By Judd Zulgad
Special to The Sports Xchange
Published Oct. 2, 2009
PACKERS SHOWDOWN ANYTHING BUT 'JUST ANOTHER GAME' FOR FAVRE
MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps Brett Favre was trying to convince himself because no one else was buying it.
Addressing the media four days ahead of the Vikings' Monday night matchup against the Packers, Favre declared: "It's just another game."
Sure, Brett. Just another game.
Of course, that game just happens to be your first chance to play against the team that decided not to take you back a year ago after you spent 16 seasons growing your legend in that town. The team with which you underwent an extremely bitter divorce when it wouldn't release you and instead traded you to the New York Jets. The team which now must face you as an opponent playing for one of its most bitter rivals.
Whether Favre wants to admit it, the reality is that Monday's nationally televised game is expected to draw enormous ratings because it's anything but just another game. It's arguably the most intriguing Week 4 matchup in NFL history.
Favre, the three-time MVP who led the Packers back to prominence and a Super Bowl title, is finally going to get a chance to show Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson that he was wrong. That he should have taken Favre back after the quarterback decided in the summer of 2008 that retirement wasn't for him.
And Favre is going to get this opportunity while wearing a Vikings jersey in front of a Metrodome crowd that used to loath him but after his last-second 32-yard touchdown strike to Greg Lewis last Sunday against San Francisco now loves him.
Favre, who will turn 40 on Oct. 10, might not have been willing to speak candidly about what this game means to him, but his new teammates didn't seem to have the same problem.
"I couldn't imagine," linebacker Ben Leber said. "I don't know how you would put yourself on the outside looking in when you play 16 years in one organization and now have a chance to play them again. I know, for me, when we played San Diego a couple of years ago it was a big game for me and I was only there for four years. So I couldn't imagine when you multiply that by four and what the impact is what he's feeling like. I know that we're all behind him as much as we can and we're going to play as hard as we can."
Favre's departure from Green Bay has been well documented and as many now know, his first desire last year when the Packers told him they had moved on and that Aaron Rodgers was now their guy was to be granted his release so he could play for the Vikings.
The reasons were numerous. Favre's relationship with coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and his familiarity with the West Coast system the Vikings run. The fact the Vikings were a contending team looking for a quarterback. And then, of course, there was the issue of Favre's desire for revenge - a word he isn't willing to use.
Not surprisingly, Thompson wasn't about to let Favre move to one of his team's arch-rivals and eventually worked the trade with the Jets. But Favre finally got what he wanted by retiring again from the Jets last February and after an offseason-long flirtation joining the Vikings well into training camp.
Favre signed a two-year, $25 million contract on Aug. 18 and since that day hasn't said once that one of his primary reasons for playing for the Vikings was to even a score with the Packers. Favre bristled at such suggestions during a conference call Thursday with Wisconsin reporters in Green Bay, and came off as cordial but just as certain of himself when talking to an XL size crowd of reporters at the Vikings' Winter Park training facility.
What made this most interesting was the fact that Favre had told Sports Illustrated last February that, "Part of me coming back last year, I have to admit now was sticking it to Ted."
So if that was the truth then, what is the truth now?
"I never played or would play for quote-unquote revenge," Favre said. "It's too long a season. It's only one, maybe two games [against that team]. What do you do the rest of the time? ... What I said, and would say to anyone, [is] I think it's human nature to say, 'I still can do it. I want to prove someone wrong.'
"In your business there's competition, I would assume, in wanting to be the best. If either you're told you're not the best, or you feel like someone's going in a different direction, I think you would want to prove you could still do it. Now, in a nutshell that's what I was saying."
In a nutshell, that also means that Favre wants to show Thompson he was wrong. Indeed, there was a time when Favre's top choice was to simply return to the Packers and take a mulligan on his retirement.
"Why wouldn't it be," said Favre, who had guided the Packers to a 13-3 record and spot in the NFC title game in 2007. "I'd just had probably, in my opinion, the best year in my entire career."
The Vikings don't need Favre to have the best year of his career in Minnesota - make no mistake, this is Adrian Peterson's team - but they do need him to play as close to mistake-free football as possible. That means not letting his emotions get the best of him, no matter the situation or opponent.
Childress said that he will sit down for a talk with Favre to have the same discussion that he has with every player who is about to be put in a situation that might be out of the norm.
"He's an emotional guy, and I'm sure there will be a wave of emotion before the game and then kind of hopefully a cold, kind of a serial-killer mentality when the game starts," Childress said.
Childress might want to start by helping Favre get over his denial.
"It doesn't even cross my mind," he said when asked if he was at peace with the way things ended in Green Bay. "I'm the quarterback here. I think this team has accepted me. I feel good about where I am. I feel very good about what I did in Green Bay those 16 years. I was not going to play there forever. I've said that over and over that you can't take away the 16 years I spent there and what I was fortunate enough to accomplish and the great teams I played on. You can't take that away. There is no afterthought really."
Really, that's a bit hard to believe.
Judd Zulgad covers the Vikings for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.