The lightning striking directly over Lambeau Field was nothing compared to the storm rolling in behind it.
Somewhere in that ominous sky, beside his wife and agent on a Cessna twin-jet plane in the early evening of Aug. 3, 2008, Brett Favre believed he had a chance, however slim, to be a Green Bay Packer again.
Yeah, I was hoping, the legendary quarterback said this week, addressing reporters at Minnesota Vikings headquarters.
But I understood that this may not go that way. So, yes yes and no, is probably the best way to put it.
Yes and no. The definition of the dilemma in that acrimonious offseason.
Its why Favre was on that plane at that moment, preparing to land at Austin Straubel International Airport as his old teammates waited out the weather delaying the Packers Family Night scrimmage.
What followed was the strangest 3 days in the months-long saga and some of the stranger days of off-field drama in NFL history.
A team that had moved on without its iconic player, convinced another late-season fade meant that, at 38, he no longer could win a championship.
A future Pro Football Hall of Famer, less than five months removed from tearfully announcing his retirement, suddenly hell-bent on playing an 18th NFL season.
A media stakeout worthy of a hostage situation, as Favre returned to his fall home of 16 years, seemingly destined to make a push to recapture his old starting job, only to emerge from a two-day powwow and return home to Mississippi, then end up a New York Jet by the end of the week.
Weve never seen anything like it, said Mike Florio, editor of the influential blog profootballtalk.com. Our heroes occasionally embarrass themselves physically, (but) this was a slow-motion embarrassment from Brett Favre, from the standpoint of his indecisiveness and his inability to keep his word to himself.
The guy blows hot and cold. The guys emotional, and when he thinks he doesnt want to play anymore, he truly believes it. His problem is, he should have learned by now that he cant believe himself.
At 1:39 p.m. on Aug. 5, Favre drove away from Lambeau Field in a black Cadillac Escalade. Fans and reporters sprinted to catch the moment, springing themselves from their perches atop SUVs and the metal fence bordering the south loading dock.
This was it. Favres final exit. The last time the legend would be seen in the stadium his success helped to build.
Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008
The final countdown began in earnest on the afternoon of Aug. 3, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Favre from the reserve/retired list and Favre boarded the chartered flight from Hattiesburg, Miss.
A short time later, the Packers issued the crossed the Rubicon statement from their president and CEO, Mark Murphy, who said Favre had put the organization in a very difficult spot.
But the battle had been waged on and off for months, largely through media reports fueled by anonymous leaks from the Favre camp about the quarterbacks increasing interest in ending his retirement.
It reached a head on July 12 a day after Favres formal request for his release was denied when Packers General Manager Ted Thompson held a series of one-on-one interviews with the teams beat reporters to tell his side of the story.
In those sit-down sessions, as well as an Associated Press interview with coach Mike McCarthy the same day, the Packers said Favre would be welcome to return, but not as the unquestioned starter, and presented a timeline that included a revelation that Favre reneged on a decision to end his retirement less than a month after he announced it in early March.
Favre and his ever-influential family were incensed by what they viewed as a distorted version of the facts being presented. It was the quarterbacks wife, Deanna, who fired off an e-mail around 8 p.m. Eastern that same night to Fox News host Greta Van Susteren.
The next day, Van Susteren flew to Mississippi and conducted the infamous interview, shown in several parts over the coming days, in which Favre said McCarthy had told him he wasnt welcome back, painted Thompson as a liar and suggested he was forced into retirement.
All of which had tensions high long before Favre landed in Ashwaubenon at 7:06 p.m. that August evening three weeks later.
Roughly 200 fans held signs and cheered as Favre followed Deanna and his agent, James Bus Cook, onto the tarmac and thousands more including some teammates, who were waiting out the storm in the locker room watched the scene unfold live on local television.
When he came back, I thought he was back on the team, nose tackle Ryan Pickett said this week. He came to work.
Favre smiled and waved, but his mood soon turned. According to several sources among the dozens of interviews the Press-Gazette conducted at the time and in the 15 months since, Favre had grown increasingly frustrated when he couldnt get McCarthy or Thompson to return his calls during the day. Then, upon reaching Lambeau Field, he was barred from entering the locker room or going onto the field, further stoking his anger.
Things werent much better for his successor, Aaron Rodgers, a source close to whom told the Press-Gazette earlier in the day that, if Favre indeed returned, is going to be hot.
On the field, with Favre watching part of the scrimmage from a luxury box, Rodgers was ice cold, getting booed lightly when he was introduced as the Packers new starting quarterback and at one point throwing nine consecutive incompletions. The crowd of 56,600 began to boo again, far more roundly and loudly, a handful of plays before Rodgers threw an interception to end the starting offenses 2-minute drill.
