The reunion between Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, which seemed nothing short of impossible following the events of the summer of 2008, is finally starting to inch closer to the conclusion it always deserved.
In the midst of olive-branch offerings from both sides this offseason, Favre took an important step of his own in creating an atmosphere of re-acceptance in Green Bay on Thursday. For the first time, he admitted his responsibility in one of the messiest player-team divorces in recent sports history.
"It's over and done with. I was at fault. I feel that both sides had a part in it," Favre said. "If you could go back, would I or them have done things differently? I'm sure both sides would. But you can't."
Fault for Favre's ugly split with the Packers may never rest on just one side or the other. As Favre also said, both parties should assume partial blame for how the situation spiraled out of control in the aftermath of the 2007 season.
But it could make all the difference for Favre, who hasn't always been the most willing contributor in rebuilding the bridges burned during the divorce, to finally admit his role in the events that split a fanbase. At the very least, his admission is another important step towards the happily-ever-after conclusion that Favre, the Packers and the Packers fanbase so rightfully deserve after the 16 years he spent helping to rebuild the once-great franchise into an NFL power.
Yet, looking back five years, it would have been hard to ever envision a day when the Packers and Favre would be inching closer to a potentially honorable reunion.
The Packers-Favre saga got messy in a hurry in the summer of 2008.
After years of going back and forth on whether or not he would continue playing, Favre officially announced his retirement from the NFL in March, just months after the Packers had been upset in the NFC Championship Game by the New York Giants.
His teary-eyed goodbye felt genuine, but by July of 2008, Favre was itching to play again. Unfortunately for Favre, the Packers had already moved on with former first-round pick Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
The standoff between former hero and franchise had officially begun.
Favre eventually asked for his unconditional release from the Packers, but general manager Ted Thompson was never prepared to fulfill Favre's request, likely in fear that he would sign with the Minnesota Vikings or another NFC rival. Favre was officially reinstated to the NFL in early August, when he then reported to Packers training camp—likely in an effort to force Green Bay's hand.
Lines in the sand were then drawn for Favre, the Packers and the entire fanbase.
A meeting between Favre, head coach Mike McCarthy and Thompson produced only one conclusion: The veteran quarterback wasn't going to be playing in Green Bay in 2008.
"The train has left the station," McCarthy famously said after the meeting concluded.
On August 7, with precious few other options, the Packers officially dealt Favre to the New York Jets in exchange for a conditional draft pick.
For the first time in 16 years, Brett Favre would be playing quarterback for a team not named the Packers.
Favre spent one up-and-down year with the Jets, in which he helped lead New York to an 8-3 start but also dealt with a torn biceps, as the Jets finished the season 9-7. He then officially retired from the NFL for a second time. The Packers, in the first year post-Favre, fell to a disappointing 6-10.
Most were skeptical of Favre's retirement decision, and for good reason. By the next August, Favre was out of retirement again and signing a contract with the (gasp!) Vikings.
The divorce had finally come full circle, with an ugly split to start, some brief time away and then a marriage with the arch nemesis. Fans of Favre jumped sides and donned purple; Packers fans wrote off liking Favre for the rest of time.
Over the next two years, tensions continued to rise.
Favre returned to Lambeau Field for the first time as a member of the Vikings in October 2009 and received a shower of boos, but he threw four touchdown passes as Minnesota beat the Packers. The Vikings would sweep the Packers and come within one errant pass over the middle in the NFC Championship Game of playing in the Super Bowl.
The next season, the Packers got even—and in a big way. Rodgers helped Green Bay sweep away Favre and the fading Vikings, once in heart-racing fashion at Lambeau and another in a blowout at Minnesota. The Packers would go on to win a Super Bowl, largely on the back of Rodgers, the man who had replaced Favre as the face of the franchise.
After a injury-plagued end to the 2010 season, which saw Favre's consecutive games streak finally end, the gun-slinging quarterback retired from the NFL for the last time.
While animosity still reigned over the Favre debate after his final retirement, peace offerings between the two sides have finally been introduced, especially over the last couple of months.
Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy, who Favre mentioned having helped ease the tensions of the strained relationship, has consistently said over the last year that the Packers will eventually retire Favre's No. 4 jersey.
During the Packers Tailgate Tour in May, Murphy told Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin that the team wants Favre "back in the family," and he reiterated that the jersey retirement will happen.
As the saying goes, time heals all wounds.
But paramount in that recovery process has been Rodgers, who presented on stage with Favre during the NFL's awards show in February and has since been a vocal leader for getting the former quarterback back into the organization.
In an interview with The Jim Rome Show in May (per ESPN), Rodgers said "it's time" for the healing process between Favre and the Packers to begin, and that he wants the Packers to retire Favre's jersey before he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Such a timeline (Favre isn't eligible until 2016) gives the Packers ample opportunity to mend all the fences and finally produce Favre's name and number on the Lambeau Field facade.
Maybe more importantly, Rodgers' willingness to stand at the front of the Favre discussion demonstrates a very tangible factor facing the fanbase. If Rodgers, the man thrust into one of the most precarious quarterbacking situations in the history of pro football, can forgive, forget and move on, the rest of the fans still holding grudges against one side or the other can too.
When should the Packers retire Brett Favre's No. 4?
That said, Favre's willingness to finally admit his part in the entire ordeal should stand as another milestone moment in the healing process. Like Rodgers and the fanbase, time has afforded Favre the opportunity of reflection.
Now, over two years removed from wearing a Vikings jersey, Favre has started to soften on his hardball stance. No longer are we hearing the "woe is me" rhetoric from Favre; instead, his words incite hints of regret, the longing for forgiveness and the desire to once again be a part of the franchise he helped rebuild in the 1990s and 2000s.
For the first time in a long time, Favre, Rodgers and the Packers organization appear to be on the same page. There's a common goal in sight—a reunion of a fallen hero and his franchise—and a light is appearing at the end of the tunnel.
Neither the Packers nor Favre are rushing toward that light, but each is making tangible steps toward it. Favre took a figuratively large step Thursday—possibly his most significant yet—when he candidly admitted his part in the divorce that, at one time, looked destined to shatter the relationship forever.