What becomes a nemesis most?
In Green Bay, the news of Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s surprise decision to retire after 17 NFL seasons did more than spark a Wisconsin-wide day of mourning. It accomplished something that, early in this 21st century, generally is considered impossible: It sold newspapers.
The local Press-Gazette, banking on one of the few advantages left for newsprint over pixels and bytes, pounced by throwing together a holdable, foldable keepsake, suitable for time capsules and future generations of little Bretts.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel went heavy on its website, skipping the “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” route now mostly limited to old movies.
Heavy hearts, happy memories
From the reactions of fans on its message boards, along with callers to talk radio shows in the state, it was clear this was a day for both heavy hearts and happy reminiscing:
• Paul, Mauston, Wis: “The arrival of Brett Favre in Green Bay put a has-been team back on the map. . . . You will be missed but never forgotten.”
• Brett, Appleton, Wis: “Brett Favre didn’t play the game for the money; he played because he truly loved the game. All too often this does not happen anymore in the NFL.”
• Jack, Sioux Falls, S.D.: “But [the] thing I loved most about Brett’s career is his overall record vs. the Bears.”
• Sharon, Mukwonago, Wis.: “A truly sad day for me. My favorite memory will always be the Oakland game after his father passed away. He gave so much of himself to the Packers.”
And on and on they went, half eulogies, half gratitude.
Minnesota: Let the partying begin
In Minnesota, the reaction was a little more snarky. Schadenfreude, actually, would be a better description. A German word but not in heavy rotation in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Oshkosh or any of the other surrounding communities, it means “taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.” And that, let’s face it, is how a lot of diehard Vikings fans felt upon learning the news that their favorite team’s most hated rival was losing its best player.
“Today . . . was a good day,” wrote someone nicknamed Gonzo on one Vikings message board. “I would just like to use this space to talk about Brett Favre and his impending retirement with all the dignity and respect he deserves.
“Crickets chirping. Tumbleweed blows through.
“There. Done. That was easy. (What, you thought I was going to talk with respect and admiration about a person I have no respect or admiration for? Not a chance.”
Over at Vikings Underground, if Favre’s decision to end his Hall of Fame-worthy career was some sort of grave, users of the fan forum were dancing in double-time:
• 9:14 a.m.: “Everyone is too excited to type.”
• 9:15 a.m.: “I tell my Packer friends, welcome to the Anthony Dilweg/Randy Wright/Don Majkowski era again.”
• 9:16 a.m.: “I hear there is a call out for Lynn Dickey.”
• 9:23 a.m.: “Some Cheesehead on the radio says he’s excited because Aaron Rodgers [Favre’s backup] will be GREAT. Uh-huh.”
• 9:30 a.m.: “Obviously Favre will be remembered for his QB skills / too bad he had such an immature attitude for so long.”
• 9:35 a.m.: “Thank you for all the fun times watching you make my Packer wife happy. . . . Thank you for all the entertainment when we saw you throw some inexplicable pass to lose a game. . . . Thank you, Brett, for RETIRING!”
Rivalries need heroes and villains
And so it went. One team’s tragedy is another team’s comedy. Sad face, happy face. We sometimes forget that, in the zero-sum world of sports, every highlight for one club is a lowlight for another. The more heated the rivalry, the higher the stakes and the greater the familiarity with certain heroes and villains, the greater the divergence between your sorrow and my joy.
For every fan in Chicago who cried when Michael Jordan retired the first time and sighed when he exited the second time (Bulls fans treat his third departure, from Washington, the way most film buffs treat “Godfather III”), there were a dozen more in New York, Cleveland and Utah who were glad to see him go.
When Kirby Puckett’s career was abruptly ended by glaucoma and the loss of vision in his right eye, as cuddly and contagious as Puck was back then, there were fans of other teams who were glad their guys didn’t have to face him anymore. That’s sports, where respect and admiration carry the day in the national coverage but love — and sometimes hate — are the passions that pulse closer to home.
Since 1992, Vikings fans have felt the sting of Favre’s play against their team and the 54 touchdowns passes (of his career total of 442) that he threw against Minnesota’s secondary. In the teams’ first meeting this season, he broke Dan Marino’s NFL record for career touchdown passes and, in the second, he passed the 60,000-yards passing threshold on his way to another lifetime mark. Green Bay won those games, six weeks apart, by a combined score of 57-16.
The news that broke Tuesday — and had more Vikings fans than Packers fans wondering if Favre might eventually change his mind again — did not do one thing to improve the personnel at Winter Park, the Vikings’ headquarters. It didn’t change the fact that, while Favre was showing up for 253 consecutive regular-season starts, Minnesota was running 14 different men out there to take snaps.
But it meant that the Packers no longer had that edge on them and, for a day, that was enough.