Brett Favre had doubts. He saw the dissension between him and the Green Bay Packers, the rift between him and fans.
The future looked grim.
A couple of years ago, Favre said, it would've been hard to imagine what's coming July 18. In Lambeau Field, the legendary Packers quarterback will be inducted into the team's hall of fame. His No. 4 jersey will be retired. Seven years after one of the most painful divorces in American sports history, a relationship will be rekindled.
"The great thing," Favre told ESPN Milwaukee in an extended radio interview Tuesday, "is that we've moved beyond that, and things are, in fact, way better than I could've ever dreamed with the fans and the organization. I think we all can agree on that, and we have to look no further than in an hour and a half, tickets were sold out for this hall of fame ceremony. I mean, my goodness, are you kidding me?
"I feel much better now because things are in a much better place, and I, like most people, probably questioned if we would ever get to that point. Not only have we gotten to that point, but we've gotten there times 100."
There were good reasons for doubts. Because as far as breakups go, Favre admitted, the summer of 2008 couldn't have been much uglier.
Favre told ESPN Milwaukee much of the "nastiness" was avoidable. Both sides, he said, should've handled the split better. Looking back, Favre knows his uncertainty on retirement put the Packers in a tough situation.
Instead of making a premature decision, Favre said, he should've waited to retire until he knew he was 100 percent ready. Still, Favre doubts he could've ever known he was ready for retirement before leaving his playing days behind.
Favre also reminisced on his final day with the Packers. He remembers his meeting with coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson — a discussion that long has been described as "heated." Favre said it was emotional, but their conversation stayed professional.
"As you know with Mike, he's a boisterous person. He wears his emotions on his sleeve," Favre said. "… Even though I'm an emotional person, I probably was a little more in check, but he had people outside the building yelling, 'We want Brett.' I think at that point, it was tougher on him than it was on me. I thought he handled it very well, even though at the moment I probably would've said differently."
Favre also remembers driving away from Lambeau Field on his last day.
He thought about his teammates, who he considered family. He wondered if they would ever be considered family again. Through 16 years, Favre said, he prided himself on relationships he built with people who worked with the Packers.
The hardest part of leaving was losing that connection, he said.
Those relationships never fully went away, of course. When Favre joined the Minnesota Vikings and played against the Packers, he said Thompson would text him after games. He's spoken to McCarthy on the phone multiple times since his final retirement in 2010. And, Favre said, he's impressed with what MVP successor Aaron Rodgers has accomplished.
"People may think, 'Was it animosity toward Aaron Rodgers?'" Favre said. "No, there wasn't. I like Aaron. Aaron and I get along fine. I knew at some point he had to play. I knew that he had tremendous potential. All those things have come true, and I don't feel like, 'Well, what about me?' My body of work speaks for itself. I'm a different player than he is. He's a tremendous player and a great leader, and he's doing exactly what I thought he would do.
"When people try to create a wedge either with me or a player, or me and the organization, there isn't one. Life goes on. I understand that, and I'm OK with that. But, again, what I did speaks for itself."
Favre believes his split from the Packers — the nastiness, the mistakes made on both sides — taught the rest of the NFL a lesson.
Three years later, fellow legendary quarterback Peyton Manning left the Indianapolis Colts. Favre said he looked at Manning's departure, how smooth the transition went for both sides. He didn't think it happened by accident.
"In my opinion," Favre said, "I think the Indianapolis-Peyton separation was handled correctly simply because they had seen the Packers and Favre separation not go so well. I think they were smart in how they handled it, and that's both sides. That's a good example of learning from others' mistakes or your mistakes, and moving forward."
It's what Favre is hoping to accomplish as he prepares for his Packers Hall of Fame induction.
He said he's thought about his speech, but he's not jotting down notes. Like his career, he wants to deliver it off the cuff, from the heart. Favre said he appreciates what the ceremony signifies.
He's learned from mistakes. Now, he simply wants to move forward.
"It means everything," Favre said, "because we all want to be liked. Not everyone gets to play pro football or baseball or professional sports, or be an actor or singer or something, and to be loved by so many people. In my situation, to be hated by so many people that once loved you with all their heart, what a turn of events. It makes you question where you stand with your following, whether it's good following or bad following. You want to be remembered in a good light, so that became a question at some point.
"When the tickets sold out in an hour and a half, I have to admit, goosebumps. My chest stuck out. I could not have felt more proud of being a Packer at that point and what I'd done than at any point in my career."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.