Ted Thompson is the Green Bay Packers' executive vice president, general manager and director of football operations. Even in Titletown, that's a lot of titles for one man.
Very soon, assuming Brett Favre continues to press the issue, we're about to find out how much power Thompson actually wields. Or, specifically, how much stomach he has for exerting his power the way a bold leader must.
That's because the time has come for somebody to tell Favre his time in Green Bay is done, consequences be damned. And that somebody is Thompson, who needs to serve his franchise by being a dispassionate executive and leaving the sentiment to others.
Here's the dilemma: According to a report Monday by my friend and former SI homie Peter King, Favre's agent, Bus Cook, will send a letter in the next 9 days stating that the 38-year-old quarterbacking legend wants to be taken off the NFL's reserve/retired list. This will force the Packers to welcome Favre back to the team four months after they thought he'd bowed out gracefully, or to trade or release him – three options that Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy reportedly find distasteful.
King is exceptionally plugged in when it comes to Favre and the Packers, so I believe him when he writes that Thompson and McCarthy are sickened by the prospect of Favre potentially succeeding elsewhere – possibly as a starter for the Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings, both bitter NFC North rivals – while Aaron Rodgers tries to prove he's a worthy successor to the most beloved athlete ever to perform in Green Bay.
There's even a scenario King calls "vomitous" – Favre, on the season-opening Monday night on which his number was supposed to be retired at Lambeau Field, charges through the tunnel in white and purple as the Vikings' starting quarterback.
It would be weird. It would be jarring. It would be kind of sad.
And, you know what? It would also be football, at least the way it exists on its highest professional level.
Think such a blasphemous scene would be unprecedented? Let me take you back to the second game of 1994, when Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers ventured into Arrowhead Stadium to face Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs.
From the 49ers' perspective, it was the most emotional regular-season game imaginable. It served as a referendum on the leadership of team president Carmen Policy and coach George Seifert, the two men most responsible for the decision to trade Montana – the most revered athlete in the city's history. And, even more important, it was a chance for Young, who'd already won an MVP and a pair of passing titles, finally to quiet the resounding "You'll Never Be As Good As Joe" chorus.
During a walkthrough at Arrowhead the day before the game, I vividly remember Tim McDonald, the 49ers' wise and assertive veteran safety, pulling me aside and saying, "I know everyone is talking like this game doesn't have any extra meaning, but that's a lie. We need to get this one – for Steve – and every player on this team knows it."
The next day, after a 24-17 Kansas City triumph in which Montana shined while Young got pummeled by the Chiefs' defense, I recall the losing quarterback's glazed stare as he walked off the field alone. A few minutes later I saw Policy roaming through the tunnel leading to the 49ers' locker room. "Up in the box, Eddie (DeBartolo, then the 49ers' owner) and I thought we'd have some mixed emotions but that it would end up being like any other game once they kicked it off. But as it played out, I was surprised at just how desperately we wanted to win."
In the immediate aftermath, the 49ers' defeat seemed so cataclysmic. Everything Young's detractors had been saying since he took over for Montana seemed to have been conclusively validated.
Three weeks later, San Francisco got blown out at home by the Eagles, and Young loudly unloaded on Seifert after the coach yanked him from the game.
Four months later, Young threw a record six touchdown passes in San Francisco's 49-26 thrashing of the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. And guess what – everything changed, instantly and permanently. From that day on, Young was defined by his own accomplishments, rather than by his inability to match Montana's. The fans warmed to him, too, some of them showing up in Canton in 2005, when he entered the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot inductee.
I'm not saying that Rodgers, a promising '05 first-round draft choice who played superbly in relief of the injured Favre during the Pack's road defeat to the Cowboys last November, is necessarily on the same glorious path. But Thompson is clearly and understandably eager to find out, and if he and McCarthy ask the kid to resume his subservient role after an offseason of grooming him to be The Man, you can forget about Rodgers staying in Green Bay for the long haul.
