When Brett Favre goes to Lambeau Field tomorrow, it will be a situation utterly unprecedented in the history of American professional sports. This is the first time I can ever think of where you have an athlete, still in the prime of his career, who is inextricably identified with a team, returning to his old haunting grounds with an archrival. Even in the age of free agency, where we've become accustomed to the idea that everything is strictly business, this is extreme. But Red Sox fans can come as close as anyone to identifying with what Packer fans are feeling right now. We saw both Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon return to Fenway Park in a Yankee uniform.
From 1986-96, Roger Clemens defined the Boston Red Sox. This was still when loving the Red Sox was in its developing phase for me. I liked the Sox, and as a God-fearing American, wanted them to finally win the World Series, but they weren't my favorite team. But affection was building with each passing year and Clemens was my favorite player in baseball. When I finally came out of the closet and accepted baptism into Red Sox Nation in the winter of 1996, it was devastating to see him leave for Toronto. When he eventually ended up with the Yanks, won two World Series (1999-2000) and announced his first retirement in 2003, Sox fans gave him a standing ovation when he departed the mound in September '03 in what looked to be his final start in Fenway (he would return for a start in the ALCS that season). By the time he came back again in 2007, the bloom was off the rose and we were all a little cynical about him.
Johnny Damon left after the 2005 season and went directly to New York, spurning Boston for an extra year on the contract and a few extra million. Upon his return the following May, there was a little bit of applause, but mostly boos. A harsh homecoming for the man whose long hair and rock-star persona was part of defining the "Idiots", and whose grand slam in Game 7 of the '04 ALCS remains one of the team's great moments in history.
I was doing a now-defunct strictly Red Sox blog in 2006, and I advocated giving Damon a hand when he returned. He gave the Sox fair effort throughout the term of his contract and played hurt in the final year, when a lot of players might have saved themselves for impending free agency. I do understand, however, the logic of fans who booed him. Once you cross certain lines it's tough to go back.
I'm from Wisconsin originally and Favre is a divisive issue. I'm on his side. But I hope even those that aren't will recognize what he meant to the state and the Green Bay Packers while he was there. This is a team that was a laughingstock before he got there and they were the NFL's winningest team when he was at the helm. And while Aaron Rodgers has played well in his stead, let's candidly note that the Packers have yet to prove they can win without Favre. And no reasonable person could deny that Favre gave his team everything he had while he was there and under contract. I hope he gets a standing ovation when he comes out of the tunnel tomorrow.
There's no reason to expect that reaction, in fact I'm convinced it will be otherwise. And no one can really claim to understand the conflicting emotions true Packer fans (of which I am obviously not one, as this blog indicates) in this situation. I won't sit on judgement of Packerland if they boo him. But they might want to remember all the good times #4 gave them for 16 long seasons.