It is time to start writing again (as if I ever really stopped) about the team I own, the Packers.
We start in the past, sort of, with the news (though it really isn’t) that the Packers will be retiring former quarterback Brett Favre’s number 4 next season with Favre’s induction into the Packer Hall of Fame.
This is a bit of a departure from past Packer practice, in that only Packer players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame had their numbers retired. (To wit: Number 3, Tony Canadeo; number 14, Don Hutson; number 15, Bart Starr; number 66, Ray Nitschke; and number 92, Reggie White. The Packers have 22 Hall of Fame members, but it would be difficult to assign numbers for players with only 77 — soon to be 76, because no one can wear 0 or 00 anymore — of them available.) It seems obvious that Favre will end up in the NFL Hall of Fame anyway (eligibility starts five years after retirement, so Favre isn’t eligible until 2016), so they’re just jumping the gun a bit.
One reason for the delay in retiring Favre’s number reportedly was fear that Favre would be booed when introduced. I find that possibility most unlikely, though I have one friend who still calls Favre a traitor. I have a hard time understanding that logic (because, of course, it’s not a logical sentiment at all). My friend is too young to remember (well, so am I) when Glory Years players Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor left for New Orleans before the Super Bowl II season. I notice no Packer fan hostility about that. For that matter, Hornung and Taylor’s coach, Vince Lombardi, left for Washington. For that matter, White retired for a season and then came back with the Carolina Panthers. Carolina was also where cornerback Doug Evans went after he decided to become a free agent.
The history of Packer fandom shows great forgiveness. Former quarterback Bart Starr didn’t leave to be welcomed back, but he was fired as head coach after the 1983 season. The following season, he showed up for the Packers’ alumni day game and was warmly received. Either Packer fans chose to remember Starr the quarterback instead of Starr the coach, or they assumed Starr had been hamstrung by his general manager.
Wide receiver James Lofton left after his acquittal for sexual assault, and he seems welcomed back into the fold. The only former Packer who might not be welcomed back is defensive back Mossy Cade, if he ever resurfaces.
The Packers told Favre he wasn’t going to be the starter anymore after the 2007 season, and Favre elected to retire, then unretire to go to the Jets. It’s too bad Favre didn’t go out a winner with the Packers, but his play in the 2007 NFC Championship had something to do with his lack of second Super Bowl championship. I’m not sure how the mess after the 2007 season could have been handled differently — Favre still wanted to play, but the Packers didn’t want him anymore, so what do you do about that?
I maintain that Favre was the most entertaining quarterback the Packers have ever had, and maybe the most entertaining quarterback in the history of the NFL. You remember that his first pass was to … himself. You recall also that after throwing an unlikely touchdown pass with seconds remaining against Cincinnati, he had to hold for the extra point, and pulled his hands back to avoid being kicked by kicker Chris Jacke, and the ball stuck in the grass and Jacke kicked it through the goalposts.
He had more career highlights than a dozen other quarterbacks combined. The playoff win at Detroit. The touchdown run in the last game at Milwaukee County Stadium. His five-touchdown game against Da Bears playing on basically one leg. His overtime throw to Antonio Freeman against Minnesota on Monday night. His game at Oakland after his father died. And, of course, the Super Bowl-winning and Super Bowl-losing seasons. The fact that he is the career leader in touchdowns and interceptions is thoroughly appropriate.
Even if Favre wasn’t involved in the play that decided the outcome, it seemed like he was. People forget that the Favre-to-Freeman finish was preceded by a certainly makeable Vikings field goal at the end of regulation that the Vikings managed to thoroughly botch. (The holder mishandled the ball, then threw, to use the verb loosely, an interception.) Mike Sherman’s first season as coach ended with an overtime win after Tampa Bay’s kicker, Martin Grammatica, missed an easy field goal at the end of regulation, after which Grammatica acted as if he was working for a Razzie Award for bad acting. Favre was the winning quarterback in the first overtime playoff game decided by a defensive touchdown after his former backup, Seattle’s Matt Hasselback, announced “We want the ball and we’re gonna score,” only to throw the ball directly to Packer cornerback Al Harris.
The stereotype is that NFL quarterbacks are supposed to be cool, like Johnny Unitas or Bart Starr or Joe Montana — act like you’ve done it before. That was not Favre. Perhaps because he only threw a few passes as Irv Favre’s quarterback in high school, Favre acted as if every touchdown pass was the first and possibly last in his lifetime, thus worthy of celebration. His running around, helmet off, after his first touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXXI, made a woman much older than him comment, like a lovestruck high-school girl, that seeing his reaction made her want to throw Favre to the ground and have her way with him. He hunted and fished, which put him right with Wisconsin men. He showed up at coach Mike Holmgren’s house at Halloween. At the NFC championship press conference the Friday before the game, Favre ended his portion of the news conference by doing his imitation of long-time Packer public relations director Lee Remmel.