As for the rest of the analogy, please don't try telling me that seeing Favre play elsewhere is any more jarring to Packers fans than was the sight of Montana in a No. 19 jersey for the Chiefs to the 49er Faithful. I know Green Bay is a quaint town steeped in lore, and I realize that Favre is a truly special performer. But I also know plenty of Northern Californians who will tell you that Montana is the most magical, transcendent athlete ever to walk the earth, and if you try to argue otherwise (and, for what it's worth, I happen not to), their instincts are to kick you down Russian Hill.
To be cold about it, Montana was the man who showed up in a city that had never celebrated a professional sports championship and transformed a franchise's identity while winning four Super Bowls. Favre came to a city that had a rich championship history and ended a 2½ decade lull by winning a single Lombardi Trophy.
The point here is not to disrespect Favre, who had a terrific year in '07, albeit one that ended with a thud in the NFC Championship game defeat to the Giants at Lambeau. He deserves the right to change his mind about retirement, and he's obviously capable of playing somewhere for at least another season.
But if you're Thompson, the only sensible decision is to make sure Favre doesn't return to Green Bay. Again, this isn't without precedent. Thompson simply needs to tell Favre what the Miami Dolphins told Dan Marino after the '99 season: Go ahead and play for the Steelers, or whomever, but this era is over. (Then again, when the Dolphins decided to encase two of Marino's lockers at the team facility in plexiglass for the following season, that whole 'we're-moving-on' vibe got a bit mangled.)
Think about it from Thompson's perspective: With Favre back, not only do you effectively say goodbye to Rodgers, but you essentially become beholden to the ever-changing whims of a man who clearly is ambivalent about his playing future. And if things go badly and you want to cut your losses, the only way to do so is to bench Favre – saddling your coach, McCarthy, with the stigma of being The Villain Who Ended The Streak.
If you're Thompson, the better option is to suck it up, set Favre free and move forward. Try to trade him to a team outside the division, and if you can't, so be it. Cut him, and even if Favre comes back and bites you as a member of the Vikings or Bears, it's still just two games – and, in all likelihood, one season of awkwardness. You might take some heat, but you'd be putting the franchise's best long-term interests at heart.
Or, to put it another way, you'd be doing your job.
There is another option, though it may be a bit too extreme for Thompson or McCarthy's tastes: Tell Favre he can, in fact, return to the team, but that he'll have to compete for the starting job. Given that Rodgers has been working as the starter for the entire offseason while Favre has been sitting at home in Mississippi, this would set up a scenario in which the young player could legitimately beat out the legend.
That might sound cold, but it's the way the most accomplished football executives are forced to think at times. Thompson did so this past April when he picked Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm in the second round of the draft, a move that couldn't help but decrease Rodgers' sense of security as Favre's successor.
The GM's reasoning, I'm sure, was this: So what? It's what's best for the organization, and if Rodgers is as tough as he'll need to be to make it in this league, he'll figure out a way to deal with it.
That's the exact mindset Thompson needs to adopt now, no matter how much emotion is swirling through Titletown. Only after he decisively and irrevocably shows that Favre is no longer the main man in Green Bay will Thompson get the unofficial title the franchise needs him to seize: Leader of the Pack.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"What the hell have you been doing? No Trippin' Tuesday for two weeks! Unacceptable. The worst day of the work week is usually padded by your witty remarks and responses to hate mail. I can't handle another Tuesday without the much needed laughter and entertainment I find from the mooks that email you. Please help me out here!"
Happily. But the "mooks" (or, as I like to call them, "polite and well-spoken dissenters") deserve most of the credit.
"Michael I love your column I read it all the time. I just have one comment – now that the Euro Cup is over how do you feel about your prediction that Spain would fail in the elimination rounds … ? Oh, and please feel free to correct my grammar wherever necessary."
How do I feel about that prediction? Soy muy estúpido, y no entiendo nada. Spain was awesome, and the tournament itself was thrilling. Has any team ever summoned more late-game magic in a fortnight than the Turks? I really don't think so.