Through the entire process last summer, 95 percent of it was out of my control, Rodgers said this week. The things I could control was getting ready to play. Everything I was hearing from the organization was that I was going to be the guy, so until I heard differently, that was going to be my focus.
But even that seemed in doubt as McCarthy prepared to meet with Favre and discuss whether a reunion was possible. Though the Packers had committed to Rodgers and stood by him throughout the drama, sources said they at least had warmed to the possibility of Favre competing for the job once he filed for reinstatement.
A team meeting was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday, followed by an 8:15 p.m. media conference to discuss the situation.
Neither took place.
Monday, Aug. 4, 2008
The meeting between Favre and McCarthy began at 6 p.m. It was about 8:40 when the Packers director of public relations, Jeff Blumb, stepped to the podium and read a prepared statement to a nearly standing-room-only crowd in the Lambeau Field media auditorium.
Theyre still talking, and I dont know how much longer its going to go, Blumb said. What does it mean? It just means that theyre still talking.
They continued talking, well past the allotted 90 minutes, as they sat across from one another in McCarthys third-floor office, face to face for the first time since the press conference five months earlier.
According to sources, the discussion was heated at times, with both sides airing grievances from the previous months. McCarthy presented a plan in which Favre could compete with Rodgers for the starting job an opportunity about which sources close to Favre said the quarterback had become excited before he departed for Green Bay.
But it was apparent to both that Favres anger, his mounting bitterness after so many months of being rejected by a team that clearly preferred he stay retired, was overwhelming.
Favres cell phone rang repeatedly as Deanna called for updates, and McCarthy never heard the words for which he was waiting before letting Favre rejoin the team: that he definitely wanted to play in 2008, definitely wanted to be a Packer and was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen.
Instead, Favre said he wanted to be the starter for the Packers or be traded within the NFC North Division; McCarthy told him repeatedly neither was an option. Favre even hedged on the idea of a comeback, wondering aloud how it would look if he stayed retired perhaps accepting the 10-year personal-services contract worth $20 million to $25 million that sources said he seriously considered taking the previous week after the media frenzy his indecision had created.
I think Brett's view of what reinstatement meant was different than what my view of reinstatement meant, McCarthy said in a media conference days later. Because Ive said all along, and we talked about this openly, I never thought that he was really going to play this year. I thought there was a number of things going through his head he was in a different mindset for a number of different reasons.
A gathering of reporters and a few fans watched as Favre and McCarthy left Lambeau Field in separate vehicles at 11:22 p.m. Favre waved but refused to speak.
Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008
Favre broke his silence sometime the next morning.
A story posted on ESPNs Web site at 11:52 a.m. quoted Favre apparently speaking during a break in a second round of meetings with McCarthy and Thompson as saying the sides were at a stalemate. Favre again accused the Packers of planting false stories in the media, expressed anger about the tampering investigation against the Vikings that Goodell dismissed the previous day and categorized the personal-services contract as a bribe to stay retired.
So they can say they welcome me back but, come on, the way theyve treated me tells you the truth, Favre says. They dont want me back, so lets move on. I dont know where its headed. Well see.
It was apparent at that point Favre wouldnt be joining the Packers for their 2 p.m. practice, as had appeared a virtual certainty less than 48 hours earlier, even as fans arrived early to stake out spots along the fence at Clarke Hinkle Field and the media hovered near the loading dock, where Favres Escalade was parked in plain view.
At one point, Favre was in the locker room and bumped into linebacker Nick Barnett, who this week categorized his old teammates disposition as happy, enthused. Same old Brett.
But it was a different Favre who emerged on the loading dock at 1:37 p.m., wearing a white shirt and gray camouflage shorts, with ESPNs Rachel Nichols at his side.
At that point, it had been a long day, Nichols recalled this week. I think he had come to Green Bay still thinking something would get worked out. But the impression I got then was that he was resigned to the fact it just wasnt going to happen.
I dont think anybody had Brett or Mike McCarthy, who I know hed been talking to that day nobody could be sure what was about to happen, because every time it seemed like something was going to, 10 minutes later it was different.
So, off Favre went, after hugging Packers senior security adviser Jerry Parins goodbye and climbing into the Escalade. Once again, Favre waved to the throng as he passed but said nothing.
A vehicle carrying Murphy and Thompson departed the loading dock a few minutes later and headed the same direction west, toward Ridge Road and the Favre family home, where they spent an hour in a last-ditch effort to resolve the situation. Once both sides restated their stances, though, the conversation progressed to where Favre might be traded, and negotiations with the Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers soon heated up.
Meanwhile, practice began without McCarthy, and with a small but vocal group chanting We want Favre. The group cheered each Rodgers interception, while other fans tried to shout them down.
You thought they were going to fight, outside linebacker Aaron Kampman recalled. They were chanting. It was like going to an away game. That was the only time where thats what I mean, bizarre. It was just like, really? This is really something.
