Note: This story was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 24, 2005.
It wasn't just fate or circumstance that brought Brett Favre to Green Bay. It was much, much more.
The trade that swung open the doors of greatness for the future Hall of Fame quarterback was spun out of lessons remembered, memories forgotten and pure, unwavering conviction.
On Feb. 10, 1992, Green Bay general manger Ron Wolf, on his 75th day on the job, traded a first-round draft choice to the Atlanta Falcons for the quarterback who would return the Packers' franchise to the glory of its past. It was the culmination of two years work in which Wolf first identified Favre as the next great NFL quarterback and then pursued him like an animal tracking prey.
Someday, when they speak of Favre's career in the past tense and all that is left are the memories of his cannon arm and brazen toughness, they'll recognize the trade that Wolf made as one of the greatest of all time.
"I feel very ecstatic what he accomplished," Wolf said. "He's the third-leading passer all-time, he's thrown for 50,000 yards, he's the only three-time MVP; he's worth a lot more than a first-round draft choice. I really don't care how they recognize it, but I have to use that Bum Phillips line: I don't know if it's the best, but it won't take long to call the roll."
It was fate and circumstance that Wolf and Favre weren't paired together much earlier.
The story has been written often about how Wolf, then an assistant to New York Jets general manager Dick Steinberg, had Favre ranked as the No. 1 player in the 1991 draft and tried desperately to move into the first round to select him (the Jets didn't have a first-round pick).
But it was a lesson Wolf had learned 21 years earlier that first put him onto Favre.
As a young scout with the Oakland Raiders, Wolf had traveled through the back roads of Arkansas in dangerous, stormy weather to see a promising, young linebacker named Bill Bergey. By the time he got there, he was exhausted and the report he wrote was incoherent.
Wolf never returned to make another evaluation and was stung when Bergey went on to become rookie of the year and a four-time Pro Bowl selection for the Philadelphia Eagles. He vowed never to make the same mistake.
So when, in 1990, Southern Mississippi assistant coach Thamas Coleman begged him to come back and take a second look at a young quarterback named Favre, Wolf, remembering the mistake he made with Bergey, did. He put on tape of Favre's junior season and saw a different player from the one who had been affected his senior year by a car accident that resulted in 30 inches of his intestines being removed.
Though Wolf had to sit back and watch his close friend and former Raiders associate, Ken Herock, steal Favre with the 33rd selection in the draft, one spot ahead of the Jets at No. 34, he never lost hope that one day Favre would be his. For the next year, Wolf kept close tabs on Favre and when he was hired to be the Packers' general manger on Nov. 27, 1991, he made obtaining Favre a priority.
In Atlanta, Favre had become a whipping boy for flamboyant coach Jerry Glanville, who never approved of Herock's decision to draft him and once said during an exhibition game that it would take a plane crash for him to put Favre into the game. The more Glanville ignored the wild and unbridled Favre, the more Favre rebelled.
According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, Glanville had four rules: 1) Be on time. 2) Prepare all week to play. 3) Spill your guts on the field. 4) Only accept victory.
"If he'd have got to 3 and 4, he'd have been fine," Glanville once told the paper. "But you had to get past 1 and 2."
Favre's behavior was immature and unprofessional. He stayed out late, he showed up late and fell asleep in meetings. As he once said, "I'm sure I didn't help my cause by trying to drink up Atlanta."
To this day, Herock doesn't know why Favre acted the way he did.
"He had a big ego," Herock said. "His comments to me in the locker room were, 'They need to play me. I'm better than those guys.' We had a Pro Bowl quarterback (Chris Miller) and I could see why he was still sitting, but he felt he was better than them. Why he was doing what he was doing, I have no idea. I think if you ask him he probably couldn't answer it either."
Favre's behavior put Herock in a tough spot.
Glanville thought so little of Favre that he refused to make him Miller's backup and Herock was forced to trade for Billy Joe Tolliver. Days after Herock made the trade, he went on the road, thinking Favre was still the No. 2, but when he came back, Glanville already had made Tolliver the top backup.