"Thanks for the major diss regarding Spain's chances at this year's Euro Soccer Cup. After the luck experienced by your other 'faves' (Reading, Cal), this just might be what the Spanairds need to get over the hump. Please, keep expecting David Villa and company to fade away … "
De nada. I may have to change my byline to Miguel Silva.
"After reading your last article about Steven Jackson's colonic treatment, I can say that your writing is truly the s**t. Keep up the great work. I love your articles and the outrage and illiteracy they invoke."
I had a feeling an email like this might be coming. And, naturally, I have no complaints.
"You've finally proven it to be true … you really do write about crap."
I walked right into that one (so to speak), didn't I?
"Yo Mike. After reading your column I fear my cheeks will stayed clenched for the next three or four days … thanks!"
Look at it this way: Should you decide to become an NFL coach or GM, this will have been excellent training.
" 'I swear to God, he looked like a kid who'd been in there with R Kelly.' Best. Quote. Ever."
I insist that all of the prominent NFL players I know hook up with quotable love interests (something I like to call the Gus Frerotte Rule). Blessedly, Jackson came through in a big way.
"Supriya Harris sounds like she would be a good contributor to the Yahoo! Sports team."
"Why the need to mention the skin color of all non-Tiger golfers in a lyrical sentence that was obviously designed to be a put-down in context. I can't imagine what the reprocussions of an altered song that referred to a group of African-American athletes as 'Boring and Black' would be … I'm reasonably certain you would never stoop to find out. Oh well … I guess I shouldn't expect any better out of a media whore. I'm sure many of the Tiger fans will find that song a riot."
That's just beautiful: Bothered by a comedic device in a sports column? Call the writer a whore. (Then again, given the way you tackled the word "reprecussions," I shudder to think how you might have butchered "prostitute.") Look, I'm pretty sure 99.9 percent of you took this as the joke that it was, but on behalf of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, I apologize for the insensitivity of the imaginary sentiment he didn't really express. Or not.
"Hey Michael. I've been reading you for years, followed you from SI to Y!. Since so many people tend to write hate mail I just thought I'd send a note to tell you how great I thought your rendition of 'Eye of the Tiger' was in … Gameface. Thanks for entertaining this crippled stoner over the years. You and Señor King are still the best writers in sports. Peace"
Thanks, and I'll have to get some "Entertaining Crippled Stoners For More Than A Decade" T-shirts printed for me and Peter to wear on our next trip to Lambeau.
"Mike: Thank you for your tribute to Charlie Jones who is largely responsible for making 'Personal Best' one of my favorite sports movies. You forgot to mention the exuberance with which Jones exclaimed 'Happiness at the high jump' while describing a heptathlete celebrating after winning that event. Jones' broadcast partner in the film, Frank Shorter, couldn't hold a candle and was overshadowed by Charlie's self-assured broadcast style. Perhaps 'Personal Best' was an audition of sorts because Jones was the NBC broadcaster who called track and field at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
Ah, Personal Best. I take it you weren't in the picture? (And that is as inside as an inside joke can possibly be. Sorry, everyone.)
"Wow … a Charger column where AJ, LT, Norv aren't bashed?! Nice work. You must be growing up, Silver. Love (Philip) Rivers. Already favored by 10 versus Carolina. Go Boltz!"
Huntington Beach, Calif.
I can't recall having ever bashed LT for anything, but I understand your point about A.J. Smith and Norv Turner. Let's just say that, to quote a much less effective leader (aka The Decider), Smith and Turner earned themselves some "political capital" in Indy last January.
"Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, sounds like to me Rivers would just (be) fine as a sportswriter. It must be nice to be able to peck away at 'people' with no one to answer to; … to counter attack you guys. Yep, must be nice … . Big Dave and the 39 members of the Over The Hill Surf Gang, North Shore, Oahu"
Dave the Wave
On the Rock, North of Waikiki, Hawaii
Ouch, Dave, that's not very aloha. Having just spent 10 days on Oahu's glorious North Shore, I'm far too relaxed to fight back. I certainly wasn't attacking Rivers; trust me, you'd know if I were. I'm about as subtle as a winter swell at Waimea.
