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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Brett Favre is back in Green Bay

The longtime Packers quarterback returns to Lambeau as a Viking. Yes, it's jarring.

November 01, 2009|SAM FARMER

GREEN BAY, WIS. — Hours after throwing three touchdown passes last month to lead the Minnesota Vikings over his old Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre sent a one-word text message to Steve Mariucci, among his favorite onetime assistant coaches:

"Flatliners."

Instantly, Mariucci picked up on the inside joke. That was a code word the two shared back when Favre was in his early years with the Packers, and Mariucci was an up-and-coming assistant coach. It was a reference to the 1990 movie "Flatliners," and a reminder to the quarterback to maintain an even keel through the craziest times.

If there were ever a time for Favre to remember that mantra it's today, when he returns to Green Bay's Lambeau Field for the first time wearing the purple uniform of the enemy.

This is like Magic Johnson playing point guard for the Celtics. This is like Sandy Koufax pitching for the Giants.

The closest NFL parallel in recent memory is San Francisco legend Joe Montana playing for Kansas City. But there's no real 49ers-Chiefs rivalry, and Montana never returned to face his former team at Candlestick Park.

"I can't think of anything that compares to this," said Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, color analyst for today's Fox broadcast. "One of the things that makes this so different is we're talking about Brett Favre."

This is the day that this town, this state, the whole Packers fan base has been either waiting for or dreading, and the mere anticipation of it in Green Bay has spawned celebrations and angst, contests and consternation.

"We've gotten more than 1,700 suggestions about what the city should do" to mark the occasion, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt said. "We asked people for tasteful suggestions, so about 500 of them were eliminated right away."

Schmitt was the master of ceremonies Saturday at the Titletown Brewing Co., introducing batches of a just-named beer and root beer. The beer is called Brett's Waff-Ale, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the quarterback's on-again, off-again retirement. (The mayor, hoping to maintain a light-hearted tone, balked at the name Brett's Bitter Ale.) The soft drink is called Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood Root Beer in honor of Favre's replacement, Aaron Rodgers.

Earlier in the week, the city temporarily changed the name of its Minnesota Avenue to Aaron Rodgers Drive, and the mayor declared Oct. 30 "Flip-Flop Friday," urging everyone in town to brave the near-freezing temperature and wear sandals -- as he did -- in honor of Favre's indecisive ways.

"We've heard everything in my office, from one extreme to another," said Schmitt, wearing an autographed Rodgers jersey. "Some people aren't happy with [Favre], and some people want us to give him the red-carpet treatment and a key to the city for all he's done."

Mariucci, now an NFL Network analyst, spent four years as quarterbacks coach for the Packers in the early 1990s before going on to become head coach of California, the 49ers and the Detroit Lions. He -- as well as just about everybody -- expects the reaction to be mixed today when Favre jogs onto the field wearing Vikings purple.

"The other team could have Brett Favre, Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Mike Holmgren and Willie Wood, and the Packers fans are going to cheer for their own Green Bay Packers because they're loyal," he said. "So if there are any boos, any harsh words or animated feelings of discontent about Brett being in that stadium in a purple jersey, well, it's because they're so loyal. It means they're cheering for their Packers, and that's never going to change.

"But do they respect Brett Favre? You better believe it."

In his regular news conference last week, Favre called the return to Lambeau "just one of 16" games and said he expects to hear some boos.

"I think that's probably more intriguing to everyone else," he said. "It's OK to pull for your team, I guess, but I can't make anyone cheer or boo or whatever. It's a big game for a lot of reasons, but from the standpoint of playing there with another team is obviously something new to me.

"Being welcomed there for so many years was special and will always be special, but my focus is on winning this game."

And the stakes are high. The Vikings are 6-1 and coming off their only loss; the Packers are 1 1/2 games back in the NFC North but have won two in a row and could stay in the thick of the division race with a victory.

All of which makes an already memorable moment even more meaningful.

"It's kind of neat to have the whole sports world falling in on Green Bay again," said Brent Weycker, president of Titletown Brewing Co. "This is the perfect storm.

"It's a story that's bigger than this little town."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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