The day is almost here.
For the first time in 92 years, the Green Bay Packers will host a Thanksgiving game this Thursday against the Chicago Bears, including an appearance by legendary quarterback Bart Starr and the halftime unveiling of Brett Favre’s retired No. 4 on the north end-zone façade at Lambeau Field.
The process of getting current Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Favre and Starr together in the same venue has been years in the making. Starr’s string of health problems initially made it uncertain whether he’d be able to make it to the ceremony, but he and his family plan to travel to Green Bay on Wednesday.
Rodgers’ friendship with Starr has been well-documented with the current Packers quarterback saying on multiple occasions how much it meant to him to win the Bart Starr Award in 2014, which is given to NFL players who best exemplify outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.
The occasion holds a lot of meaning to the Starr and his family. The former Packers quarterback and coach has faced a long journey in his recovery after suffering two strokes, multiple seizures and a heart attack in September 2014. His goal for the past year is to be back in Green Bay for Favre’s retirement ceremony.
His wife, Cherry, has said this will be the couple’s final trip to Green Bay. While the Packers' current quarterback will have a game to worry about, Rodgers said he’s plans to carve out time to see Starr.
“You know Bart's been such a great encouragement to me since I was drafted here, and I really have appreciated all of our conversations over the years with him and his lovely wife,” Rodgers said. “He was kind of enough to do my charity event a few years ago and I was able to do another charity event with him. It's tough to follow him speaking because he's had such incredible stories, whether he's talking about Super Bowls or NFL championships or the Ice Bowl. It's always fun being around him but he's such a positive, encouraging person. It’ll be great to see him."
It’s the second of the franchise’s two-part ceremony to retire Favre’s No. 4. It began this summer when he was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. Thursday’s ceremony marks the final chapter in the reconciliation between Favre and the franchise he quarterbacked for 16 seasons.
As much been made of the fallout, Rodgers smiled when discussing some of the pranks Favre used to pull. One time, Rodgers recalled, Favre put a Packers’ helmet on the table for everyone in the locker room to sign — not an uncommon practice for charity events and fundraisers.
Even Rodgers signed it, completely unaware that it was his own helmet.
“I had to go down to practice, with, you know, everybody had signed it,” Rodgers said. “I tried to get (equipment manager) Red Batty not to wipe off those autographs. But you just kind of had to watch yourself sometimes around him because they're always trying to incite some pranks, so you had to be careful.”
A lot of onlookers believe the beginning of Favre’s reconciliation with the Packers began when Rodgers and Favre took the stage together at the 2013 NFL honors ceremony to present Peyton Manning with the MVP award, though Rodgers says he never intended to be the organization's envoy.
Rodgers has positive memories from the event with the two running through a couple lines the night beforehand. They still wound up ad-libbing most of their dialogue on stage. Some might have thought it was awkward at first, but Rodgers maintains the two had fun with it.
As for the messy divorce in 2008, Rodgers believes all parties involved have moved on.
“It does feel like a long time ago,” Rodgers said. “I think it's been a good proper healing process for everybody. Kind of starting with us on stage at the honors, getting to share some laughs together, and just going from there. It's the right thing to do and be exciting for him and Packer fans in a couple days, and great to see him into the Hall of Fame next offseason.”