CANTON, Ohio — Well before any of the old-timers were introduced, the highlights were played, the eight inductees gave speeches and the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction busts were revealed, Desmond Howard sat with his twin boys in an empty row on the floor of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Howard was one of a couple dozen former Green Bay Packers teammates, coaches and employees there to honor Brett Favre, and he didn't want to miss any of it.
His sons, Desmond and Dhamir, weren’t born when Howard was an integral part of the Super Bowl XXXI team, but they have heard the stories and they’ve seen the highlights. Howard was the most valuable player of that game, but Favre dominated the highlights and so his sons have seen their dad’s quarterback play.
They knew Favre was someone special to their dad during a private party at the Gervasi winery Saturday afternoon.
“One of the things my son said to my brother at the party was, ‘Daddy is very, very happy,’” Howard said. “I’ve been to all sorts of reunions, but nothing compares to having a world championship team and the love and respect that spills over.
“It is important for them to see these things.”
Favre’s induction had been a sure thing probably since he broke the NFL’s all-time record for consecutive starts, and so this week hasn’t been so much a celebration as a family gathering.
Those in attendance included Howard, Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, Keith Jackson, Santana Dotson, LeRoy Butler, Frank Winters, Mark Chmura, Marco Rivera, George Koonce, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and Ted Thompson.
All of them know Favre was deserving of his place in the Hall of Fame, but they wanted to come and see the induction so they could feel a part of it all, the same way they were a part of all the success Favre had over his 16 years as a Packer, just one a losing season.
“I see No. 4 up there, he’s going to do his thing up there,” Rivera said before Favre’s speech. “But I know, you know what? I had just a little piece of that. He’s going into the Hall of Fame, but you look at Frank and myself and Mike Flanagan, Mike Wahle, Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher, Ahman Green, Antonio Freeman, we were a little piece of that man up there.
“It’s nice to be here and represent.”
Favre is the third individual to be inducted into the Hall of Fame from the 1996 Super Bowl team, joining defensive end Reggie White and general manager Wolf. More may join them, but for now they are the symbols of a special period in Packers history.
Wolf was on stage for Favre’s induction, but White died in 2004. It was 10 years ago that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and he would have been on the stage wearing his yellow jacket if he were still alive.
“All the time,” Koonce said when asked if he thinks about White not being here. “It was 10 years yesterday that he was inducted. He helped Brett mature into the Brett Favre we know.
“Reggie was instrumental in helping him become the Brett Favre everyone loves and respects.”
It was a given that Winters would be at the ceremony. He presented Favre into the Packers Hall of Fame a year ago. He was Favre’s partner in crime on and off the field, and as the guy who helped call out protections and snap him the ball, he was an integral part of Favre’s success.
Winters won’t accept much credit and maybe any center could have snapped him the ball and still experienced the same success, but few were as determined to protect him from the opposition as Winters.
“Football is always a team sport, everything you accomplish,” Winters said. “But to have one of those people, to be able to play with a Hall of Famer …
“He accomplished a lot. He was a great player and a good friend, and I had the opportunity to play with him and the opportunity to watch him. Not too many players get to play with a Hall of Famer.”
Rivera said one of the best parts of playing with Favre was his dedication to the team concept. Teammates didn’t rip into Favre when he threw interceptions and Favre didn’t rip into them for making mistakes.
They understood that they had to play together, not as one.
“Football is a very stressful job, especially for an offensive lineman,” Rivera said. “When you’re protecting No. 4, you don’t want to be the guy to screw up and get him hit or give up a sack or cause a big play in the game.
“You’ve heard stories of other quarterbacks being judgmental of the offensive linemen and pointing fingers and blaming them. Brett never did any of that. He was a guy who said, ‘We’re going to win as a team and lose as a team.’”
For all the current Packers who were able to attend, there are some lessons to be learned from listening to the stories about Favre. To really know who he was as a player, all they had to do was find a Packer.
There were so many here to honor him it wasn’t hard to find one.
“It just sends tingles up your spine,” Thompson said of the atmosphere. “It’s almost like a home game for the Packers. Just listen to this (crowd chanting). This means so much to all these people, to us, to Brett and his family.”
Rob Reischel contributed to this story.