16

April

Last Day at Lambeau: Kris Burke’s Review Preview

Last Day at Lambeau Film

Last Day at Lambeau Premieres April 18, 2012, Wisconsin Film Festival

The man’s been retired for over a full year now and yet we can’t stop talking about him.

I speak, of course, of one Brett Lorenzo Favre.  With him finally (hopefully) settled into his post-football life, most would think eventually he’d fade from the spotlight.

That hasn’t been the case.  He was rumored multiple times this past season as a mid-season replacement for an injured starter whether it was in Houston, Kansas City or Miami.  Whether not he is officially on Twitter has even become a hot point for debate.  It seems like there is no escaping Favre even when he isn’t (supposedly) actively seeking the spotlight.

Which brings me to filmmaker Michael Neelsen’s new film “Last Day at Lambeau.”  The film chronicles Favre’s divorce from the Green Bay Packers and its aftermath, and it is currently a topic of discussion amongst Packer fans all over the internet.

Our own Al Bracco received an advance copy of the film and already shared his thoughts.  I have yet to see the film, but I will be attending its ‘world premiere’ this Wednesday at the Wisconsin Film Festival on the UW campus in Madison.

I will be sharing my thoughts in a review after I see the film, but I thought I’d get my thoughts on the whole Favre saga on paper before seeing “Last Day at Lambeau” and explain what I hope to gain from it.  In my review, we’ll see if my view of things change but here’s where I stand at the present time.

My views likely will vary a bit from Al’s.  When Favre became the Packers starting quarterback, I was nine years old.  Like a lot of boys, I spent time with friends playing football either at recess or in the backyard.  Up until that point, the Packers were beyond awful.  My earliest Packer memories are of Lindy Infante as the head coach and they were bad (the 1989 season doesn’t register as I was six years old, sorry).

Most boys would pretend they were someone when playing football.  For me, it was John Elway up to that point.  The Packers were pathetic and everyone else was crazy for Elway, Joe Montana or Randal Cunningham. It just wasn’t “cool” to a lot of kids to be a Packer fan at that point.

Then Brett Favre came along.

The Packers started winning, and we started growing up at the same time.  Favre got older and more mature at the same time my generation did.  We literally grew up with Favre who was the ultimate kid at heart.  As I got older, I learned more and more about the tradition and the history of the Packers.  I began to appreciate those that came before (Lombardi, Starr, Kramer etc.).  Throw in what Elway did to the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII and there was no going back.

I was a Packers fan, and one for life.

I felt a kinship with Favre like no other athlete before.  Our favorite players are ones we can feel some kind of personal connection to and there was no greater one for me than Favre.

I lost my best friend to a car accident in 2002. I was heartbroken, and I was editor of our high school yearbook at the time.  I was so shaken I was unsure if I’d be able to finish the book.  Instead, I went forward and dedicated the rest of my work to him and we ended up winning some awards and I as editor received a scholarship (It was only enough to pay for about three textbooks, but hey it’s free money).

The following year, Favre lost his dad.  While Favre’s loss in a sense was greater than what I experienced a year earlier, it bonded me to him a way I didn’t expect.

Even as I entered the workforce, I mimicked Favre.  If you could be a “gunslinger” in a work environment, I was it.  In reviews, my bosses would always say when you’re good you’re really good and you find sometimes maddening yet creative solutions to problems.  When you’re off, however, things can get ugly fast.

Sounds like Favre to a t to me.

As the events of that summer in 2008 unfolded, I was torn.  Here was my childhood hero, who played for a team in my backyard (I live in Oshkosh, about 45 minutes south of Green Bay), and he’s dissing the team and the people in charge.

Unlike a lot of fans, I wasn’t going to go up to Green Bay and picket Lambeau to let Ted Thompson know I wanted Favre back and he should be fired if he didn’t do as we said.  That’s not how I was raised.  Make your point and if it’s not accepted, move on.

I wanted Favre back.  He had just put up another MVP-like season and seemed to be clicking with Mike McCarthy. What else needed to be discussed?

Then came the interview with Greta Van Sustern.  That was the first time I ever questioned Favre’s intentions.  I always took him as the good ol’ country boy he always appeared to be.  When he admitted that he was coming back “in part to stick it” to Thompson, my eyebrows were raised a bit.

As the rest of the events unfolded, all I could do was shake my head. I could not believe what was happening.  It shouldn’t have ended this way, I thought.   Favre, the Packers and the fans all deserved better than this but c’est la vie. That’s life sometimes.

Once it became official that Favre was a New York Jet, in hindsight I guess I am surprised at my own reaction.