Some players visibly were shaken, Rodgers had his worst practice of camp and later, in the locker room, where a FAVRE nameplate had been affixed over the quarterbacks old locker, veterans Al Harris and Charles Woodson all but publicly demanded a team official finally answer the relentless questions coaches had advised them to dodge.
Whatevers going on, I hope the organization can go ahead and can get it out of our hair and out of our heads, because thats the way it seems to us, Harris said. Everybody in the locker room is like, its on us. And we dont know what the hells going on.
They found out the next day.
Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008
Despite a strong desire to remain within the division, Favre had dropped that demand in hopes of landing with the Bucs, who had a familiar coach (former Packers assistant Jon Gruden), a familiar offensive system, a 2007 playoff berth in pocket and a close proximity to Favres Mississippi home.
A source close to Favre said Favres message to Cook was clear get the deal done to Tampa and Gruden spoke with Favre on the phone before heading to bed, convinced the legendary quarterback would be a Buc.
My understanding was we had it done, Gruden said in September. Bruce Allen (then the Bucs general manager) was working with Ted Thompson in terms of compensation. I really dont think any of us knew there was another partner to get involved at that stage of game. It was seven or eight or 10 days deep in training camp.
We were both thrown a curveball. I think both of us thought, Brett and I, that we were going to get the deal done.
There were multiple problems for Thompson with that scenario, though.
For one, sources said the Bucs were offering slightly less than the Jets, who ended up giving what amounted to a third-round draft pick that escalated to a second-rounder. Also, Thompson, who spent most of the day on the couch in negotiator Russ Balls office, had no interest in having Favre in the NFC, much less on the Packers schedule, as the Bucs were on Sept. 28.
That left the Jets whom one source said had nearly completed a trade for Favre on Aug. 1, two days before the quarterback flew to Green Bay to try to convince Favre he belonged in the Big Apple. Otherwise, Favre might refuse to report, voiding the trade.
He had flown home at 12:25 p.m., ending any fleeting thoughts that he might show up for practice in an effort to force the Packers hand, and perhaps cause enough of a disruption that a trade to Minnesota would be in play after all.
Instead, the Jets were mounting an all-out blitz by Wednesday evening, with owner Woody Johnson, GM Mike Tannenbaum and then-coach Eric Mangini making strong pitches to Favre and his family. Selling points included the Jets free-agent additions, including offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Damien Woody, as well as 1,000 acres of land owned by Johnson near the Jets training facility on which the owner told Favre he could hunt anytime.
In the last few hours, they really sold him on the idea, a source said. They actually made him feel more wanted there.
Thompson and Tannenbaum finalized a little before 11 p.m., and Murphy signed off on it. Jay Glazer of foxsports.com broke the story minutes later, and the Packers announced it with a joint statement at 11:30 from Murphy and Thompson, saying they respect Bretts decision that he could no longer remain here as a Packer and wishing him and his family well.
In the end, Favre got his wish.
After one injury-marred season with the Jets, a second retirement and another highly publicized offseason drama, Favre signed a two-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings on Aug. 18.
A TV helicopter trailed Vikings coach Brad Childress SUV as he picked up Favre and Deanna from the airport. National reporters descended on the teams suburban headquarters as Favre, less than two months from his 40th birthday, stood and said this had nothing to do with revenge, nothing to do with what transpired on those strange summer nights in 2008.
Im not saying Green Bay lacked loyalty toward Brett Favre or Brett Favre lacked loyalty toward the Packers, Gruden said. But this was handled in one of the strangest fashions Id ever seen. I felt like I was watching a soap opera during training camp. Is he coming? Is he going? I just dont know that the timing of this thing was appropriate.
That a guy like this would go in the middle of the night to play for the New York Jets. And then suddenly re-unretire to play for the Vikings against the Packers. I sense some bad blood here.
Favre made a curious statement to reporters after he landed in Mississippi the day of the trade, saying I didnt think Id be up there too long a seeming admission he always viewed the trade as the most likely option when he flew to Green Bay.
He never expected that pit stop in New York. Then again, he never expected any of this.
The Packers surely didnt either, especially not Favres willingness to force a trade even if he didnt use his final piece of leverage by demanding to practice and refusing to accept a trade anywhere but Minnesota.
It was a game of chicken, Florio said. Thats what it was, plain and simple, was a game of chicken. At the end of the day, Brett Favre is the one who blinked.
The trade to New York included a poison pill that would have given the Packers three first-round picks if the Jets traded Favre back into the NFC North. That clause became null when the Jets did something the Packers never would have, and granted Favres release on April 28.
On Sunday, one of the greatest players in Packers history will lead their bitter rivals into Lambeau Field.
The storm isnt over just yet.