Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS -- Hype Week here in the NFC North was a dud. Fell flat. Totally ran aground. Sure, there was some roundabout talk of reven… er, “human nature” from quarterback Brett Favre. Otherwise, there was simply no evidence that anyone harbors much resentment stemming from last summer’s divorce between Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
We media types tried. Oh, how we tried. Alas, no one bit. Frankly, the cordiality was sickening at times. But I suppose that’s what happens when everyone finds their happy place -- which is how I truly believe the Favre saga has ended. After the initial pain subsided, and rational analysis overtook raw emotion, this turn of events has worked out for everyone.
The Packers endured some short-term agony, but they also navigated a quarterback transition that historically has tripped up many franchises. A year later, Aaron Rodgers is among the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.
Favre not only landed on a team structured perfectly for this stage of his career, but also with a franchise that allowed him to define the parameters of their courtship. His arrival sparked Minnesota’s ticket sales, led to its first 3-0 start in five seasons and has excited local politicians who have thus far denied the team’s requests for a new stadium.
Even the league itself has benefited. Favre’s journey to Minnesota has transcended sports and crossed into celebrity journalism, drawing new eyes to the game. The Vikings’ Aug. 31 exhibition at Houston generated ESPN’s best preseason rating in 13 years, and Monday night’s showdown could be the highest-rated NFL game in the history of cable television.
“I feel good about where I am,” Favre said in a statement that could speak for all involved. “I feel very good about what I did in Green Bay those 16 years. I was not going to play there forever. I’ve said that over and over. You can’t take away the 16 years I spent there, and what I was fortunate enough to accomplish and the great teams I played on. You can’t take that away. But there is no afterthought, really.”
The Packers had the most at risk in this gambit. Favre had one of the best seasons of his career in 2007, and the team fell one step short of the Super Bowl. With a full nucleus returning, the Packers would have been a prime championship contender in 2008.
We could debate the he-said, she-said of Favre’s retirement decision for eternity. But one fact can’t be disputed: The Packers groomed Rodgers for three years and believed he was ready for the next step. The transition was going to come sometime, and I think ESPN’s Mike Tirico said it best: “It’s better to say goodbye too early rather than too late.”
Yes, I still think the chaos of Favre’s departure distracted the Packers last summer in training camp and played a role in their 6-10 season. But I attribute that to an error in timing, not in the content of the decision. Resolving Favre’s status before training camp should have been a higher priority, I believe, but it’s now quite clear that Rodgers was ready to take over.
Did he perform last year as well as Favre might have? We’ll never know. But as we discussed Saturday, Rodgers and the Packers have already done a better job of replacing Favre than most NFL teams have when bidding farewell to a future Hall of Famer.
“There comes a time in everyone’s career and at an organization when you have to make those tough decisions,” said former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski, who will join Tirico and Jon Gruden in the broadcast booth Monday night. “Where are you going to be three years from now and five years from now? If you look historically at teams that have been successful over a long period of time, they aren’t afraid to make those tough decisions.
“If you’re the Green Bay Packers and you have a guy like Aaron Rodgers -- who you believe is your guy that’s going to be your quarterback for the next 10 years -- and you’ve got a 39-year-old guy, it’s a tough decision but I believe it’s a decision that had to be made.”
You might say that another season of grooming wouldn’t have hurt Rodgers. But most football observers agree there is a diminishing return after two or three years of inaction.
“I’ve always felt in the development of a quarterback that once you get to play, that is really the last hurdle to get over,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Some individuals do and some don’t. I think when you talk about quarterbacks in their development and you make statements where you always knew he was going to be a great one, I’m not necessarily a believer in that. … We were always excited about [Rodgers’] talent and his ability. He showed a lot of promise in his limited opportunities playing behind Brett Favre. … You always felt good about the way he was developing, but truly you never know until you go through the games.”
While Rodgers slipped seamlessly into a starting role, compiling a 92.3 passer rating in his first 19 NFL starts, Favre found a team that couldn’t have catered any better to his needs. Upon arriving in Minnesota, Favre admitted: “I don’t think I am capable of making some of the plays I used to make.” But fortunately for him, the Vikings have a crew of receivers who can make plays on their own.
Favre’s average pass is traveling only 5.7 yards past the line of scrimmage, an unprecedented short distance relative to his career. (It also ranks No. 36 among NFL quarterbacks.) But his top targets -- Chester Taylor, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian -- are all excellent open-field runners who excel in gaining yards after the catch.
The Vikings spent years building a talent-laden roster but had been unable to match it with a stable, veteran quarterback. The situation was so ripe that coach Brad Childress hardly blinked when Favre passed on attending offseason workouts and then training camp. In fact, it was Childress who decided to resume his recruitment after training camp ended.
Where some might see a self-absorbed quarterback holding on to the last strands of his career, Childress has only seen a quarterback who brought, as he put it, “experience equity” and wants nothing more than to win a Super Bowl.
“It’s been a good process here,” Childress said. “He’s a consummate team guy. He’s got history. He’s got wins. He’s got a Super Bowl ring. He’s got money. He’s here to win. I don’t think anybody takes anything away from that. That’s what we’re all about.”
I compare this dynamic to childbirth. (Or what I imagine it must feel like.) There can be prolonged and excruciating pain. But eventually it fades away, leaving nothing but cooing and giggling in its place. I’d say we’re pretty darn close to the cooing stage by now.