I was ok with it.  Yes, I wanted Favre back but I realized that I was not as smart as Ted Thompson and to trust his decision to go with Aaron Rodgers in 2008.  Basically, to sum it up, I just said, “Well, that whole ordeal sucked.  Let’s see what the kid (Rodgers) can do, I guess.”

I got over Favre pretty quickly, like someone who was just dumped by their significant other sometimes does.  The first game Rodgers started, at home against the Minnesota Vikings, I was sold.  There was something about Rodgers’ composure and his smarts with the ball that had me utter, out loud, late in the game: “I think we’re going to be OK.”

The following summer when Favre waffled again on retirement and joined the Minnesota Vikings was the dagger.  All I kept thinking while Favre was flirting with the Vikings was “Please Brett, don’t do this.  You can’t be this stupid.  You’d infuriate a very passionate and very large fan base and you’re a close second to Jesus in popularity here in Wisconsin. Don’t do this.”

Well, he did it.

At the point the emotional detachment of me from Favre was complete.  I was always quick with a joke about Favre and wasting no time mocking him on Facebook or Twitter whenever I had the chance.

Have I forgiven him yet? No, but I’m getting there.   Maybe that’s what I can take from “Last Day at Lambeau”—closure.    The issue with the Saints bounty system has almost made me feel sorry for what Favre had to endure in the NFC championship against New Orleans.  Almost.

It was a strange and stressful time for Packer Nation.  We were divided amongst ourselves but thanks to Favre’s actions with the Vikings, we united and as one we worshipped our new hero lead a severely wounded team to the Super Bowl XLV title.

It’s never easy to see your childhood hero’s downfall.   It’s a downfall that arguably should not have occurred.  Thanks to the fumbling PR responses of both Favre and the Packers, a debate has raged in Packer Nation since 2008 and it’s doubtful if it ever will finally be extinguished.

Where we are right now thanks to the stellar play of Aaron Rodgers is as good a time as any for a film like “Last Day at Lambeau.”  Nearly four years have passed, Favre is finally retired and the Packers are a year removed from a Super Bowl title with Rodgers at the helm.  Rodgers has won an NFL MVP to go along with his Super Bowl XLV MVP and continues to cement his own legacy in Titletown.

For saying I’m sick of talking about Favre, I sure did talk a lot about him in this column.  Maybe this film will be the final bookend in the Favre saga and we can finally and totally move on.

To be continued after April 18…..

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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5 Responses to “Last Day at Lambeau: Kris Burke’s Review Preview”

  1. [...] Kris over at All Green Bay Packers has his review of Last Day at Lambeau. [...]

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  2. Shavager says:

    The media was most responsible for driving this story, I blame them for the contempt and disdain aimed at Favre for their constant harassment over “will he, won’t he” retirement talk that overshadowed Favre’s final 3-4 seasons. NEVER FORGET PACKERS FANS: before Favre arrived, GB suffered 30 YEARS of failure–ONLY 5 winning teams in that 30 years and two playoff games. Favre is ONE of the best, even with his tendency for INT’s, QB’s ever to play in NFL much less the Packers. He won more games than any QB in history and MORE Packer games in his first 12 seasons than the ALL the 8 previous starters for the Packers combined, from the end of Bart Starr’s career to Favre’s first start. Packers made the playoffs in 11 of Favre’s 16 seasons after only 2 appearances in the previous 20 years before him. How soon the fans FORGET, those of us who’ve followed the Packers since the Lombardi days appreciate what Brett Favre brought to the Packers after 30 FRUSTRATING YEARS OF FAILURE and ZERO titles in that period. Hats off to Brett Favre, he was a warrior at QB and left nothing on the field.

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    • toolkien says:

      Well, that period of ingnominy the Packers suffered through was before LeRoy Butler came too, so was he responsible for a “turnaround”? It existed before Ron Wolf was hired as GM. It existed before Mike Holmgren was hired as coach. SO WHY DOES FAVRE GET ALL THE CREDIT? And you DO realize that if there had been a 6 seed system prior to 1990, the 1978 and 1989 Packers would have made the playoffs (to go along with ’72 and ’82 – not quite so glum), an element in place that made 1993 a playoff season. More on this sort of stuff below.

      Dan Fouts was “one of the best” to ever play. Warren Moon was one of the best too. So was Fran Tarkenton – “the man” before Marino began to break his records. Now he’s not even in your average fan’s top ten QB’s all time, and Marino himself has slipped down to 7th/8th, and in a few years will be out of the top 10 too). And is Tarkenton loudly revered in Minnesota? People still lighting candles to Fouts’ memory in San Diego? They’re still reasonably respected, but then again a cult of personality never was drummed up around them like it was around Favre.

