The moment has arrived for the Village Idiot and the quarterback he rode in on.
Yes, they make quite the pair, Ted Thompson and Aaron Rodgers. Both knowing they already have been largely vindicated and both resisting the temptation to gloat about it.
And perhaps that's just because they are waiting on the final door to slam. For if the Packers win Super Bowl XLV against the Steelers this evening, the decisions and reputations of Thompson and Rodgers will forever be secure in Green Bay and the NFL.
No longer will Thompson, the Packers general manager, be known as the idiot who chased Brett Favre out of Green Bay. And no longer will Rodgers, the quarterback, be the guy who stood between Favre and his final chance for glory at Lambeau Field.
"We all knew we were at a moment in history that doesn't happen often. Nobody wants to be known as the guy who traded Brett Favre away," said Packers president Mark Murphy. "We had confidence in Aaron, but you never know in the NFL how things will turn out."
And so how did it turn out for the Packers?
"I'm really glad," Murphy said with a grin, "that Aaron is a good player."
• • •
Marty Domres was an Ivy League quarterback with a handful of starts when history arrived at his door. It was midway through the 1972 season when new Colts owner Robert Irsay fired coach Don McCafferty after a 1-4 start and put John Sandusky in charge. That week, Sandusky benched Johnny Unitas and named Domres his starting quarterback. Domres would go 8-16 as a starter during parts of the next three seasons. He left Baltimore and never won another game as a starting QB in the NFL.
• • •
Start with this concept:
You're replacing an icon.
Then add this caveat:
The icon can still play.
Now you can understand the pressure Rodgers and Thompson were under in Green Bay in 2008. Rodgers had been in the league for three years and had thrown one touchdown pass. During that same time, Favre had been breaking records, polishing his legend and taking the Packers a heartbeat away from the Super Bowl just a few months earlier.
This wasn't replacing a broken-down Unitas. This wasn't taking over for John Elway after he decided to retire. This was a quarterback with tread still on the tires and with a lot of resentment about being pushed out the door.
There were billboards in Green Bay criticizing the Packers for not welcoming Favre back. There were entire websites devoted to the cause. There were screeds on radio and in print. Which might explain why, 30 months later, Thompson still doesn't discuss it.
"We've moved on from that a long time ago," Thompson said. "There's a lot of difficulties you go through in this job, and that was one of them."
• • •
The hope was that Scott Hunter was a Bart Starr clone. A cerebral dropback QB from Alabama plucked late in the draft. The reality was far different. Hunter started much of his rookie season in 1971 when Starr and Zeke Bratkowski were injured. He took over for good in '72 with Starr sticking around as his QB coach and offensive play-caller. Hunter took Green Bay to the playoffs in 1972 but was gone by the end of '73 and bounced around the NFL the rest of his career.
• • •
What's important to remember now, with the benefit of hindsight, is that the decision was not about Favre.
Naturally, it impacted Favre. And, obviously, it changed the path of his career. But it was more about keeping Rodgers than jettisoning Favre. If Rodgers wasn't on the roster, and wasn't so talented, and wasn't a year away from packing his bags and looking for a new team, then Green Bay would have wooed Favre more heavily when he was in his annual will-I-or-won't-I-retire mode.
Instead, the Packers understood the long-term future of the franchise was at stake. Now maybe the 2008 season in Green Bay would be better served with Favre instead of Rodgers, but Thompson was looking beyond that.
And what he saw was a quarterback who had flawless mechanics. A quarterback with a superb arm and the mobility to extend plays. A quarterback with leadership potential and a penchant for study.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the guy could throw the ball 100 yards because I've seen him throw passes 60 yards that were like a rope 6 feet off the ground," said Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. "He is very impressive."
The Packers agreed.
There was only one question:
Could he actually play?
• • •
Jay Fiedler was more like a hired gun. The Dolphins didn't draft him. They didn't groom him. They signed him to a three-year, $3.8 million contract shortly before Dan Marino retired. And by most accounts, Fiedler was a fine quarterback. He went 36-23 in four years in Miami and took the Dolphins to the playoffs twice. And still, the perception is he fell short. Why? Because he wasn't Marino.
• • •
It looked like a disaster.
The Packers were 13-3 in Favre's last season and went to overtime in the NFC Championship Game before finally losing to the Giants. The next season, with Rodgers in charge, the Packers dropped to 6-10, and that included two wins against 0-16 Detroit.
"I just wanted to be honest the entire time. It was a difficult situation. It was tough to stand up every day in front of the media, not knowing what questions were coming at me and how the fans were going to react that day in practice," Rodgers said. "But the whole time, the organization stood by me, and they told the truth, and I told the truth, and we moved on together."
By the end of 2008, as rough as their record was, the Packers knew they had something with Rodgers. Maybe they could have won more games with Favre that season, but they were going to benefit in seasons to come.
Since taking over as a starter, Rodgers, 27, has a 99.4 passer rating. That's better than Drew Brees. Better than Peyton Manning. Better than every quarterback not named Philip Rivers or Tom Brady, and, yes, that includes Favre.
"He is still growing, still getting better," said Thompson. "I think we'll be able to write all the history about him 10, 12 or 15 years from now."
• • •
Steve Young sat behind a legend for years. And when an elbow injury finally pushed Joe Montana out of the lineup, Young was ready to go. The only problem is he went 5-5 and got hurt in his first season as the 49ers quarterback. A year later, Young was the best quarterback in the NFL. Two years after that, he won the Super Bowl. He went from replacing a Hall of Famer to becoming a Hall of Famer.
• • •
He couldn't do it alone.
Rodgers had the organization behind him. He had his family behind him. And when he needed advice, he would pick up the phone and call the one man in the world who could help him.
He called Steve Young.
Packers vs. Steelers
6:30 tonight, Arlington, Texas TV/radio: Ch. 13; 1010-AM Line: Packers by 21/2