GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe Brett Favre(notes) lost the keenest segment of the Green Bay Packers fan base long ago. Maybe he lost them when every summer began to orbit around him, and every roster decision was applauded or disparaged based on how it impacted No. 4. Maybe he lost them in one tumultuous offseason after another, when his emotional whims became reason enough to hold the franchise hostage.
Or maybe he really, truly lost them on Tuesday, when he signed with the hated Minnesota Vikings, and then in Favre fashion, said "If you're a true Packer fan, you understand."
That was the line that still had fans fuming as they filed out of Stadium View Sports Bar in Green Bay, aptly named for its view of Lambeau Field down Armed Forces Drive. Some fans that had flocked for the Packers' evening practice on Tuesday piled into the bar to watch Favre's news conference. And ultimately they had a resounding opinion as they filed back out: Favre's iconic legacy in this city has hit a new low.
"I couldn't believe the 'true Packers fans' should understand thing," said Ron Knautz. "I'm 54 years old. I've been a Packers fan since I was 5, which is when I knew what the Packers were. I got my picture taken with Bart Starr when I was 12. I'm a true Packers fan. Maybe a true Packers player would understand how I feel."
And that was an overwhelming sentiment pulsing through Green Bay, where radio talk shows were pre-empting programs and dumping everything but call-in segments, as the fan base opened a fiery vein. On the rare occasion a fan called to support Favre's right to play for the Vikings, they were bayoneted by the next five callers, who reacted as if they'd just heard someone pitch the positives of joining the Taliban. One caller said he'd confiscated all the pieces of clothing in his house emblazoned with Favre's number. Another woman said she had removed Favre's autographed picture from her wall and banished it behind her couch.
"I think it comes down to how you were a fan," said Gary Nixt, nursing a beer inside Stadium View. "If you're a Packers fan, you're behind the team and you're going to have that tunnel vision. If you are a Brett Favre fan, you're going to stand behind him no matter what he does."
Nixt was among those behind Favre, saying "No matter what happens, he goes into the Hall of Fame as a Packer." And he's not entirely alone. Some have come to see the onetime icon as a self-absorbed football nomad. Others remain the baptized faithful, mindful of the 16 seasons which raised the Packers back to NFL relevance.
The latter have long given Favre its own version of amnesty. They blame general manager Ted Thompson for not bending more to the quarterback's ego. They complain that other parts of the team failed Favre long before he ever failed them. And they have been slow to fully embrace Aaron Rodgers(notes), the successor who they believe helped force out their hero.
"Those people exist, absolutely," said Brian Smith(notes), a Milwaukee resident who has been driving to Green Bay to watch practice and attend games "since Don Majkowski was a big deal." Smith was parking his car across from Brett Favre's Steakhouse, which suddenly seemed like a palpably awkward place to eat.
"Some people love Favre and will love him even if he beats the Packers twice a year for the next 10 years," Smith said. "He's just legendary in their eyes."
You get the feeling it will be a little harder for those people to exist in Green Bay going forward. Yes, some fans will look at Favre now and see what they've always seen – like Elvis Presley fans who clung to his fading lounge acts in Las Vegas while still proclaiming him to be The King. Others? Tuesday took another chunk out of a crumbling mythology that may never be the same.
"Of course it takes away from his aura," Knautz said. "He's coming back with the Vikings."
Knautz adjusted his Packers hat and made a sour face.
"The Vikings," he said. "I never would have believed it."
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- Brett Favre