      Anyway, back to the “before Favre” narrative, it took 3.5 years for Favre to finally “get it”. Favre was nearly benched in 1994 after 2.5 years of Holmgren churning his headphones in his hair before whipping them into the ground (something Favre talks about in his own autobiography circa 1997 – For The Record). During the 7th game of the ’94 season Favre had to come out to recover from a bruise, but the coaches kept Brunell in. It was a Thurday game and the Packers didn’t play against until the following Monday. So what did they do? They kept Brunell in AND BENCHED FAVRE FOR PERFORMANCE. How can this have been? Why has this been stricken from the narrative? But Favre got the start, and he did play pretty well to finish the ’94 season. But it still was a 9-7 season.

      And here’s this, since you are one of the “30 years of misery turned around exclusively by Favre and only Favre” I get to pick whatever period I choose for analysis. Again, it wasn’t until half way through the ’95 season that Favre finally “got it”, 57 games since his arrival via trade. Well it so happens from 1982-1984 is exactly 57 games due to the strike in 1982. So what was the magical difference due exclusively to Favre’s arrival? 32-25 versus 29.5-27.5 record – 2.5 whole, big, wonderfully turned around games. Which era do you think the team scored more points? You guessed it, ’82-’84 the Packers scored 160 MORE points than the first 57 games of the Favre era. Unfortunately they gave up 225 more points on defense. And as you may recall, what did the Packers have other than Dickey/Lofton/Jefferson/Coffman during those years? NOTHING. Compare that era to the Packers. Granted ’92 might have been a little lean, but over the course of time up to ’95 the team was improved MASSIVELY by RON WOLF. Only FOUR players were left by 1995 from the Pre-Favre era – Butler, Ruettgers, Jurkovic (his last season), and Jacke (only TWO of whom were significant contributors to the Super Bowl season). So 92.5% of the roster had turned over by the time the Packers finally made a break to the top of the league, BUT IT WAS ONLY FAVRE THAT MADE IT HAPPEN, 3.5 years in? Along with a near permanent benching in ’94? Yeah, FAVRE turned the team around.

      From the just the previous ten years of terrible offensive lines, poor backfields, mediocre to terrible defenses, bad coaching, bad scheming, bad player recruitment, pretty much everything except Dickey to Lofton/Jefferson or Majkowski to Sharpe was just cruddy. And by ’95 ALL OF THAT was fixed by RON WOLF, but all the credit, via the ’97/’98 rewrite of the narrative, was handed over to Favre by numbskulls. The narrative that sustained over the next years as the Packers were the best team in the NFC in the regular season only to bow out in the playoffs with 4,5,8 offensive turnovers. But since Favre had to get 150% of the 100% total allocable credit, that meant everyone else had to be blamed and marginalized, even the likes of Ahman Green, whose all time leading rusher/gainer form scrimmage in TEAM HISTORY goes ignored by all, all in the name of preserving Favre’s legend and hold on All The Credit.

      So long story short, FAVRE doesn’t get exclusive credit for the turnaround. Only people who are simple minded and easily controlled think so. Favre was a product of legend building to market the NFL. The actual, on field Packer QB Brett Favre had some great years, some good years, some mediocre years, and some bad years. But he was always a PART of what the Packers were doing over the course of the last 20 years. If there is one man that should be given all the credit, IF that MUST be done, it would BOB HARLAN, the man who transformed the Packers enough to entice Ron Wolf to come to Green Bay just four short years after turning down the job in 1987. Harlan took over in 1989, and in two years turned the team around at the highest levels to make the job right for Wolf to come in. And THEN it was WOLF who changed the roster over 90+%, INCLUDING FAVRE, and executed the hiring of Holmgren (who wouldn’t have even THOUGHT about coming to Green Bay without Wolf as GM). Without Holmgren there is no way Favre would have ever been BRETT FAVRE without the West Coast Offense tailored by Holmgren to fit Favre. And of course the PATIENCE the Packers showed in developing Favre was instrumental to his success. Without ANY of that, Favre would have been Bubby Brister 2.0 AT BEST. More than likely, without Harlan/Wolf/Holmgren Favre would have drunk himself out of the NFL in short order and been back at the Broke Spoke regaling the regulars with stories from Atlanta’s third string for beers, biding his time until he could take over as HC of Hancock High from his dad.

      Meanwhile Green Bay, having run through other QB’s like Brunell and then Hasselbeck, and even Aaron Brooks, the Packers very well could have found a different QB to be successful with. For the last 20 years the Packers have turned out starters for other teams with regularity, a testament to Ron Wolf and his disciple Ted Thompson.

