Packer backers say they 4-give and 4-get any bad blood from famed quarterback's departure in 2008. (July 18, 2015) Jeff Bollier | Press-Gazette Media
He was introduced like a champion prize fighter. Brett Favre, the three-time MVP, the “greatest player to ever play for the Green Bay Packers,” exited Lambeau Field’s southeast corner for the first time in eight years.
He walked to midfield. Swirled to face the stands. Raised both hands in a V.
Cheers reverberated around the stadium, a five-minute standing ovation from 67,000 Favre fans. It felt like a gameday atmosphere. There were chants of “M-V-P,” and “Thank you, Brett.” Some even begged for “one more year.”
Favre said it brought back memories of his hall of fame career.
“Playing at Lambeau Field, throwing a touchdown at Lambeau Field, certainly running out of the tunnel — there’s nothing like it on this earth,” Favre said. “I’ll say this, I’ve also run out of that (opponent’s) tunnel, and that was scary. I’d much rather go out of that (home team’s) tunnel right there.”
After finishing his career with the Minnesota Vikings, a fallout that lingered long after Favre’s final retirement, any animosity was gone Saturday night.
At midfield, Favre bowed to the fans. He wiped away tears. Finally, after several minutes, he simply muttered “Wow.”
“If there was ever any doubt,” Favre said, “there’s not any.”
Favre was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and had his No. 4 jersey retired Saturday night in a ceremony fit for a king. He became the only Packers player inducted into the franchise’s hall of fame on the same day his jersey was retired. He also was the first player in team history to be inducted into the hall of fame without company.
He admitted being “embarrassed” at all the attention, but no one questioned whether Favre deserved it. Fans flocked to the streets outside Lambeau Field hours before gates opened. They wore No. 4 jerseys, mostly green. Some were purple.
Ricardo Salazar Sr. and Jr., a father and son from Sheboygan, contrasted sharply as they walked around Lambeau Field’s parking lot. Senior wore a Packers jersey. Junior wore Favre’s Vikings jersey.
They are Packers fans before anything else, Salazar Sr. said. It was tough to root for Favre when he signed with the Vikings in 2009, but they did. Before Favre’s first game with the Vikings, they bought his purple jersey. Neither saw a problem wearing it Saturday night.
“We’ve always been Brett Favre fans,” Salazar Sr. said. “He was kind of worried about it, but I’m like, ‘It’s really not a Green Bay Packers thing. Mostly, it’s a Brett Favre day.’ We’ve always had appreciation for the player he was, and just the person that he is.
“So, yeah, I told him, ‘It’s Brett Favre day. Favre is Favre.’”
There weren’t just Packers fans at Lambeau Field.
Jim Egan, from Eden Prairie, Minn., and his family drove more than five hours from their home to attend Favre’s induction. His wife, Roxanne, wore Favre’s Packers jersey. Jim wore the Vikings version.
Yes, Egan enjoyed those two years Favre spent with the Vikings. The first time he saw the quarterback wearing purple, he said, it was surreal. But, Egan admitted, he always respected Favre. Even with the Packers, Egan never booed him.
“You can’t,” Egan said. “I think the length and depth of his career, and the skill and his love for the game, everything. You can’t hold it against him. How could you? You had to respect him. Every time you played him, you dreaded it. He was a gunslinger, and he was the best in the game. Maybe the best ever.
“You get a chance to do this, you have to respect the franchise, and you have to respect him. He was just tremendous.”
Favre will return to Green Bay when the Packers host the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving night. His No. 4 will be unveiled on the stadium’s façade, another special honor.
After Thanksgiving, Favre said, he doesn’t know how much he’ll return. Right now, life revolves around his family. That mostly means volleyball tournaments with his daughter, Breleigh, but there are no shortage of personal responsibilities.
“Following them around,” Favre said, “it’s not like it used to be. It’s a year-round job.”
Which is why Saturday night held a special significance.
All Salazar Sr. wanted to hear from Favre was an acknowledgement he’d returned to his rightful home, he said. For a few hours, Favre was with the franchise he embodied for 16 years. The connection was back.
Hours before walking out onto the field Saturday night, Favre said he wouldn’t get emotional. He wanted to enjoy the evening, appreciate the highest honor a team can give a player. But he wanted to stay composed, too.
His opening ovation wasn’t the only time Favre wiped away tears. He paused multiple times during his open conversation with fans, gathering his thoughts. Favre knew Saturday night would be special, he said. This was more than anything he could’ve imagined.
“I could sit here and tell you ‘thank you’ until tomorrow, and it wouldn’t be enough,” Favre said, pausing once again to compose himself. “I really believed that I wouldn’t (get emotional), but I was wrong. I can’t tell you ‘thank you’ enough. I’m honored.
“I wasn’t expecting this type of ovation. All I can say is, I hope it was as much fun for (fans) watching me as it was for me to do it every week.”