Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Unhappy Dilemma

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — The last couple of weeks have brought the Packers and their fans to the edge of a cliff. Brett Favre wants to return; the Packers evidently don't want him as a starter; but they also are unwilling to release him, and probably don't want to trade him to a team they will face this coming year.

What to do? Favre's point of view seems to be that the Packers forced his hand in deciding whether to come back in early March, long before he was ready to make that decision. So, since he wasn't ready to commit to a 100% desire to return, he decided to retire. Plus, he says, Ted Thompson lied to him three times. Oops, he didn't actually call Ted Thompson a liar, he said he was untruthful. Good to know that he was only untruthful, not a liar. The Packers' unspoken point of view is, as best I can understand it, that they are tired of Favre jacking them around every offseason about whether he will retire, and so, once he said the magic words that he would retire in early March, they decided to move on with Aaron Rodgers as the starting QB. And while they would (reluctantly?) welcome Favre back, he would have to ride the bench and hold the clipboard for Aaron Rodgers.

The situation is made worse by the public relations campaigns the two sides are waging against each other. Favre presumably was behind Al Harris' comment to ESPN in early July that Favre "had the itch" to come back. The Packers then started the PR war in earnest, by pointing out that when Favre first made some (private) noises about possibly coming back in March, the Packers made plans to come visit Favre in Mississippi in late March, but that Favre then changed his mind again and told them not to come. So at that point, the unspoken point seems to be, they decided they had had enough of Favre's indecision, and decided to "move on" with Rodgers as the starter.

Favre responded in his TV interview on the FOX News Channel by saying that the Packer execs were down in Florida anyway for the owners' meeting, so the supposed visit just involved stopping off on the way back to Green Bay, and that since he was still not ready to decide at the time, he told them not to bother stopping off. He tossed in additional charges about the Packers sending his old friend James Campen down to try to talk some sense into him, and about a bizarre trip to Mississippi by Thompson after the draft. Favre says he assumed Thompson was coming to invite him to come back, but it turned out that the actual purpose of the trip was for Thompson to ask Favre if the Packers could dismantle his locker and ship it to Mississippi. Sorry, but that story sets off my BS Detector. I don't know what the trip was about, but somebody (most likely Favre) is telling a tall one about that trip.

This is starting to sound like a nasty divorce, where each side charges the other with various acts of disloyalty. I have seen some of those, where the friends and family members are caught in the middle. The unbiased observer listens to the complaints of each side, and comes away with the impression that each side has some good points, but that they are wildly skewed by the angry filter through which they pass.

native and life-long Packer fan Greta Van Susteren of the FOX News Channel scooped all the sports reporters to get this story. She has interviewed Favre before and has good rapport with him. FOX News showed the interview in three segments last week, but it turns out that the uncut interview is available in 6 segments online, and it is interesting because things were cut out of the televised segments that help to shine a little extra light on the situation. The uncut videos may be found by going to http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,384601,00.html. Greta did a nice job, and probed a little on some of the key questions, such as when she asked Favre if he is now 100% committed to playing. His verbal answer was "right," but his non-verbal cues told me that he is still not 100% committed.

It is hard to see how there will be a happy ending. Either the Packers trade or release Favre, which will make the fans crazy, or Favre calls the Packers' bluff and comes in as a backup, making everyone unhappy, or Favre comes back as the starter, with an undetermined amount of damage being done to the relationship of the Packers with their presumed future starter, Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers and others have mentioned that Joe Montana finished his career with the Chiefs, Joe Namath with the Rams, etc., but I think these cases do not really prove the point. Take the 49ers and Montana, for instance. The 49ers were notorious in having the attitude that it was better to release or trade a player a year early than a year late. They released or traded a number of players before the end of their careers, including Montana. To some extent, the attitude was "to hell with the fans' views, we are running this team." Plus, the 49ers had Steve Young sitting on the bench, who had proven himself many times, both in the USFL and when taking over for Montana during the extended periods when Montana was out with injuries. By contrast, Aaron Rodgers is almost totally untested, although his performance in relief against Dallas last year was encouraging.

The key difference, however, is the relationship between the team and the fans. Our team's fans own the team, and as a result the Packers have always had a unique relationship with their fans. So, unlike the situation in
San Francisco, or Oakland, or any other NFL city, if the fans are mad enough about the Favre situation, and make their voices known, I don't see how the Packers can just ignore the views of the fans. Years ago, I wrote to Bob Harlan to complain about the way that the Milwaukee season ticket holders were losing a game when their tickets were transferred to Green Bay. Harlan called me personally to explain why the team did what it did. I can guarantee you that I would not have gotten a similar call from Eddie DeBartolo or from Al Davis if I had written similar letters to them.

Packer fans should make their views known to the team, especially with the shareholders' meeting coming up on Thursday. Call the office and tell them what you think. Better yet, if you know any members of the Packers' organization, or any members of the Board of Directors, let them know what you think. Personally, my hope is that either Bob Harlan or Ron Wolf (who is moving back to
Green Bay) will come out of retirement to help mediate a resolution to this controversy.

While there is no perfect solution, and every solution has down sides, it seems to me that the best resolution possible is for Favre to come back as the starter, with the Packers trying to sign Rodgers to a contract extension on the same basis as they would have done so if he had had a successful year as starter. The down sides to this approach are several. First, Favre may flame out, meaning that last year's performance was a bit of an anomaly for him at this age. Second, Rodgers may not agree to the contract extension, and decide to go elsewhere after this year as a free agent, meaning that the Packers have to start over from scratch looking for a QB of the future. Or, Rodgers may sign but turn out to be a failure, in which case the Packers will have overpaid for him. But the reason I think this is the best possible solution is that the Packers were one drive away from the Super Bowl last year, so they obviously are a very talented young team, and I just cannot believe that they have a better chance going to the Super Bowl this year with Aaron Rodgers at QB than with Brett Favre.