GREEN BAY, Wis. – There were no banners pleading with the Packers to bring back Brett Favre. There were no chants of “We Want Brett.”
In fact, there were only a handful of No. 4 jerseys among the few hundred fans around Lambeau Field or by the practice field across the street where the Packers opened training camp Monday.
But if ever there were such a thing as an invisible, 5,000-pound gorilla, its presence could certainly be felt. That was obvious from the deep sigh and almost painful sound of exasperation of Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett after he was asked what effect the latest round of questions about Favre were having on the team.
By the sound in his voice, you knew it was wearing the team out. Likewise, there was the tense, almost defiant tone of wide receiver Donald Driver.
AccuScore on the Packers
The Packers are finishing second in the NFC North in current simulations with a 33-percent chance of winning the division and a 46 percent chance of making the playoffs. While these figures sound like a significant drop-off from last season's 13-3 record, the Packers are still in a close tie for one of the NFC wild-card spots. The expected drop-off from 13 wins is due to having unproven Aaron Rodgers at QB, a more difficult schedule, and improvement from the Vikings.
Obviously, AccuScore would want to evaluate how the Packers would do with Brett Favre starting. In this alternative scenario, the Packers have a 55 percent chance of winning the division and a 70 percent chance of making the playoffs. Rodgers is performing well in baseline simulations with a passer rating of 88, but Favre's proven ability to produce touchdowns is why the Packers are doing so much better with him. By not wanting Favre back, the Packers must feel that Rodgers will be a Pro Bowl QB this season with a rating over 90.
Projected Record: 9-7
Playoff Probability: 46%
“We can’t dwell on it because none of us knows what’s going to happen,” Driver said.
There was the “I don’t want to touch that” tone by Al Harris, who repeatedly and politely declined to address the whole mess. There was defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila talking about praying for God to help everyone involved come to a happy resolution. There was the pained look on defensive end Aaron Kampman’s face. Finally, there was the group of 40 or so reporters who spent the entire 30-plus minutes of their time in the locker room camped around quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as if there weren’t pressure enough on Rodgers as it is.
To his credit, Rodgers handled it all with aplomb, smiling to the end. This wasn’t a sideshow, this was the full circus. But at least Rodgers still knew at the end that he was the ring leader, not one of the clowns.
The big question lingers: How long before Favre arrives in Green Bay to put pressure on Packers management to get something done? At the current rate, that’s what it’s going to take for this situation to change.
Only after Favre shows up and creates a stir that coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson don’t want to handle will Thompson be able to budge. That’s because the rest of the NFL knows how this is going to play out.
Or as one other NFL head coach said over the weekend: “What a freakin’ zoo that is.”
Or as another league executive said: “Why trade for the guy right now? First, do you really want to have to kiss his (butt) to get him to play for you? Second, do you really want to pay Green Bay’s price, whatever it is? If I really wanted the guy, I’d just let Favre and the team sweat it out for a couple of more days.”
In his heart, Thompson knows that’s coming. On Monday, he fielded questions for nearly 20 minutes, all but one of them about Favre. When asked about the waiting game that other teams might play, Thompson smiled slyly, as if to acknowledge that he would make that same move himself before playing that off.
“I suppose that’s one way of looking at that. I’m not that smart … but I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” said Thompson, who at the same time has no plans to release Favre for fear that Favre will sign with Minnesota or another NFC North team.
“Just relinquishing his rights doesn’t make good business sense to me … (it) just doesn’t make a lot of sense from the Packers' point of view. I have not heard many people say that’s a good option,” said Thompson, ever the analyst. “Even the people who would like to hang me in effigy, they don’t like that option, either.”
Thompson has been in the middle of this maelstrom for weeks now. On Saturday, he said he spoke to Favre twice for at least 45 minutes each time. Over the past weeks and months, Thompson has been the focus of ire from Favre, his family and friends.
To his credit, Thompson has handled that with aplomb, further proving that the real problem in this whole situation is that Favre is too emotional and has too many sycophants around him telling him what he wants to hear.
“This is the National Football League. This is made for grown ups and you can’t be governed by feelings. You can’t be governed because you think someone hurt your feelings. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to be like that. We’re going to take the high road and we’re going to try to make the best decision for the Packers,” Thompson said.
That’s why Thompson really needn’t worry about public backlash over his handling of this situation. Sure, there will always be the Favre-ists who believe No. 4 can do no wrong. But there are plenty of others who see that Favre created this mess, not the Packers.
“As far as I can tell, they didn’t tell him to quit,” said Terry Srebanski, a fan from Green Bay. “He’s been doing this for three or four years now … What do you expect the team to do? Then he starts talking to the Vikings? To heck with him if he wants to do that to us.”
Again, the problem is not necessarily the fans. That showed on Monday at practice and at some recent rallies around Green Bay and in Milwaukee. The first rally in support of Favre attracted a couple of hundred fans. The next in Milwaukee featured roughly 30. The last one at Lambeau featured 60.
That led one member of the media to crack, “They can’t even fill a snack shack with people who want him back that bad.”
Still, in the locker room, the players know the reality: if Favre comes back, the circus continues. Worse yet, Favre could divide the locker room between players who want him out there and management that wants to move on.
McCarthy did a wise thing Sunday night when he talked to the team about Favre. He instructed everyone to consider their thoughts in advance, think about what questions might be asked and, finally, to “speak from the heart.”
By doing that, McCarthy charged his players with responsibility and the freedom to use it. He allowed them to be grown ups.
“It’s extremely complicated and, to be honest with you, I haven’t kept up with all the details,” Kampman said. “It’s just too much and it’s hard if you get caught up in what was said and who’s doing what.
“From my heart, I wish it wouldn’t have come to this point, not even got here. It’s just the reality that there’s a lot of attention being drawn to this. We’ll get through. I don’t know how we’ll get through it, but we will.”