How did the Packers get here?

With the Green Bay Packers getting ready to face the Bears in the NFC Championship Game this weekend, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on a franchise that was in a serious state of flux as recently as two-and-a-half years ago, when Aaron Rodgers took the reins from Brett Favre.

Ted Thompson is the man who made that call (and countless others) over the past six years, so he’s ultimately responsible for the Packer roster as it stands. A roster that is playing very good football and has enough depth to withstand 15 players on injured reserve, including starters Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, Ryan Grant, Brandon Chillar and Mark Tauscher.

Let’s go year-by-year and look at each draft, along with any major transaction that Thompson made.

2005

Thompson took over in January of 2005, with the Packers coming off a 10-6 season and a first round loss to the Vikings at Lambeau Field. Mike Sherman was stripped of his personnel duties, and Thompson was brought in to call the shots.

The 2005 season was a rough one. The Packers went 4-12. Favre tossed 29 interceptions and the Packers were 31st in turnover ratio. It was an excruciating season as Green Bay was just 1-5 in games decided by three points or less. Part of the problem was Thompson’s unwillingness to pay free agent (and Pro Bowl) guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. The O-line struggled, and so did the Packers.

Here’s a look at that Thompson’s ’05 draft: (1) Aaron Rodgers, (2) Nick Collins, (2) Terrence Murphy, (4) Marviel Underwood, (4) Brady Poppinga, (5) Junius Coston, (5) Mike Hawkins, (6) Michael Montgomery, (6) Craig Bragg, (7) Kurt Campbell, (7) Will Whitticker

Note: Players in bold are starters. Players no longer with the team are in italics.

Of the 11 players selected in that draft, just three remain. But they’re three good ones. Collins was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl this season and if Rodgers isn’t a top 5 QB, he will be soon. He also landed a starter-caliber LB (Poppinga) in the fourth. Thompson knew that he had to be patient with Rodgers, especially with Favre still on the roster and capable of MVP-type numbers. He passed on a player that could help immediately in order to draft the QB of the future, and he took some grief for it.

Obviously it worked out for the best.

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Questioning Favre’s motives to come back

Brett Favre should know better than anyone that whatever an athlete says will be examined, analyzed and often criticized by the media.

And since he should know that, it’s a little strange that he’s now claiming that he isn’t out for revenge against the Packers despite previously stating that he wanted to stick it to Green Bay GM Ted Thompson, who traded him to the Jets last year.

This is what Brett said in a conference call with the media on Thursday (via ESPN):

“Never was motivated for that reason,” Favre said in a conference call. “No. That has nothing to do with it.”

Uh Brett, then what would you call your open desire to stick to Thompson then?

“It’s human nature to feel, I didn’t use the word revenge, but to prove that you still could play,” Favre said. “To prove someone wrong, or prove a group wrong. So you can call it what you want.”

While I’m not ready to paint Brett with the liar brush, I do question his true motives to come back and play – specifically for the Vikings. He had to know that donning purple and gold would alienate many of the fans that rooted him for all those years in Green Bay, so why Minnesota?

Chances are that Brett was telling the truth from the start. He’s still angry with Thompson for not bowing down and allowing him to return to Green Bay, no matter how many times he retired and unretired. Why else would he sign with the Packers’ most hated rival?

I’m not oblivious to the fact that Minnesota was a perfect fit for Brett. He already knew Brad Childress’ offense and was familiar with the division. Plus, the Jets were transitioning to a new coach and none of Favre’s former teammates were championing for his return.

But I still find it hard to believe that Brett’s main motivation wasn’t to beat Thompson and the Packers. The easiest way to burn the Pack was to sign with a rival, and then beat them on the field. He already accomplished the first feat, and a win on Monday night would allow him to cross off the other.

Don’t let Favre fool you – he isn’t above trying to make Thompson and the Packers look foolish for not allowing him to return after the 2007 season. The hatchet is certainly not buried.

How a Packer fan copes with Brett Favre

Back in 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As a long time Green Bay fan (starting with Packers teams that featured Lynn Dickey, Paul Ott Carruth, Eddie Lee Ivery and a host of other players with ridiculous-sounding games), I have firsthand experience with these five stages as I’ve dealt with Brett Favre and his annual retirement dance.

In the summer of 2008, when the news leaked that Favre was interested in unretiring, I argued that the Packers should bring him back. He was coming off a stellar season and I firmly believed that he gave Green Bay the best chance to win. At this point, I couldn’t comprehend that the Packers would choose to move on without Favre and this denial quickly turned to anger as I saw just how entrenched management was in that decision.

But I wasn’t aware of a crucial fact: Favre flirted with coming back earlier in the spring and then changed his mind when head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson were prepared to fly to Mississippi to discuss it. At that point, I totally understood why the Packers said ‘enough is enough’ and made the decision to cut the cord once and for all. And I understand why Favre was upset that the organization didn’t welcome him back with open arms. After all, he is one of the most iconic players ever to play in the NFL and has to have an ego to match. I figured that if he couldn’t come back and play for the Packers, then he’d make the wise decision and hang ’em up, once and for all. This is the third stage of grief — bargaining.

Unfortunately, Favre’s anger towards the Packers quickly turned to spite as he tried to maneuver his way into either Chicago or Minnesota, the Packers’ two biggest rivals. It was obvious what was going on at the time — that Favre wanted to stick it to the Packers, specifically Ted Thompson, who made the final call (and was the one who drafted his successor) — and Favre confirmed this in a interview conducted a few months later. At this point, depression sunk in. I couldn’t believe that Brett Favre — my all-time favorite player and the guy that I would schedule my Sundays around — would risk the goodwill of the Packer faithful just to get revenge on those whom he believed wronged him. This spiteful behavior was just sad.

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Reaction to the Favre rumors

Here are a few columnists’ take on the news that Favre may unretire yet again and play for the Vikings:

– Terence Moore of Fanhouse writes that Favre should play as long as he wants.

– Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune doesn’t want Favre to bring his circuse to town.

– Vic Carucci of NFL.com weighs the pros and cons of another Favre comeback.

– Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel discusses the bad blood between Favre and Packers GM, Ted Thompson.

While I understood why my favorite player of all time wanted to return last season, it appears that this comeback isn’t about the thrill of competition as much as it is about Favre seeking revenge on Green Bay management. It’s pretty sad to base a comeback on spite.

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