Bill Simmons, ESPN's Sports Guy, tweeted a sentiment today, trying to understand the feelings of the Green Bay Packers fans who will see Brett Favre line up for an opposing team for the first time this year.
This leads me to the obvious question: How does it feel?
Look, Brett Favre was both a talented quarterback for the Packers and a talisman for Packers fans for much of the last two decades. He was fun to imitate in the backyard when interceptions meant nothing, fun to watch as he ran around the field and generally played the gunslinger's role to a fault, and fun to follow as he led the Packers to excellence. The winning, early and often in his career, papered over the apparently Shakespearean selfishness, and Favre was hailed as a god who returned Green Bay to the dizzying heights that some Packers backers, both within and outside of "Titletown, USA" consider a birthright.
But Favre's skills atrophied enough for his celebrated verve to become foolhardy recklessness, for "He's just having fun out there!" to turn into a sad reflection on his inability to bring the Packers fans any of the joy of consistent competence. The flashes here and there were worth savoring, and his victory lap in 2007 was enjoyable, but Favre was only occasionally an elite NFL quarterback, as the downward trends in his seasonal performance and playoff win totals after 1997 show.
And for a Packers team that struggled to find non-Favre talent on par with the 1996 squad's stacked team, that was never enough to return them to a Super Bowl, despite Favre's routine assertions that the team was one player away, that all he wanted to do was get to a Super Bowl, that he would do whatever it took to win.
At the end of his Green Bay Packers career, Favre did what he thought he had to do to win: He got out of Green Bay. Though I can't really respect the ethically bankrupt, utterly manipulative means he used to secure his ticket out of Wisconsin, I can't really knock the hustle: Favre believed the Packers were drifting further from a Super Bowl and forced the team to let him jump ship, which, at the very least, is true to his purported winning-above-all approach.
It doesn't even bug me that he went to New York and spent a season in an odd sort of purgatory, then came back to a division rival. He was just hopping from the situation the Packers smartly saddled him with to the situation he really wanted. And, in truth, it's probably a good situation for all involved: Favre could well be an upgrade at quarterback for the Vikes (though a five-year-old handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson 50 times a game might have been an upgrade on the hot-and-cold duo of Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson), so both he and the team get closer to that elusive Super Bowl.
That none of that irks me may have to do both with my remove from the Midwest, where the NFC North's rivalries are brewed, and my pessimism about Favre's skills.
It's easy for me to not mind Favre in purple because I won't hear about it daily. I suppose that someone in Eau Claire would be of a different mind, but the mostly "meh" response from Packers camp shows that even Wisconsinites might be over this story.
Further, as a Packers fan who saw Favre toss interception after interception for the Packers, I find it hard to believe he won't do the same against the Packers. Plus, the Packers defense knows his tendencies well, and will be revved up to take their pounds of flesh forcibly in the two meetings this year; Favre can only directly impact the Packers' season in two games, and those will be the two games circled in red on every defender's calendar. Whatever talent he brings to Minnesota, it seems to me it will be only as valuable as, and perhaps less than, the motivation he provides to the Pack.
Lest we forget, that's a Packers team two years removed from an NFC Championship game that Favre lost almost by himself, and one that could be very good if Aaron Rodgers continues developing into one of the better quarterbacks in the league and the roster avoids the tsunami of injuries that sunk the team in 2008.
For me, the attachment to a specific player becomes an emotional crutch when that player is not contributing to your team's success. It's what has hurt Simmons' Boston Red Sox, who have clung to David Ortiz for the purpose of pleasing fans despite his massive dropoff this year; it's what will hurt the Lakers when Kobe Bryant starts slipping; it's what Colts fans may see if Peyton Manning's aging body limits him.
The Packers, to their credit, employed Favre to be part of the team for as long as they thought he would be an asset, and milked his talent for what it was worth. Favre did his job, enjoying varying degrees of success, and earned a lot of money in the process. Then each decided they would be better off doing other things, and went their separate ways. This happens in every other business; in sports, fans cloud the process by allowing their passion to blind them when necessary.
The Packers will be fine. The Vikings will be fine. Favre will be fine. And those two games will be fun.
I'm fine with that, Bill.
It's the Vikings fans I'm worried about.