Wolf Bides His Time
Wolf, meanwhile, was keenly aware of what was going on in Atlanta. During the summer of Favre's rookie season, he traveled to Portland to scout a scrimmage between the Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. Favre lit up the place.
"He was the star of that game," Wolf said. "At that scrimmage, he did everything. He substantiated everything I believed in that he was capable of doing and he did it."
Talk about fate. It was the only time Favre ever did anything in Atlanta. Several days later in an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Rams, Favre was terrible. He looked like someone who didn't belong in the NFL.
"He looked pathetic," Herock said. "He's throwing interceptions and he looks like he's never played the game. He had a long ways to go."
As Favre's season deteriorated, leaving him to hold the clipboard and run the scout team, Herock came under increasing pressure to make good on the pick he made. Herock had overruled Glanville in the draft room to take Favre over Browning Nagle, and now it was clear Glanville and his offensive coordinator, June Jones, wanted nothing to do with Favre.
On Dec. 1, 1991, the Packers played at Atlanta. Herock came up to Wolf in the press box and said, "If you want to see Favre throw you have to look at him now because they won't let him throw during pregame warm-ups." Legend has it that Wolf rushed down to the field and liked what he saw so much that it convinced him to make the deal.
The truth is that Wolf never made it to the field to see Favre. Cameras and reporters were following him around and he couldn't break away in time to see Favre throw. His decision to trade for Favre had been made during that scrimmage in Portland. Herock's offering to come down and see Favre throw in warm-ups told him that a deal was possible.
"What that told me was that I now had a chance to get Brett Favre as a player," Wolf said. "Why else would he tell me that?
"From that point on, I spent four or five days a week talking to Ken Herock trying to somehow massage it and get this so first of all we don't lose him and secondly this can be an eventuality. They wanted to get rid of him and I just didn't want that thing to get cold."
Wolf Play Hardball
Wolf said he intended all along to give up the second of two first-round draft choices the Packers had in 1992. He never let Herock know that, however, and continually told him he would not give up anything more than a second-round pick.
"I was going to give them a first," Wolf said. "Obviously, I didn't start at a first, but I was going to give them a first. I had made my mind up and it had already been approved so we were going to go with that regardless."
Herock was really struggling with having to trade Favre. He didn't want to do it. He brought in Glanville and Jones to meet with Taylor Smith, who was running the Falcons' operation for his father and the team's owner, Rankin Smith. He told Smith what he thought of Favre and then had Glanville and Jones express their thoughts.
Then he said he would try to get a first-round pick for Favre. All along, he figured he never would get it and he went into negotiations asking for more than that in the hopes no one would bite and he could come back to Smith and tell him no one was interested.
Herock grew up in the Pittsburgh area and his lasting childhood memory was the Pittsburgh Steelers cutting Johnny Unitas. He could never understand how a team could get rid of a guy who would become the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and over the years he had always held onto players longer than he probably should because of that memory.
But for some reason, the memory faded when it came to the Favre deal.
"Maybe I lost sight of the thing," Herock said. "Everyone was telling me how bad he was. That's all I kept hearing. And there was a possibility we could recover a first for a guy we drafted with a second. There was nothing there that said, 'Ken, you're right and they're wrong.' Everything was working against me."
Wolf continued to put pressure on Herock and finally in February the two got serious.
"It happened real quickly, we were sitting there hammering, hammering, hammering and I kept saying, 'I'm not going any higher than a two,' " Wolf said. "I needed them to say something to me and they said the words: 'We can't let him go unless we get a one.' "
"Well, are you saying we have a deal if I give you a one?" Wolf said.
The answer was yes and the deal was made.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"When I got there, this was the worst team in professional football," Wolf said. "When I left it had the second-best won-lost record in the NFL, and two years later it had the best won-lost record in the NFL and still does since 1992 when Brett Favre took over.
"That's his accomplishment and no one thought that would happen in Green Bay, Wisconsin. And that's my sense of pride right there."