It was a moment roughly seven years in the making, and it was worth the wait.
Yesterday, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre returned home to Lambeau Field to be enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame and have his number 4 jersey retired. After spending the past seven years in exile after his messy departure from the team, both Favre and Packer fans alike were ready to move on and welcome back the Ol’ Gunslinger with open arms into the Packer family.
It was truly a magical evening to witness. It was hot, as Green Bay tends to be in mid-July, but the heat didn’t damper anyone’s enthusiasm. It’s been years since so many #4 jerseys were seen around Lambeau Field. Sure there were a few New York Jets and even Minnesota Vikings jerseys, but they were overwhelmingly drowned out by a sea of green and gold.
Once everyone was let into the stadium, Favre highlights were played on a loop on the TundraVision screens in each end zone and people were cheering like they were taking place in real time. Lambeau Field tends to have that effect on people. The players and coaches of the present come back to life within that sacred bowl, forever entrenched in the memories of fans that gather at that special place.
Favre was scheduled to speak at 6:30 and in the time before that, Favre’s wife Deanna, mother Bonita and daughters Brittany and Breleigh came onto the field to thunderous applause. They stopped right in front of where I was sitting and between waves to the crowd both Deanna and Bonita started taking pictures of the crowd and were genuinely in awe of how many people were there (just under 70,000).
Then the moment everyone had been waiting seven years for finally arrived. It was as if time stopped and reversed back to 2007, the last time Favre set foot on the grass at Lambeau Field as a member of the Packers.
"At quarterback, from Southern Mississippi, #4….Brett Favre!"
Favre came out of the Packers’ tunnel, this time in a dress shirt and sport coat instead of a jersey and pads.
Lambeau erupted. If you were not inside the stadium, you’d swear the Packers just won on a last minute play and were going to the Super Bowl.
The crowd was on its feet and gave Favre upwards of a (fitting) four-minute standing ovation. Favre looked in absolute disbelief at how many people were there and the reception he got. At that moment at least, all again seemed right in the world. Sure there were still problems in the world, but at that moment everything was perfect. The wayward son returned home and there was finally peace in Packer Nation.
As Favre began to speak, it was like he had never left. He was clearly moved by how many people showed up for the ceremony even though he knew how many tickets had been sold.
Favre said, ""Playing at Lambeau Field, certainly coming out of that tunnel, there's nothing like it on this earth. I’ll say this, I've also run out of that tunnel," pointing at the visitors' entrance, "and that was scary. I'd much rather go through that tunnel right there."
Favre did a Q&A with WTMJ’s Lance Allan and Favre got choked up many times. Favre best summed up his career by thanking the fans: "All I can say is I hope it was as much fun for them watching me as it was for me to do it every week."
He gave us some occasional heartburn, but yes it was. It was fun.
Favre then left the field to attend the Hall of Fame enshrinement and jersey retirement ceremony. Fans were then treated to the "One of a Kind" documentary that aired in Wisconsin last week about Favre’s time as a Packer. If you haven’t checked it out, you need to and it’s here on packers.com
Once the ceremony began, it was a rather unique experience. To hear from former general manager Ron Wolf, former head coach Mike Holmgren and former center Frank Winters, it felt like a mix between multiple events. The nostalgia factor went into overdrive.
When Wolf talked about how Favre came to Green Bay and what he saw in him, it felt like a wedding when the story is told of how the couple met. Wolf saw something in Favre back in 1991, and if he had not pulled the trigger on that trade who know what shape the Packers franchise would be in right now?
When Holmgren shared his story about Favre being transfixed on the coach’s snot-filled mustache when he was trying to give Favre play calls, it felt like a class reunion when you reminisce about crazy moments between student and teacher. Holmgren, Favre, and many fans got choked up when the coach said that Favre "was like the son he never had." It even reminded me of one of my own teachers in high school where we definitely had a Favre/Holmgren dynamic.
When Winters came up to introduce Favre, and when Favre spoke, I looked around at the thousands fans in attendance and it felt like a family gathered around the campfire and listening to stories from relatives and hanging on every word they said.
Favre’s speech was off the cuff and he thanked everyone from Wolf and former team president Bob Harlan all the way down to the janitors. He remembered so many names and without the assistance of notes or a teleprompter. It was funny, it was emotional, and it was fascinating. All the memories of watching Favre came back in a "whoosh" of emotion and yes, I will admit to getting misty eyed.
It was a very special evening and went the crowds dissipated, my thoughts moved to the future. All was well again in Packer Nation. Now the focus could move to the 2015 team and seeing if the Packers can make it to Super Bowl 50. Aaron Rodgers is on the path to Canton himself and I look forward to coming back in just over a decade (maybe a bit longer) and having just a big a party for Rodgers. The future is still bright for the Packers
I still wanted to take one more look back, however.
While the name "Brett Favre" will always bring out some polarization, no longer does it cause the indigestion and the heartbreak it did seven years ago. Packers fans everywhere can hold their heads up high and say once and for all "Brett Favre is a Packer and he belongs to us."
He is once again a member of the Packer family and this time, it is 4-ever.