The line, delivered with perfect comedic timing, brought the house down.
“That was awkward.”
But to hear the man who uttered that phrase – Aaron Rodgers – tell it, the whole thing was anything but. What his on-stage appearance with fellow NFL MVP quarterback Brett Favre was for the Green Bay Packers organization and its fans, Rodgers said, was necessary. And a long time coming.
Rodgers said Tuesday that his aborted on-stage hug with his predecessor during the NFL Honors event last Saturday night in New Orleans was all part of the schtick, and that the two talked fairly extensively before presenting the Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year award to Peyton Manning.
Rodgers also said his hope is that their joint appearance is first step in Favre reconciling with the franchise he came to represent for 16 NFL seasons before the two sides’ ugly divorce in the summer of 2008.
“As the face of the franchise now, (it's) a role that I take very seriously. I have the responsibility and enjoy having the opportunity to represent my team,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “I think it's important to realize that it is time to probably time to move forward.”
Rodgers said it all started with the suggestion by the NFL Honors producers that he and Favre jointly present an award. The producers approached Rodgers a little over a week before the event to take his temperature on whether he’d be willing to share the stage with Favre, whom he backed up with the Packers from 2005 through 2007.
Rodgers has always said that while he and Favre had a chilly relationship that first season, he felt as though he and Favre became friends the final two years. Then came Favre’s retirement, unretirement, trade to the New York Jets and subsequent two-year run with the archrival Minnesota Vikings in 2009 and 2010. During that time, he and Favre didn’t talk, other than exchanging handshakes after Packers-Vikings games.
But after the NFL Honors producers approached him with the idea, and Rodgers thought about it, he decided it would be good for all involved.
“They pitched to me this idea of presenting with Brett, just to see how I would feel about it. And I thought about it for a little bit, but I really felt strongly that it was going to be a good thing for both of us and for Packer Nation,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers said he and Favre spoke before the event – “It was good to be able to talk to Brett on the phone and then spend some time with him,” he said – but didn’t delve too deeply into their conversations.
Asked if he and Favre had to talk through a few things before he agreed to do it, Rodgers replied, “Not really. It didn’t take a lot of coaxing for me to want to do. I did want to sit and think about it and make sure it was the right thing to do, but I really feel very secure in my position with the team and feel very good about the things we’ve been able to accomplish in my five years as the starter and feel good about the direction the organization is going in.
“Brett is two years removed from the game, and he’s going to be obviously going to be in the Packers Hall of Fame, he’ll get his number retired and will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the next few years. It’s important, I think, to make sure that he’s recognized for all the accomplishments he’s achieved in our organization especially, he’s very dear to many of our fans still and the things he’s done on the field for the Packers, you can never take that away. As the face of the franchise, I felt like it was important that I take a leadership role in that – not that one was needed now, but I thought it was god timing to just let the fans know, let Brett know, let’s move forward. Let’s heal things up and let’s move forward.”
During an appearance on the NFL Network’s pregame show for Super Bowl XLVII, Favre had said that he didn’t feel uncomfortable, either.
“It wasn’t awkward. We had had some laughs prior to going out,” Favre said during a 90-minute appearance on the network. “Aaron’s had up to this point an unbelievable career. (That) goes without saying. I’m proud of what I’ve done. There isn’t (any) ill feelings. There isn’t. There might be from other people. That was a way of kind of (a way to) squash it all.”
Asked if he had any feelings toward Favre that he had to get over, Rodgers said with age has come perspective. With 14-year veteran wide receiver Donald Driver set to formally retire on Wednesday in a ceremony in the Lambeau Field atrium, Rodgers will become the team’s longest-tenured player, and with that comes wisdom.
“I'm not going to get a whole lot into that. I’m going to pull a Mark McGwire line here and say, ‘I'm not here to talk about the past,’” Rodgers said of any negative feelings he may have had toward Favre. “I feel like it's important to move forward. Again, I feel great about where I'm at in my career and the things we've been able to accomplish as a team, and personally. I think when you get older in this league, and now as Donald (Driver) is going to retire here tomorrow, I'm going to be the longest tenured Packer, which is crazy to think about. Really, only eight years ago, I was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and now I've seen a lot of guys come and go.
“It makes you think about what your legacy is going to be and how you want to be remembered and as I move forward, hopefully we can lock something up in the next couple years and keep me in Green Bay for my career. But I think about how I want to be remembered. And this is one thing I really want to move forward with and embrace, as I am very secure with my spot on this team and my place.”
As for the exchange itself, Rodgers said he and Favre had worked with producers on a few different pseudo-hugs to end the bit.
“Part of that was scripted, part of it was ad-libbed, but we had a good time with it and enjoyed that time,” Rodgers said. “Scripts are always changing, and often the best – as I found out in my small body of work with the commercials I’ve done – often the best lines are the ones that are a little ad-libbed and it’s just kind of a natural reaction.
“We had talked about the lines a number of times and how we wanted to do it, and then we’d kind of thought about doing a little hug and then saying, ‘Ah, nah, too soon,’ making a joke about that. I thought that was what we were going to do, but then Brett didn’t really come in for the hug, so it was kind of an in-between thing.
“As I look back now, the irony of me saying, ‘That was awkward’ was, to some people watching, they might think that was (in fact) awkward. But I really had a good time seeing him and getting to talk to him and catch up and there was nothing awkward about that moment for the two of us. We had talked on the phone and we had also spent time before the show, a good amount of time talking, talking about the script and catching up. So that moment, a lot of people have written stuff about (how) it was an awkward moment. (But) that’s kind of the joke in that statement. There wasn’t a lot of awkwardness in that moment for Brett and I. I hope the fans enjoyed it and got a little laugh out of the stuff.”
If things work out as Rodgers hopes it does for Favre and the franchise, fans will get a lot more than a little laugh out of it in the years to come. Asked if he discussed the idea with coach Mike McCarthy or general manager Ted Thompson before agreeing to the appearance, Rodgers suggested that he had not.
“I’m not really going to talk about any interactions. There wasn’t really any, but the team obviously knew about it,” Rodgers said. “I think as an organization, we’re ready to move forward.
“Mike has done an incredible job in his seven years here of setting direction and leading, and Ted Thompson drafted me. I think he took a lot of heat early on in his career, but I think people can see the skills that he has in evaluating talent, bringing in new guys every year who contribute, and I think he’s very confident in his abilities and proud of the things he’s been able to accomplish.