Monday Night Football.
The Williams Wall and Capers’ Crusaders.
The Ironman and Mr. Cool.
As the players will tell you, wrestling-grade caricatures are fodder for the league, networks, and fans. Hype aside, this is still an unusual football game.
For Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, taking the field Monday night seems like a star-crossed event. Much like a Shakespearean play, or a bad TV Show, improbable plot twists brought these two characters to this cliffhanger. Fate’s bad writers demanded that one succeed and the other fail.
For many Packers fans, it’s difficult to reconcile feelings about Favre—reserving a place for him somewhere between Don Quixote and Darth Vader.
Others see the villain as Ted Thompson—reserving a place for him somewhere between the Emperor and Matt Millen. If Favre sees the villain as Thompson, Monday’s game could be difficult for him.
This isn’t a first for Favre. Favre faced the Atlanta Falcons, in one of his first starts with Green Bay 17 years ago. It was a different time and player than the 39-year-old future Hall-of-Fame quarterback preparing for Monday night’s showdown.
There had to be some emotion for Favre facing the team that cast him aside. Favre threw 33-of-43 but lost the game 24-10.
And then there is the 1999 game when Favre’s former coach, Mike Holmgren, returned to Lambeau Field with the Seattle Seahawks. That too ended in a loss (27-7) and Favre threw four interceptions.
“When Mike Holmgren was coaching me, that was always a big key for him—and for me too—was to keep your emotions in check,” said Favre this week on a conference call with Wisconsin media. “Statistically speaking, that night it was not a good night. But, I don’t think our team in general had a good night. It all starts with the quarterback, good or bad, as we all know.
"I thought the world of Mike Holmgren. I was not trying to get back at him, or whatever you want to call it. I hated that he left. So that had nothing to do with it—like I had to prove something to Mike or I wanted to get at him for leaving us and all that stuff.
"I still talk to Mike to this day and have the utmost respect. And no, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him. So, that was just bad play.”
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was Favre’s quarterback coach at the time, and tasked with getting Favre to calm down.
“I didn’t do a very good job of it,” said McCarthy this week. “I think he was definitely excited about that game. I can remember the first interception like it was yesterday, because he tried to throw it through three people to the post down in the red zone.
"He was gunned up for that game. But also, frankly, he was put in some tough spots in that game too. I’m not just crying because I was his position coach and it didn’t go very well. That was a rough night.”
Favre has struggled in other big games—having bad rivalry games against Dallas and Minnesota or playing in bad weather and playoff games.
Minnesota shouldn’t ignore the personal aspect of this game for Favre. The Vikings have an option if emotion gets the best of Favre. The question is: Will Vikings coach Brad Childress have the patience—and influence—to make Favre hand the ball to running back Adrian Peterson the whole game?
“We all know that some games are bigger than others, even though it is still another game … At times I wish I would be a little more emotional, not that I want to ride the roller-coaster, if you will,” said Favre.
Rodgers has never been on that roller-coaster. Through the Favre whirlwind of last training camp and through a frustratingly close 6-10 record last year, so far this season Rodgers has never lost his composure.
One or maybe two bad comments come to mind in all that time—certainly a sign of maturity.
He has also been completely calm, or something like it, while running for his life and taking 12 sacks this season. While he has picked himself up each time and played well, it has disrupted the prolific Packers offense that was on display in the preseason.
Aside from the Packers struggles, he has a lot to be emotional about in this game too. Rarely do players standing in the shadow of legends get such an opportunity to forever step out into the light.
After it was clear the 49ers would win the 1994 Super Bowl, quarterback Steve Young, who threw for six touchdowns, asked, “Hey, someone please pull this monkey off my back!” The monkey was the legend of Joe Montana.
Beating the actual Favre with the Vikings can only help Rodgers get beyond the legend of Favre in Green Bay—as would leading the division race.
Rodgers’ last big game was his starting debut on Monday night against the Vikings in Week One last year. The fact remains Rodgers has never played in a game this important. His cool will be tested and no one knows how he'll respond.
Both these quarterbacks lead teams that are loaded with talent and have very high aspirations this season. Neither team has hit its stride or been able to protect its quarterback.
Winning Monday night will set everything right for one team.
May the best quarterback win.