      But it was ALL about Brett Favre. Funny how so many “Packer Fans” don’t have enough knowledge of history. If they did they wouldn’t default to the “Favre turned the team around” nonsense.

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  3. toolkien says:

    Since a month has gone by, and on a low flow post/comment section I don’t know if you’ll see this but –

    Allow me to fill in some history from my 16 extra years. Yes indeed the Packers were bad in the Infante Era. Going back to the end of the Lombardi Era, as I was gestating, the greatness was coming to an end. From 1968-1972 the Packers were pretty much mediocre culminating in the division championship behind Brockington and Lane. I was 4 years old and my first Packer memory was wanting to open my Christmas presents as we opened family presents on Christmas Eve and Santa’s on Christmas Day. My dad and brother said we couldn’t as we had to watch the Packers’ game.

    The Packers continued to be bad, and all I remember of anything was the yelling and screaming at the losing. I remember when Starr was hired and the optimism that it brought. But the Packers were still bad. Then the season of 1978 came along, Dickey who had been traded for a couple of years before was out and David Whitehurst was the QB. And the “Pack was Back” and “Gang Green” were the buzzwords as the Packers started out 6-1. But then they fell apart and ended with an 8-7-1 record, tied for the division, but the Vikings won the tie breaker, something that seemed to happen a lot back then. But if there had been 6 seeds, the Packers would have gotten it, something that isn’t thought much of.

    Then Dickey came back and things were pretty good on offense with Dickey, Lofton, Jefferson, and Coffman. But then nothing else was worthy talking about other than an Ezra Johnson here or MAYBE a Gerry Ellis there. Eddie Lee Ivery looked good, but he tended to go out for the year after the third play of the season, so….

    But the Packers passing game was one of the best in the league. Dickey led the league in passing in 1983 and the Packers were 26 yards behind the Chargers for the most yards on offense as a team. But the Defense was terrible, truly terrible, not 2011 mediocre “terrible”. And the Packers were 8-8 just about every season. Start strong then fade, or start slow and end strong.

    Gregg took over for Starr, and after a couple more mediocre seasons, he tore the team apart and turned them into extremely untalented thugs, and if he couldn’t beat the Bears, then I guess he thought he should pay them back for every slight he had to take back from his playing days. 1986 was the absolute nadir of the post Lombardi Era. Nothing redeeming whatsoever. By that time whatever positive there were in the early 80′s was gone at the hand of Gregg.

    Gregg left for SMU and Infante was brought in. But the year before the Packers decided they needed an official GM so they hired Tom Braatz. Ron Wolf could have had the job, but he turned it down. The reason was the job split final decisions with the head coach and Wolf just got over fighting with McKay in Tampa and he wasn’t about to sign up for a second helping. In Infante’s second year, the Packers went 10-6 and would, again, have made the playoffs with six seeds. But the Mandarich draft pick pretty much killed the offense, even though the 1990 draft had several defensive gems and the Packers’ D in 1991 was actually mediocre or even a shade above.

    So that is a recap of The Dark Years. At the beginning, the Packers struggled to find a QB to replace Starr, but the defense was actually pretty good, as was the running game. But the Hadl trade in 1974 ended up being the Herschel Walker Trade 1.0, and you may be too young for either, they are probably the two worst trades in NFL history. By the time the Packers got Dickey, the running game was shot and the defense was poor.

    So what caused all the terribleness? BAD GM’ing, BAD coaching. Dan Devine was a poor judge of talent. Starr was a nice guy, probably one of the best all around people ever, but he didn’t create an environment people wanted to play in. The team was cheap and had old ways and the “townies” interfered too much. Nobody wanted to play there, and by 1987/1988 it became clear no one (of quality) wanted to GM there (Wolf’s refusal) or coach there (Perles’ jilting). But that’s because the Packers were one backward organization run from the top by a “townie”.

    But that all changed when Bob Harlan was promoted to the presidency. Harlan came to the Packers in 1971 and moved on up until he was second in command of the entire organization under Parins. When Parins moved on, Harlan moved up, the first non-townie president. This was critical to the Packers’ turnaround.

    Since Lambeau was ousted in 1949, except for the brief period that Lombardi called pretty much all the shots in the 60′s, local dopes tried to rule an NFL franchise as the whole league got bigger and bigger and more complicated. By 1989, teams like the 70′s Cowboys and the 80′s 49ers showed the rest of the NFL how to run an organization. The townies finally had an epiphany that they needed a real NFL person to run the operation.

    That is when Harlan stepped in. In two short years he revamped the Packers’ management structure, sewed the seeds for new revenue streams, and built the Packers fine facilities to make them competitive. It was these changes that convinced Wolf to come on board in 1991, after Harlan fired Braatz.

