For a long time, all anyone talked about in Packerland was Brett Favre. He was the glue that held the team together through the transition from Mike Holmgren to Ray Rhodes to Mike Sherman (coach) to Mike Sherman (coach and wholly incompetent GM) to Mike McCarthy eras. He was the most popular player for one of the NFL's most popular franchises.
Unquestionably, Brett Favre was the king in Green Bay. Hell, he was the king of Wisconsin.
Two years after his attempt to force himself back on the Packers roster led to some insane scenes at the team's annual Family Night scrimmage and plenty of embarrassment for the organization, Favre's name invokes different reactions in Green Bay now.
In fact, if you talk to Packer players about Favre now, you get the same kind of reaction as if you ask them to break down current events in Mozambique.
Saturday night, even the half-syllable "Bre -- " elicited a glare from friendly Packers receiver Greg Jennings.
"Don't know," Jennings said. "Don't care either."
He wasn't smiling.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, supremely talented and at least a decade from joining the Oak Grove Summer High School Football League, launched even more eyeball darts when asked if the Packers are following Favre's latest offseason saga.
"No," he said.
He wasn't smiling.
Rodgers was then asked if the Packers would prefer to see Favre retire and thereby hand over the keys to the NFC North and a clearer path to Super Bowl XLV.
"He has nothing to do with me or our team this year," Rodgers said.
This is tough for many to understand.
After all, it's highly unlikely that the Packers would bristle so much when asked about Jay Cutler or Matthew Stafford.
Of course, they went 4-0 against the Bears and Lions last year, picked Cutler off six times, and lost twice to a nearly flawless Favre.
In reality, the Packers' decision to cold-shoulder the Favre chatter is pretty clear-cut.
They don't want to give the old man any more motivation than the Saints did, or than he already had on his own.
National pundits -- on the air and on the internet -- will say enough bad things about Favre's selfishness, his spotlight addiction, and the way he held the Vikings over a barrel the entire offseason before he finally decided it was worth his time to show up and be a part of the team. The Packers don't need to point at this all and say "These are the scenes we've tried desperately to avoid," because it's so blatantly obvious to even a die-hard Viking fan.
Last year, it wasn't so obvious.
Last year, it could be argued the Packers made a grave mistake in the summer of 2008, when they told Favre they didn't think he should just walk back in the door when he felt like it to take over the team. The message then? Ted Thompson and McCarthy run this team, and it's a 53-man unit, not one held hostage by or under the control of one man.
Last year, Favre showed them. He chopped up the Packers defense like it didn't exist. He danced and jumped around and pointed his index finger at the sky as he soundly beat his former team twice. He acted all folksy and complimentary of Rodgers, the man he mentored without being a full-time mentor.
Watching Rodgers, Favre had to see a bit of himself, only without the out-of-control throws and unconscionable decisions.
You know, like that famous cross-body throw to Tracy Porter? Rodgers so rarely does those things that it's almost shocking when he does.
When Favre does it, we have to put it on a list.
The Packers hope this year is not last year. They hope they can become the 31st NFL team to post a win over Brett Favre (Houston would be the only one to fail, assuming Brett can't be talked into another season so the Texans get one more shot).
And they aren't going to stoke the Favre fire any more than they have to.
When asked yesterday for a reaction to Favre's return, McCarthy said he had none. We haven't heard from Thompson, and probably won't until his next media availability on Tuesday.
I'll save you the time. He won't have a reaction.
Nor should he.
Favre chose not to be a part of this franchise anymore. Don't be fooled into thinking he was forced out, or that Thompson and McCarthy didn't want him around.
Favre chose not to be there.
I refuse to debate the merits of this decision, because it was a personal choice. But for Favre to continually deny the facts is a bit ridiculous. It was his call, and we saw how it all played out. He forced the Packers' hand because he knew what the outcome would be. He played the retirement game that summer because he knew the team would move on without him, and he knew they wouldn't be able to take him back, given all the time, energy, and money already invested in Rodgers.
And it's all okay.
Packer fans are being painted as a bitter bunch. In reality, many of us look forward to the opportunity to salute Favre in Canton, and to cheer loudly for him as he takes his rightful place in Packers history -- with a retired jersey and a week of special events in his honor.
They're just not going to cheer him -- or anyone -- who waltzes into Lambeau Field wearing Vikings colors.
The same was true of Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell, Robert Ferguson, and a bunch of other players before Favre. The same will be true of any player in the future who moves on from Green Bay to Minnesota.
It's just the way it is. This doesn't make Packer fans wrong. It makes them fans.