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Brett Favre's decision to play for Vikings splits town

Several Green Bay Packers fans in Hudson, Wis., 18 miles from St. Paul, Minn., are left conflicted.

August 23, 2009|Sam Farmer

HUDSON, WIS. — For thousands of Green Bay Packers fans in this waterfront town, Brett Favre has never been closer to their homes.

Or further from their hearts.

Just across the St. Croix River, half an hour by car, is downtown Minneapolis and the Metrodome, Favre's new home stadium.

The decision by the 39-year-old star quarterback last week to come out of retirement and sign with the Minnesota Vikings was the final straw for millions of Packers fans.

It left Hudson -- a picturesque community of about 50,000 that's 250 miles from Green Bay but only 18 from St. Paul, Minn. -- the most conflicted football town in America.

"Personally, it made me ill," said Leigh Halvorsen, owner of the Village Inn, a beer-and-pizza hangout filled to the rafters with signed Favre memorabilia. "Business-wise, it's great, and for football it's great. But we're so close to the Twin Cities, we've had Vikings rammed down our throats since we were this tall."

Across the street at another Packers-crazy pizza joint called Kozy Korner, the marquee in front reads: "BREAK A LEG FAVRE."

It was one thing when Favre played for the New York Jets last season, quite another when he signs with a mortal enemy in the NFC North, forever known for the black-and-blue division.

Favre is no ordinary quarterback, as evidenced by his two-year, $25-million contract with the Vikings. He's the only person named the NFL's most valuable player three consecutive years (1995-97), and led the Packers to seven division titles and two Super Bowls, winning one.

He holds several NFL records, including most career touchdown passes, completions, passing yards and, as his critics are quick to point out, interceptions. He's also astoundingly durable and, with 269 consecutive starts (not counting playoffs), is one away from tying Jim Marshall for the all-time record for any position.

"There's always a warm spot in every Wisconsinite's heart for Brett Favre," said Dean Knudson, mayor of Hudson. "The love for the Packers is deep here, and there's a fervor that borders on semi-religious."

That warm spot for Favre has cooled considerably over the last 1 1/2 years, after Favre tearfully retired after the 2007 season, unretired a few months later and was traded to the Jets, retired again after that experiment fizzled -- in addition to an injury to his throwing arm, he didn't know the New York offense well enough -- and finally unretired once more to join the Vikings.

Favre had surgery on his arm in May in hopes of another comeback, but he seemingly ended his flirtation with the Vikings last month when he told them on the eve of training camp that he had decided to stay retired. Three weeks later, he reversed his field again, leaving many people to speculate he staged the waffling to escape the grind of training camp.

"I think the guys will know I'm in it for the right reasons," Favre said in his introductory news conference. "That's because I still love to play. Regardless of who it's with, I feel like I can help this team or whichever team was willing to take a chance.

"I know there are people out there taking sides of whatever. This is not about revenge, believe me. You can't take away the 16 years I had in Green Bay. It was unbelievable . . . They've moved on and I've moved on."

Clearly, many people in Hudson will have a harder time moving on. Locals estimate the ratio of Packers fans to Vikings fans there is about 3 to 1.

"We even cheered for him with the Jets," said Halvorsen, whose spacious bar draws a crowd of 300 or more on fall Sundays. "People wouldn't even call those 'Jets games.' They'd call them 'Favre games.' "

Scott Nelson, who owns Kozy Korner with his two sons, plans to hold contests challenging patrons to guess how many times Favre will be sacked or intercepted in games. In the two games the Packers will face the Vikings this season, Nelson plans to offer dollar beers every time Favre is sacked.

"You've got to have some fun in life," Nelson said. "We still love the guy, but now we're going to rip him."

In an odd way, Packers bars in western Wisconsin could benefit from having Favre play for Minnesota. Although the Vikings have not had a game blacked out in their local market since their 1997 finale, they came close at the end of last season when they needed two deadline extensions from the NFL to sell out their playoff game. Favre will help ensure sellouts, which would mean fewer Green Bay games will be broadcast on over-the-air TV in that region, leaving Packers fans to flock to local bars and restaurants to watch.

Already, Favre has had a major effect at the box office. In the 72 hours after he signed, the Vikings sold seats at a record pace -- 4,000 season tickets and 14,000 to individual games.

Purple Favre jerseys are flying off the shelves too. According to Reebok, Favre jerseys are the all-time best sellers, and his Jets jersey was ranked No. 1 in sales last year.

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