Favre rises above boos, leads Vikings to victory

Brett Favre
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre runs onto the field in celebration after the Vikings defeated the Green Bay Packers 38-26 in an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
AP Photo / Mike Roemer

Brett Favre sprinted downfield, arms thrust high in the air, index fingers raised.

No matter what jersey he's wearing, whether he hears cheers or jeers, No. 4 is still No. 1 at Lambeau Field.

A day once unfathomable to Packers fans finally arrived Sunday, when Favre returned to Green Bay as the opponent. Worse, he came with those hated Minnesota Vikings and picked the Packers apart. He threw four touchdown passes in Minnesota's 38-26 victory.

"That was just a dagger in the heart," said Tom Fields, whose Favre jersey now has "JUDAS" on the back and big red slashes through the 4s. "I'll be booing him as loud as I can."

Favre had insisted his return to Lambeau Field wouldn't be as emotional as Minnesota's first game against the Packers. But his actions at the end of the game said different. Standing on the sideline as the final seconds ticked off, he raised his hands in triumph and bearhugged several of his Vikings teammates before strolling to midfield.

There, he exchanged a handshake and pleasantries with Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, his replacement. He also embraced Greg Jennings, and shared a long hug with Donald Driver, his favorite receiver in Green Bay.

He pumped his fist when he finally left the field, ignoring the last chorus of boos showered on him by Packers fans who are still wounded by the ugliest divorce in Wisconsin history.

Wisconsin has a bond with the Packers unlike anything else in pro sports, and for 16 years Favre was beloved by the entire state. It wasn't just that he rejuvenated the storied franchise, bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown after the team wallowed through two decades of mediocrity - or worse. Or that he turned Cheesehead, a derogatory nickname favored by residents of neighboring states, into a term of endearment and pride.

To Wisconsinites, Favre was family.

He liked to hunt and, in the early years at least, drink a beer or two. He preferred jeans and flannel shirts to suits. And game after game, year after year, no matter what personal crisis he faced, he did his job.

"He was one of us," Jo Sedar said. "You just felt like he'd come and sit around at your house."

Which is what makes the split so messy and gut-wrenching. A plane trailing a "Retire 4 Good" banner circled Lambeau in the hours before the game, and Favre was greeted with a long, loud chorus of boos when he jogged out for the game, the last of the Vikings to take the field. There were shirts calling him everything from "Traitor" to "Judas" to "Drama Queen." One fan carried a poster with "True Legends Don't Wear Purple," and someone hung a "Welcome Back to Lambeau Field ... B-R-E-N-T" sign behind the Vikings bench.

"It's like going into church on Sunday and the priest says, 'Everybody go home, Jesus has now sided with the devil,'" Fields said.

But one look at some fans' outfits told of the conflicting emotions.

Some paired Favre's Vikings jersey with a Packers jacket and cap, while others wore half Minnesota-half Green Bay jerseys. Others simply wore their old Green Bay No. 4s. A smaller sign near the Vikings bench said, "Thanks 4 the Memories," and another proclaimed Lambeau "Brett's Field."

"I'm having mixed emotions," admitted Robert Barranco, who wore a green Favre jersey while his wife, Martha, had on the newer, Vikings edition. "I'm a die-hard Packers fan, but I also want him to do well."

Favre, then 38, retired after the 2007 season in a tearful news conference, only to announce a few months later that he really did still want to play football. The only problem was, the Packers had already given Rodgers the starting job. An ugly back-and-forth ensued, and Green Bay eventually traded Favre to the Jets.

He retired again after last season and then unretired - to play for those hated Vikings.

Minnesota was, most fans assume, where Favre wanted to go all along. Though he denies it, most believe he and Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn't see eye to eye, and that was the real reason for his (first) retirement. By going to a division rival, Favre could exact a measure of revenge on Thompson.

In the process, though, he's exacting revenge on the very fans who adored him.

"It might not be so hurtful if he came out and acknowledged it," said Ross Kohlbeck, who was selling green T-shirts with a No. 4 on the front and JUDAS on the back a few blocks from Lambeau. "He just goes about it like it's not a big deal, like it's just football. But it's not. It's bigger than that."

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.