think that's a great idea and have been in discussions with Mark (Murphy) about doing that, and hopefully we get it done," Favre said. "It's at least in my best interests to come up prior to my induction and retiring my jersey. I hear (the renovated Lambeau) is unbelievable, and it was unbelievable when I left. To play in Green Bay and see the transformation all those years was just amazing, and I hear I wouldn't recognize (it)."
Though Favre has been in regular contact with Harlan, he said he hasn't talked recently with general manager Ted Thompson or coach Mike McCarthy. At the time of Favre's departure in 2008, when he returned from retirement and was traded to the New York Jets, he was upset with them for what he perceived as pushing him out of the franchise.
But Favre said that over the past several years, Thompson has sent him congratulatory notes, which Favre says he reciprocated.
"I don't really dwell on the whys, the whats and whens," Favre said. "Here we are, it's going to be done and I'm truly honored for that. Time has passed by, but it's going to be here before we know it, and it's going to be a great moment."
Said Mariucci: "Ted Thompson and Brett Favre came to my mom's funeral together (in 2007). Mike (McCarthy) coached him as a quarterback coach too (in '99), not just a head coach. They had very, very good relationships at one point in time. They're going to have to get that back going again, and I believe that can happen."
One concern that at least Murphy had raised publicly is that a sizable portion of fans at Lambeau might boo Favre, though Murphy appears to have been referring more to Favre returning for a game this season, not for having his number retired.
Harlan pointed to LeBron James' handling of his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers four years after he'd spurned that city.
"Look at how Cleveland accepted him," Harlan said. "I said, 'That's what you're going to get.' "
If Favre ever was worried about being booed, on Monday he echoed recent statements that he's not.
"Will 100 percent of the people be for you?" Favre said. "That's never the case. But I know Packers fans as well as anyone, and there's no one like them. That's what makes them such a special organization, city and fan base worldwide.
"I'm not concerned about it one bit, because I know the true Packers fans and what their hearts are about, and that's what I am is a Packer and will always be remembered as that."