Root for the team or root for the player? That's the question facing many anguished Green Bay Packer fans. Most people, including this writer, thought that Brett Favre's ritual winter dalliance with retirement ended with his emotionally charged hanging-it-up press conference on March 6.
We were wrong. Favre was having second thoughts within weeks. A whisper here, a rumor there floated through the press. Nobody paid much mind at first, but then Favre confirmed that he wanted to play, after all.
Still, the Packers prepared to move on. Aaron Rodgers was anointed the new starter, and led the team through its offseason workouts. Packers GM Ted Thompson drafted not one, but two promising quarterbacks in case Rodgers is injured or underperforms.
Fan reaction has been mixed. The team or the player? A few hundred Favre supporters held a "we want Brett" protest outside of Lambeau Field. But a parody of Favre's recent Sports Illustrated cover has also made the rounds on the Internet, with his face replaced by the mug of a crying baby.
On Tuesday Favre forced the team's hand by faxing the league his reinstatement papers. Now Packers management will have to make the decision of a lifetime.
IF FAVRE REPORTS to Packers' training camp, what do they do? To have a future Hall-of-Famer play the backup to someone who has never started an NFL game is an insult, especially considering that Favre is coming off one of the best seasons of his long career. He can still play.
Or can he? Favre hasn't even been in Green Bay since he announced his retirement. The extent of his offseason training seems to have been throwing to high school receivers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Rodgers has a perfect attendance record at Green Bay's offseason conditioning and practice program. He has been working hard to learn the playbook and build chemistry with his receivers. He is becoming a leader.
Clearly Favre-as-backup is a bad choice. So make him the starter, then? That has its own costs. Rodgers would be alienated, and his contract expires after the 2009 season. Expect him to leave the Packers for greener pastures -- and more playing time -- if Favre is the opening day starter.
Scouts rave over Rodgers, and project him to be an excellent NFL quarterback. Extending the Favre era for a year or two likely comes at the expense of the rest of Rodgers's career. As far as sports go, that's as close to a Sophie's Choice as it gets.
THERE IS A third option: trade Favre to another team. This is almost unthinkable, and yet probably inevitable.
Brett Favre remains the face of the Green Bay Packers. He hasn't missed a start since 1992. He led his team to Super Bowl glory and holds NFL records in every major passing statistic. To quote receiver Donald Driver, "He would look ugly in any other uniform, plain and simple."
Will fans still root for the Packers if they kick a legend to the curb? Will they still cheer for Brett if he plays for someone else?
Good questions, but not without precedent. Joe Montana spent his last two years with the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnny Unitas spent a year as a San Diego Charger. But nobody really remembers; their respective legacies are as a 49er and a Colt. Wherever Brett ends up, he will always be a Packer.
It is hard to imagine what Favre's reception would be like if he runs out of the Lambeau Field tunnels wearing the visitor's jersey. But we may find out soon enough. If Favre is to be traded, it will happen in the next few days.
Fans who root for the team will shower the traitor with boos and catcalls, maybe even beer. Those who root for the player will cheer for Brett one more time.
This fan would like to have it both ways. For Brett to play well, and for the Packers to win.
Ryan Young is a Wisconsin native, and therefore a Packer fan. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, and blogs at Inertia Wins!
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