"I'm a 1994 N.C. State graduate and nearly 'worship' Rivers or 'P-Riv' as we call him. As a Carolina Panthers fan I have had little to cheer for and have adopted the Chargers as my AFC team since P-Riv was drafted … But … he needs to shut up and play ball. I can't believe our stoic leader that we watched pummel NCAA defenses for four years has to run his mouth to get fired up. In fact, I think it makes him play worse and I find myself making excuses to all those annoying Tar Heel fans (who've always hated him). So, Rivers, from a bro – shut up and throw the ball (you do it so well)!"
Colorado Springs, Colo.
I applaud you for having the guts not to adopt the pack mentality, and I hope you're not feeling like a lone wolf.
"Just a note concerning your article about Philip Rivers and Dré Bly. The most important item that was omitted is the reason for Bly's disdain for Rivers. Bly went to the University of North Carolina and Rivers went to North Carolina State. Trust me on this one."
Done. Thanks for pointing that out.
"Hi Michael … I sat in the second row right behind the Chargers' bench at their season finale in Oakland this past season, and it was quite interesting. Rivers was very distracted by the fans. Merriman seemed to lecture him about it, LT didn't seem too pleased with him either. Early on I got him to look over and stare me down by shouting 'Hey Rivers! You're even worse than Eli!' It really was that easy to get into his head."
How does it feel, knowing that you are the world's most polite Raiders fan?
"Funny to hear you talking about mouthing off and rants, when you take your column, supposedly devoted to sports, and always ensure to get in a sophomoric leftist dig at those you don't agree with politically. Methinks the kettle is calling either the pot, or the river, black."
Another column, another sensitive right-winger. Should I put on some Coldplay and fix you a cup of chamomile tea?
"Michael, I've always appreciated your lyric-altered song feature, but … you've outdone yourself. For you to take a song like Bush's 'Everything Zen' and actually make it intelligible and (deliberately) funny is a testament to your intelligence and creative prowess.
Hey, far be it from me to deny a reader an opportunity to do some Bush-bashing.
"Michael, I love you in all the ways two men can love; and that's a lot."
I thank you in all the ways two men can … well, not entirely, but muchas gracias.
"The Guatemalan Fan Club checkin' in. I can't believe you just devoted an entire column to soccer/futbol! I loved it and read every word, meanwhile thinking, 'Uh-oh, Mike's going to get bunga-bunga over this from the less open-minded, more provincial readers.' Just like when you slip in a comment about your political leanings and you get raked over the coals by Elmer Fudd and the boys. I believe that you are the only NFL writer who could pull this off. I don't want to accuse you of having major cojones – but if the jock fits … "
Thanks, and rest assured, I'm with Bon Scott on this subject.
"Any relation to actor Michael B. Silver? Or are you the reason why he has to put the B. in his name/SAG card?"
That theory sounds like a bit of a stretch, but I certainly can't presume to tell you about Michael B.'s motivation. We're not related, but my sister did meet him at a party in L.A., and we were alike enough that it kind of freaked her out.
"You are god. Too bad I'm an atheist … "
I knew it was too good to last …
"Forgive me for questioning your experience with John Elway, but if memory serves correctly his final game was Super Bowl XXXII where he and the Broncos defeated the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers coached by Ron Holmgren. If memory serves correctly, that game was played in San Diego, California. I have no idea about the game you recall against the Falcons. Thanks."
Your memory serves you pretty far from correctly – and if you don't believe me, call up former Packers general manager Mike Wolf (or current Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren) and ask him yourself.
"Why didn't you include Brett Farve also going out on top. Thanks Tj"
Um, let's see … because he didn't?
"I'd just like to say that I always look forward to your columns every week. Being a Packers fan, I may not always agree with your opinions, but I can't help but respect them, because they are so well written and researched. Keep up the amazing work!"
Green Bay, Wis.
Thanks, Zach – please bottle that and tune in next Tuesday, when many of your fellow Packer Backers attempt to make me feel like Steven Jackson undergoing a certain procedure.
- Ted Thompson
- Green Bay
- Joe Montana