2013 was a dark year for Packers fans. We have certainly seen darker, even those of us who didn’t live through the 70s and 80s. The Packers were without Aaron Rodgers, and mostly because of Brett Favre’s “Ironman” streak Cheeseheads had forgotten what it was like to be leaderless. We had forgotten what it was like to try and win a football game without a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. Green Bay was losing games on a regular basis against teams that weren’t as good as they were because of quarterback play.
Then the Dallas game happened. The Packers came back from a 26-3 deficit led by backup QB Matt Flynn who had just come off of the couch to potentially save the Packers season. After a 1 yard Eddie Lacy plunge, Tramon Williams intercepted a Tony Romo pass intended for Cole Beasley and effectively ended the game.
Former PackersTalk.com writer (and From the Benches host) Jacob Westendorf and I started talking about the scene from the Dark Knight rises where a masked Bruce Wayne sneaks into Commissioner Gordon’s hospital room you see here. Commissioner Gordon pleads, barely breathing: “the Batman must come back”.
Rodgers had to come back, and come back he did. No Packers fan forgets where they were when Rodgers took the snap, Kuhn laid out to block Peppers, and Cobb ran right past Chris Conte and into the Bear end zone on “4th and great”. Though Green Bay would fall in the Wild Card round to eventual NFC Championship participant San Francisco, they wouldn’t be 4x defending NFC North champs without “4th and great”.
We tend to romanticize sports and our athletic heroes. It’s natural. It’s all the same stuff: escapist entertainment. Football is unscripted, untainted good vs. evil. Your favorite team are the protagonists and the opponents the villains, trying to ruin your Sunday (and if you’re like me your week).
Things didn’t start out so rosy for number 12. When I think of Aaron Rodgers a different line from that movie comes to mind:
“He’s not the hero we deserved, but the one that we needed.”
Packers fans didn’t really deserve what Rodgers provided them from 2008-2010. Most pined for Brett Favre to come back for a 17th season in Green Bay, even at the expense of losing Rodgers when his contract expired. A revolting few took it to another level. In the 2010 “America’s Game” documentary Rodgers tells stories about threats (from Packers fans!) about breaking his arm, even threats against his life.
The truth is, Aaron Rodgers made everything OK. When the most popular player in the modern Packers era created a divide in the fan base with his on-again-off-again antics, Rodgers debuted by throwing for over 4,000 yards, providing hope for the fan base.
Neither Favre (he physically fell apart) nor Rodgers (lost a ton of close games) qualified for the playoffs that season. In the end, the Packers looked like a promising young team and Favre looked to be done.
Then everything changed. Favre’s master plan fell into place. The Packers accused the Vikings of tampering with Favre during his waffling summer of 2008. It was clear that Vikings coach Brad Childress coveted #4’s services and that Favre himself saw Adrian Peterson and the Vikings defense as pieces to a possible Super Bowl puzzle (he was wrong). Brett Favre managed to work his way out of his Jets contract by “retiring” again and made his way to Minnesota.
“Our” quarterback, almost everyone’s favorite Packer, a folk hero had forced Ted Thompson to trade him, faked another retirement after one season and finagled his way to the Minnesota Vikings. Packers fans all over were crushed. I was crushed.
Favre wanted to win the Super Bowl. Possibly more than that, if the Packers wanted to move from Favre to Rodgers, Favre wanted to beat the Packers and the best way to do that was to go to the most talented inter-division rival, the Vikings.
Brett Favre went on to have one of his finest statistical seasons in Minnesota in 2009. He set a career high in passer rating at 107.2. He and his Vikings swept the Packers and he was booed heavily in his return to Lambeau wearing enemy purple. Favre even won a playoff game in Minnesota before throwing a season-ending interception in the NFC Championship game against New Orleans.
How did Aaron Rodgers make it all better? By sweeping Favre and his Vikings in 2010, including a 31-3 embarrassment that effectively ended Minnesota’s season, Favre’s last. More importantly, Rodgers brought Coach Lombardi’s trophy home to Green Bay. He strung together the finest 4 game playoff run I’ve ever seen.
Rodgers threw 9 touchdowns and ran for 2 others against just 2 interceptions and capped it off with a Super Bowl MVP performance in a victory over the Steelers. Rodgers and the Packers were standing tall. Favre’s consecutive game streak was over and the Vikings were left in shambles. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the hero we deserved, but the hero that we needed.
Minnesota has gone 25-38-1 since Super Bowl XLV and lost their only playoff game (to Green Bay). The Packers have continued their success, amassing an impressive 47-17-1 mark, establishing themselves amongst the league’s elite and winning 4 consecutive NFC North titles. Aaron Rodgers made it all ok.
It’s quite possible that the most important thing that Rodgers may have done, though, is make us all able to forgive Brett Favre. It didn’t matter that he left anymore. It didn’t matter that he wore purple. We won! We won.
What if Aaron Rodgers had been awful? What if he had just even been average? What if, God forbid, the Vikings had won the Super Bowl? Obviously these didn’t happen and are all hypothetical but everything between Packers fans and Brett Favre is pretty OK right now. Is that due to the passage of time and “forgive and forget” or not?
The answer probably isn’t definite. Here’s the thing though: if Favre won a Super Bowl with the Vikings things would definitely be different. They wouldn’t be the butt of every Super Bowl joke. They wouldn’t be ringless. The t shirt with the empty trophy case wouldn’t be funny any more. Not only that but he only ever won the one Super Bowl in Green Bay. A Vikings Super Bowl win would have given him just as much ultimate success as a Viking as he had in Titletown. But he didn’t.
Here’s the other thing (there are apparently two things): what if the Packers had fallen into a QB drought like the post-Marino Dolphins or the post-Elway Broncos (Bubby Brister, anyone?). What if Aaron Rodgers wasn’t good, or what if he was just average? No average QB could have taken a Packers team with 15 players on injured reserve to the 2010 championship and the Super Bowl drought could be going on it’s 20th year.
I strongly doubt that an average QB would have lead the Packers to these four consecutive division championships either. I’m not certain that we as fans would be so forgiving if the Packers weren’t the powerhouse (especially on offense) that they have been. I’m not certain that if Aaron Rodgers was Jay Cutler that Packers fans still wouldn’t’ resent Brett Favre, but he isn’t. And they don’t.
On July 18th, the Packers are going to welcome back the prodigal son. Brett Favre is going to be enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame. After that, the Packers are going to reveal the retired #4 on the stadium façade on Thanksgiving night against the Chicago Bears. Despite what happened in Favre’s two return trips to Lambeau Field I expect little or no booing to occur. I expect almost nothing but wild cheers and adulation for the Ol’ Gunslinger.
So if you’re going to the ceremony, or even the Thanksgiving game, pay attention when Brett Favre addresses the crowd. Take in the fact that no one is booing. Take in the fact that “Brett” has come home and that we are all absolutely pumped. While you’re doing that remember that the Packers success, the Super Bowl XLV Championship and Aaron Charles Rodgers have helped make everything OK.