    And there is The Turnaround at its beginning. Harlan begat Wolf, Wolf begat Holmgren (a caliber HC that the Packers just were not in the running for until a Wolf, and his 30 year pedigree came to the organization). And Wolf and Holmgren begat Favre – after 3+ years anyway. It was Wolf who changed over the roster 95% by 1996, with only two pre-1992 players a part of the Super Bowl – Jacke and Butler. No offense to kickers, but therefore there only ONE starting, play to play starter left by 1996 from before Wolf/Holmgren/Favre.

    As for Favre’s place in The Turnaround? Consider the bright spots of The Dark Years, especially the last decade – ’81-91. Dickey and Majkowski both had 4,000+ yards seasons back when that was an accomplishment. All the Packers had were passing games with Dickey and Majkowski and Lofton and Sharpe. EVERYTHING else was mediocre to bad – defenses, RB’s, offensive lines, coaching, scheming – just all below average. So Favre being able to throw the ball wasn’t the greatest thing to turn around. The offensive lines got better, the defense went from the bottom quarter of the league to the top quarter after White came, the RB’s were improved and were perfect for Holmgren’s WCO system, the coaching and scheming were very good to great (7 assistant coaches went on to be head coaches somewhere, to varying success). Perhaps the only SLIGHT retrograde was in the WR’s, with Sharpe = Lofton, and West/Harris = Coffman, the only retrograde was Jefferson > Brooks. EVVERYTHING else improved from The Dark Years once Harlan, Wolf, and Holmgren were on the seen. ONE of those improvements was Favre.

    And it was Favre who nearly benched in 1994 as the team was decently improved by then but still clinging to the playoff borderline. Brunell, he of a 45-19 record, two pro-bowls, and two AFC Championship games from 1996-1999 was in the chamber behind Favre in 1994 and could have taken over from there. So not only was there decent QB’ing the prior 10 years, just stuck behind terrible offensive lines, there was REPLACEMENT VALUE through 1994.

    It is rarely remembered, but Favre had a 78 QB rating at that near benching, and in a WCO scheme that is poor. Favre did have a nice ending to the ’94 season to raise his rating to 83, but for the first half of 1995 he was pushing sideways on that 83 rating and the Packers were 5-4, still on that playoff borderline. THEN Favre stopped throwing the ball to the other team, and without anything else changing mid-95, the PACKERS FINALLY were elite. It took Favre, and pretty much ONLY FAVRE to stop making mistakes and the Packers instantly went from the playoff borderline to elite. 95% personnel changeover, Favre surviving the ’94 near benching, and after another year he finally “got it” and things were great all around for the next 3 years. But it stands that Favre was a DRAG CHUTE through mid-’94, not the single and only cause for The Turnaround.

    And finally, Favre gets all the credit by the lazy for the Super Bowl, people rarely consider that not only did the Packers score the most (breaking the then franchise record set by the Dickey led Packers in ’83) but THEY GAVE UP THE LEAST ON DEFENSE. The only team in the 40 years to score the most and give up the least, since the ’72 undefeated Dolphins. So even that ONE championship was hardly ALL due to Favre. He contributed, and he was great for the mid-’90′s, but he DID NOT turn the Packers around, as relatively simple analyses show, nor did he single handedly win the Super Bowl. In fact, during that playoff run that led to the only championship, Desmond Howard (IMO) was the MVP of the divisional game, Dorsey Levens was the MVP of the NFC Championship game, and of course Howard was the official MVP of the Super Bowl. In every other “playoff run” Favre average 34+ attempts. In 1996, he averge 24 attempts, with no game even over 30. The post season Favre had the LEAST impact was the one that resulted in a championship. Yet he is given ALL the credit for The Turnaround and the Super Bowl.

    And THEN he acts like he’s above the team circa 2005. He says that if Sherman is fired he probably won’t come back “because he doesn’t want to learn a new playbook”. He lets loose with a “cut me” in 2006, a “trade me” in 2007 when his hand selected free agent deal doesn’t go through. Favre thought he should be the de facto GM. For ONE championship that he was a PART of statistically and that’s about it. The TEAM had Brunell and Hasselbeck and eventually Rodgers along the way, but it was Favre and ONLY FAVRE that could EVER do anything positive.

    He WAS a legend. And all that fact dropping hype that goes with it. Favre is indeed a HoF’er – a Foutsian/Moonian HoF’er who was blessed with one of the best teams of the modern era in 1996, and also blessed to have had Harlan, Wolf, and Holmgren in the chain of command above him. But his arrogance led him to burn his legacy.

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