Nearly three years ago Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and team president Mark Murphy faced a tough decision. With 38 year old legend Brett Favre still running the offense, the 2007 Packers were a game away from representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. As expected, the teary eyed gunslinger formally announced his retirement on March 4th, 2008. By the summer of 2008, it was apparent Favre wasn’t ready to call it a career. It was also apparent the Green Bay Packers were committed to playing football without Brett Favre for the first time in nearly twenty years.
As much as fans want legends to play forever (I am guilty) organizations realize that they must always be planning for the future. That is exactly why general manager Ted Thompson drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of California as his first ever draft pick in 2005. Thompson and the Packers thought so highly of the young quarterback they gave him a 5 yr/$7.7 million dollar deal with incentives that escalated the deal up to $24.5 million. By the end of the 2007 season Rodgers hadn’t played a meaningful down in three NFL seasons because Brett Favre rarely missed a snap.
In hindsight it did seem curious when Favre retired after the 2007 season. He had a great statistical season and was one bad throw away from playing in his third Super Bowl. Farve had hinted at retirement the year before, and it made sense that he wanted to end on a high note rather than hang on for one more year. Favre’s tune changed dramatically when he contacted the Packers in July 2008. Farve was now publicly saying the Packers forced him into an early decision and he wasn’t ready to call it a career. The Packers said Favre could come back and compete for the starting job he held for nearly twenty years. Favre viewed that as the ultimate insult and asked for an unconditional release. The Packers weren’t willing to do that but they did broker a deal with the Jets so Favre could play in the 2008 season.
Everyone knows sports fans are among the most emotional, illogical creatures in the world. Ted Thompson was public enemy number one in Green Bay. How could he trade a legend who was still playing at a high level and led the Packers to the NFC title game? If the fans made decisions, they would have allowed Favre to set the Packers back a decade because he deserved it. Professional sports is a cruel business, and no one is safe from the meat grinder that chews up and spits out both legends and journeymen. The truth is Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, and Mark Murphy, the wise triumvirate of Green Bay, were supremely confident in Aaron Rodgers and ready to let the 24 year old have his shot.
As brilliant as Aaron Rodgers was in Super Bowl XLV, it is easy to forget the uncertainty surrounding the decision in 2008. People fear the unknown, and Aaron Rodgers was the unknown. By year seventeen of Brett Favre’s career, we knew exactly what to expect. Moments of brilliance mixed in with terrible decisions. He was the ‘gunslinger.’ Aaron Rodgers was a smart kid from Cal who had no NFL experience and was labeled by critics as another Jeff Tedford ‘system quarterback.’ There is no term in football I hate more than ‘system quarterback.’ Even Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Troy Aikman played in a system right? Hell, even before the 2010 playoffs started the knock on Rodgers was still that he couldn’t win big or close games. I still contend he won his first two playoff games in weeks 16 and 17 when the Packers faced playoff elimination. Road wins in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago shattered the notion that Rodgers couldn’t win big games. He still had to come up big in the Super Bowl to officially escape the ominous Brett Favre cloud that still loomed over Lambeau Field.
With half the country watching the Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers had a performance for the ages. If not for four big drops, he could have had a record breaking performance. Rodgers now has as many Super Bowl titles as Favre, and one more m.v.p. trophy. Longevity and Super Bowl rings are the marks of greatness in the NFL. With Thompson, McCarthy, and Murphy driving the boat, the Packer organization is in great shape. In my opinion, injuries are the only thing that will keep Aaron Rodgers from forging his own hall of fame career. Breathe easy Packer Nation, there is life after Brett Favre.