Favre probably drove every coach he ever had crazy. (Particularly Holmgren, whose line NFL Films made famous: “No more rocketballs.” After a bad play, Holmgren dispatched assistant coach Jon Gruden to go yell at Favre. Gruden thought to himself that he couldn’t do that, so he went to where Favre was sitting and started waving his arms around as if he was yelling at Favre, without saying a single word.) However, the Packers had more success with Favre as quarterback than they would have with any other quarterback given the low talent level some of his teams had, particularly on defense in the post-Reggie White years and at wide receiver in the post-Antonio Freeman years. (If Favre had had the collection of wide receivers Aaron Rodgers now has, he would have obliterated the touchdown-pass record, and the Packers would have had arena football-like scores.)
Moving on from Favre: The 2013 season was both a disappointment (Rodgers’ injury, which led to more losses than the Packers should have) and a triumph (given Rodgers’ absence an NFC North title). Green Bay Packer Nation says:
… I was watching Steve Mariucci interview Aaron Rodgers (which was enlightening in more than one way) and Aaron himself made a comment about something I had been thinking for a long time.
Aaron mentioned what he thinks of as one of the best things that happened to the team last season. If you didn’t see the interview, take a guess what THAT is, then read on. …
- Injuries tend to hurt you in the current season but often help you the next because of all the experience that players get unexpectedly. Here are five reasons that last season’s injuries will help this season’s Packers.
- The fallout from Aaron’s injury (and this is according to him as well) was that during the time he was injured, Eddie Lacy took the mantle and James Starks really started to show he was back to form.
- How many snaps would Scott Tolzien have had Aaron not been injured? Would we have a solid backup in Matt Flynn if Aaron hadn’t gone out?
- If we expand the injury count to the defense, the numbers start to stack up. Again, it was painful to watch last season but how many young players got significant time due to the fact that one of their brothers had fallen?
- I would add finally, and more generally, that injuries have made this Packers team the most gritty team in football. How many teams could have gritted their way to the playoffs missing their starting quarterback … their BEST player, for like two months! Further, how many of us Packers fans, when we heard that Aaron was out … thought, “That’s it for us … without Aaron, we’re done.”
Well, this year’s Packers team knows that they are NEVER done. When the chips are down, play with a chip on your shoulder. This Packers, more than any other team, know that when a brother falls, somebody needs to stand in the gap. There are NO excuses, there is one goal and one goal only and that is to WIN. Many players on this team remember Super Bowl XLV where the Packers had multiple starters on IR going into the game and lost Charles Woodson and Donald Driver to injury during the game. There is no quit, there is only grit. No other team in the League has been through the fire the way the Packers have.
Indeed, the last time the vaunted New England Patriots didn’t make the playoffs was the season quarterback Tom Brady got a season-ending injury in the first game. This is not 1972, when Don Shula, after watching quarterback Bob Griese get a broken leg, could trade for his old Baltimore Colts backup, Earl Morrall, and have things go pretty much without a hitch.
The fun thing about this time of year is the optimism of every fan because, unlike the other pro sports and most college sports, past experience shows that teams can come from nowhere the previous season (San Francisco and Cincinnati in 1981, Washington the next year, New England in 2001) and have a decent shot to get to the Super Bowl. Baseball has more parity than it used to, but until relatively recently you could pick playoff teams on the first day of the season and, if you knew what you were doing, you had a good shot to be correct. The National Basketball Association has never had anything close to parity.
The Bears owe Cook County more than $4 million in delinquent amusement taxes after an Illinois appellate court ruled against the team in a long-running tax dispute.
The controversy had to do with more expensive club seats and luxury suites at Soldier Field sold between 2002 and 2007. For club seats, the Bears included in the ticket price a “club privilege fee” that was a charge for amenities such as access to a lounge, parking privileges and game day programs. The team described the extra amenities as “non-amusement services.”
But the Bears didn’t charge the 3 percent amusement tax on the club privilege fee. For luxury suite tickets, the Bears assigned a value to the seat portion equal to the highest price for a regular seat on the stadium, which in 2007 was $104. The team didn’t calculate the tax based on the annual fee to lease a suite, which at the time ranged from $72,720 to $300,000.
I’ll end on this thoroughly impossible idea: When the Packers stopped playing at Milwaukee County Stadium, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist said he wanted to get an NFL team for Milwaukee. That’s a silly idea, but given what Gov. Scott Walker is trying to do to get more jobs in this state, imagine the economic impact of … the Milwaukee Bears.