The Green Bay Packers wanted to honor Brett Favre in a prime-time game against the Chicago Bears.
They got their wish, and rightly so.
The Packers haven't made it official yet, but they're planning to unveil Favre's No. 4 on the Lambeau Field bowl's façade on Thanksgiving night during their game against the Bears. The NFL released its schedule Tuesday night, and three sources said that after a detail or two are finalized, the Favre ceremony will be set.
While mapping out the NFL schedule is a logistical mess in the best of circumstances, the league allows teams to make prioritized scheduling requests. Judging by the Packers' schedule, the Favre request was high on their list. Though the NFL gets something in the deal, too. More on that later.
Going in, the Bears were the best choice for the Favre game, and nobody was a close second. For starters, none of the Packers' four home opponents from outside the NFC North Division evoke any strong Favre memories: Dallas, Kansas City, San Diego, St. Louis and Seattle.
The two other division opponents at least would have been better.
The Minnesota Vikings were the Packers' biggest division rival in the first half of Favre's career — either the Packers or Vikings won seven of the nine division titles from 1992 through 2000. And the Lions were victims of one of Favre's early great moments: his game-winning 40–yard touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe in the final minute of the first playoff game of the Favre era, in the 1993 season.
But neither is close to being as suitable as the Bears, for a couple of reasons: Favre's dominance of the Packers' most historic rival was one of the highlights of his career and emblematic of the franchise's turnaround that started with his arrival in 1992. Also, two pivotal games in Favre's career were against the Bears.
For years, Favre dominated the Packers-Bears series. From 1994-98, he won 10 straight games against the Bears, the longest winning streak in a rivalry that dates to 1921. At one point, he was 20-4 against them; he finished his Packers career 22-10.
Also, Favre's early career twice turned with games against the Bears, in the 1994 and '95 seasons. Both came the week after he'd sustained an injury against the Vikings that threatened to sideline him, and both proved to be landmark performances. One helped save his job as a starter when he still was on shaky ground, and the other propelled him on a spectacular seven-game run in which he came of age.
The first, in '94, came a week after a hip pointer had left Favre unable to finish a Packers' loss at Minnesota. Favre was in his third season as starter and still playing erratically. The Packers were 3-4, and Favre's passer rating was only 78.9.
Mark Brunell, a second-year pro at the time, played well enough in relief against the Vikings that in a meeting on Monday, coach Mike Holmgren polled his assistants for their preferred starter. Several voted for Brunell. Holmgren slept on the decision, called in Favre for a meeting the next day and told him their careers were tied at the hip.
The next week at Chicago, the Packers' played the Bears on Halloween night with monsoon-like winds and rain. Passing was almost impossible — Favre finished 6-for-15 for 82 yards — but his resourcefulness and ability to function in bad conditions won out. He rushed for a career-high 58 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown run through the mud and muck that spotted the Packers to a 14-0 lead on their way to a 33-6 win.
From there on, his starting job never was in doubt.
The next season, Favre would come as close to missing a start as he ever did in his Packers career when he badly sprained his ankle and was unable to finish a Week 9 loss at Minnesota. He didn't practice all the next week, tested his ankle in warm-ups after being heavily taped, and then played one of the best games of his career against the Bears at Lambeau.
Though he was essentially immobile, Favre threw five touchdowns passes and had 336 yards passing in the Packers' 35-28 win. That started a run in which he threw 21 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in the final seven regular-season games. He took the Packers to the NFC championship game, won the first of his three straight MVPs, and his legend was off and running.
So there it is. The Packers requested and received the perfect opponent and a prime-time game to honor Favre.
The NFL, which is the biggest show on television, helped itself, too. Now people have a reason to keep watching at least through halftime of the last game in its Thanksgiving Day triple-header.
And on Thanksgiving night, Favre's No. 4 will join the Packers' five other retired numbers on the Lambeau façade: Don Hutson's No. 14, Tony Canadeo's No. 3, Bart Starr's No. 15, Ray Nitschke's No. 66 and Reggie White's No. 92.
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