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Saturday, November 21, 2009 1:52:09 AM(UTC)
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Retired Green Bay Packers President Bob Harlan has missed just two home games at Lambeau Field in the past 37 years.
The first came in 2003 when he underwent cancer surgery. The second was earlier this month when Harlan couldnt bear to see Brett Favre face the Packers.
I just didnt want to watch him coming out of that tunnel in a Minnesota uniform, said Harlan, who was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame Friday in Milwaukee.
Hes probably still going to go down as the greatest player we ever had, and I will forever appreciate the 16 years he gave us. So Id just rather not watch him play against us. Thats the easiest way for me to handle it.
Count Harlan among the many Packers backers struggling with the idea of Favre joining forces with the bitter NFC North rivals from Minnesota. But Harlan hasnt resorted to finger pointing.
I talk to people who went to the game at Lambeau and they said you were probably smart not to go because the booing got pretty loud and it probably would have gotten to you, and it probably would have, Harlan said. So I just made up my mind. I told my wife when the schedule came out, I said those are two games Im just not going to watch, and I havent.
Harlan and his wife, Madeline, went to Door County during both Packers-Vikings games this season and didnt watch or listen to the broadcasts.
Harlan is indebted to Favre for the role he played in turning the Packers franchise around in the 1990s. But he also feels the tug of loyalty toward the organization and refuses to blame the Packers leadership team for trading Favre last year.
Some believe the parting of Favre and the Packers never would have occurred under Harlan, who retired in January 2008, or at the very least, would have been handled better.
Ive always said, since I wasnt a part of it, I just dont feel its fair to the other people to make any comment, Harlan said. I dont think its fair to Ted (Thompson) or to Mike (McCarthy) or to Mark Murphy. They did what they felt was best for the Green Bay Packers. Youve got to honor that. And for me to get into that discussion just isnt a fair thing to do.
This isnt the first time Harlan has seen a former beloved player or coach come back to haunt the Packers.
I had a little bit of trouble the first time we faced Mike Holmgren when he was coaching in Seattle, and even seeing Reggie White at Carolina, I wasnt real fond of it, Harlan said.
But Favre is different, perhaps because he was the face of the franchise for so long, or because of the bitter rivalry between Green Bay and Minnesota.
I handled (Favre playing for) the Jets a lot better than I handled the Vikings, Harlan said. I can watch a Jets game. I can watch Brett play against anybody else. I just dont want to watch him play against us.
When Favre announced his retirement at a tearful press conference in March 2008, Harlan was convinced the quarterbacks playing days were over.
You know what, I sat with Brett and Deanna in a back room for about 15 minutes just before they went out for that press conference at Lambeau Field, Harlan recalled. I got the feeling about both of them, they were both very tired and very tense. It was almost like Brett didnt want to be Brett Favre anymore. He wanted to go off and live a quiet life and that was it. So when he broke down so early in the press conference, I wasnt surprised because I thought he was very sincere about retiring.
The two previous years when he pondered it, I kept telling people Im sure hes going to come back because hes such a great competitor, but sitting with him in that room that day, I was convinced he was finished. Its turned out differently obviously. I dont wish him ill will or anything, but I love this franchise too much to be able to sit and watch him in a Minnesota uniform against us.
Harlan maintains an office at Lambeau Field just down the hall from the one he used to occupy during his days as head of the organization. As chairman emeritus, he makes occasional appearances for the organization and spends most Saturdays at Lambeau answering mail and returning phone calls.
Harlan has made a point of not showing up at the stadium during normal business hours. I just dont think its right to be in the hallways at that time, he said. I just think it sends a bad message. I felt that way before I ever retired and Ive never changed my feeling. I just think theres a time and place for me to be there, and I think thats on the weekends when its quiet.
Harlan has offered advice to his successor, Murphy, but only when Murphy has asked for it. I think Marks done a very good job leading us, he said.
Harlans faith in Thompson as general manager hasnt wavered.
Im sure Ted went through extra strain because of what happened with Brett, Harlan said.
A couple years ago when we were 13-3, he was the NFL executive of the year. He hasnt fallen off a cliff since that happened. Hes a talented evaluator. Hes surrounded by a very capable staff. Its a tough league, its a tough job, but I think both he and Mike are capable people. Im very comfortable with that leadership and I have great faith that theyre going to get it done.
Harlan will continue to watch home games in a team suite at Lambeau with Packers front office executives John Dorsey, Reggie McKenzie and John Schneider, and road games on television.
That is, unless the Packers and Vikings meet again in the playoffs. Then the best place to find Harlan will be somewhere in Door County, with the radio and television turned off.
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