First of all I have to apologize for being fairly scarce the last couple days. It seems my life has turned upside down over the last couple weeks with the wife and I buying our first house, graduating law school, and getting all of those thing settled has soaked up my time as of late.
Despite this flurry of change I did notice an interesting story hit the NFL offseason circuit a few days ago. It seems Mark Murphy got out to talk about the retirement of Brett Favre's number. Now a story about Brett Favre and the Packers, especially one about a number retirement ceremony, is kinda like a sports talk show host in Cincinnati talking about Pete Rose. You don't have to work hard and no matter what you write the whole thing is going to turn into a mess people on either side of the issue just screaming at each other. If you need proof just read the comments of the PFT article and watch the mix of Favre haters, Packer haters, and people wanting to shame Packer fans for ever booing the man.
We all know the Brett Favre story for good or ill and so I don't feel a need to retell it here again. At the same time this piece of news is too important to just let pass without some reflection; so I say this is a good thing. The number should be retired and right now I hope that the ceremony is the first step in healing the divides between Brett, the Packers, and the Packer fans. Typically these ceremonies are a chance for a player and fans to gush about the player's accomplishments with the organization, and while that may not happen this time, there is still something special that can happen, namely a moment of forgiveness for all sides.
Perhaps this can also be a moment to offer forgiveness to other legends of the Packer family as well. Right now Favre's is not the only number in a state of Limbo; two other numbers are currently out of circulation but not officially retired either. Curly Lambeau's #1 has not been used since he wore the number way back when, but the Packers have never retired the number. Similarly, Paul Hornung's #5 is not used either, but officially recognized as retired. Even though Lambeau and Hornung had enough scandal around them to warrant this delay in the full recognition Hutson, Starr, or White have received, perhaps the forgiveness Favre will get is a the perfect time to fully embrace these two figures in Packer history and give them the full recognition they each deserve.
For Hornung, the blacklisting is the result of being tied up in a gambling scandal. The aftermath of this particular case is still being felt today in the NFL world actually. While it is not necessarily the particular players or franchises that the Hornung case affects, the yearlong suspension that Hornung faced has been the model used by Roger Goodell when assessing punishment for Michael Vick when he was involved in dog fighting as well as the starting point for the disicipline being handed out in the bounty mess happening in New Orleans. This commissioner has used these strict punishments in order to send the same message to the players and coaches of the 60's with gambling, the behavior will not be tolerated and high profile players will be made an example of to prevent this from ever happening again.
Despite this, Hornung should have his number retired. The ramifications from his particular crime have well been payed for and many of the same reasons why Favre's number is being retired apply to Hornung as well. Hornung was a super talented and high profile player who helped turn around the Packer franchise. He helped put Green Bay on the map after many terrible years in the 50's. He was Lombardi's favorite player, and one of the last people to see the great coach before Lombardi died. Since his retirement Hornung has been put in both the Packer Hall of Fame and Canton and his name stand in the ring of honor. Other than his year suspension, which cost him a championship run as well, there is no good reason why Hornung's number should not be retired.
The situation surrounding Lambeau is a bit messier than Hornung's with a conflicting mess of emotions surrounding this particular figure in Packer history. In his time Lambeau was more than just a face of the franchise, he was the soul of the organization. Curly Lambeau WAS the Packers. He was a player, the coach, the general manager, and even picked the colors for the team (at this time it would be blue and gold). Now don't get me wrong this makes total sense; he was the key force behind the forming of the Packers after all. But eventually this relationship came to end. Lambeau was quite as successful on the field after the retirement of Don Hutson and as for off the field....well it was a long time ago and a few stories have surfaced as to why Lambeau was asked to leave the Packers organization. The two stories I've heard go something like this: the first story says that Lambeau made some poor financial decisions that put pressure on the organization. According to the other story Lambeau attempted a hostile takeover of the board in order to move the team to Los Angeles. I don't know which one is true, I don't think it even matters anymore to be honest, and so believe whichever one you wish. In the end Lambeau left Green Bay and went on to take positions with other NFL franchises, most notably the Chicago Cardinals. Lambeau never came back to be a part of the Packers while he was alive.
The Packers franchise struggled to find an image for itself after Lambeau left. One of the notable attempts the Packers made to move on from the Lambeau era was to change the colors of the team from Lambeau's blue and gold to the green and gold we know today. Despite these outward changes it took the Packers a decade of lean years in order to find a face of the franchise to match Lambeau. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all of this the fact that it took Lambeau's death for the Packers to reconnect to this mythical figure of our history. Since his death the Packers have made efforts to claim this part of their history starting with renaming New City Stadium to Lambeau Field and later putting up a statute of Lambeau in front of the stadium and opening Curly's Pub giving Lambeau a prominent piece of the Packer image and brand again. But there is still something missing, separating Curly Lambeau from Tony Canedeo and Don Hutson.....Lambeau's number 1 retired and in a place of honor.
I respect and will love Favre for all he's done for the Packers, and retiring his number will help bring one of the prominent members of the family home. But let's not stop there Mr. Murphy. It's time to finish what has been begun...let's retire two more legends' numbers and give them the proper place in Packer history that they so richly deserve.