Matt Flynn stared at the airport television, confused. And, well, worried.
A rookie seventh-round draft pick at the time, Flynn was on his way back from the NFL Rookie Symposium in Carlsbad, Calif., when he looked up and saw breaking news on ESPN. His new Green Bay Packers teammate, Josh Sitton, and his old LSU teammate, Chicago Bears fourth-round pick Craig Steltz, were traveling with him, and suddenly, Flynn’s Packers career looked like it might be over before it began.
“Reports on ESPN were, ‘Brett Favre is coming back out of retirement,’” Flynn, now back with the Packers in his second tour of duty as Aaron Rodgers’ backup, recalled Monday. “And I was like, ‘Oh, boy. There goes my job.’”
At the time, Flynn was third on the Packers’ quarterback depth chart, behind Rodgers, the newly anointed starter, and Brian Brohm, the team’s second-round pick. Although he would go on to beat Brohm out for the No. 2 job in camp, he might have never gotten the chance had Favre’s unretirement resulted in his return to the Packers. He easily could have been the odd man out had the Packers not stood their ground and kept Favre instead of trading him to the New York Jets.
“I might not have ever gotten the chance to compete,” said Flynn, who backed up Rodgers from 2008 through 2011 before returning at midseason last year. “So personally, I was glad he didn’t come back, because I got a chance to make the team.”
Flynn never actually played with Favre, but he is one of only 10 players still on the Packers’ roster from that 2008 training camp. Of those, six – Rodgers, fullback John Kuhn, cornerback Tramon Williams, cornerback Jarrett Bush, linebacker A.J. Hawk and kicker Mason Crosby – actually were teammates with Favre, who threw his last pass for the Packers in the 2007 NFC Championship Game.
As they remembered their time with Favre Monday, as it became official that he will be enshrined into the Packers Hall of Fame and have his No. 4 retired in July 2015, two themes developed: What crazy days those were. And how Rodgers handled it is beyond comprehension.
“It was kind of a circus,” Crosby said, in the understatement of the year.
And yet, Rodgers survived. As Flynn’s friendship with Rodgers started to develop, he couldn’t get over the way Favre’s successor was handling the “madhouse,” as he put it.
“That was probably about as hard a position as anybody could have been thrown into to be a first-year starter. It would have been a lot easier if it had been just a smooth transition. But obviously, it wasn’t,” Flynn said. “He just handled it well. Everything from 1,000 media people being there to getting heckled by some crowd members to fans wanting Brett back – he handled it as well or better than anybody could’ve.
“To go out there and really not let anything affect him – and in fact it probably drove him even more, gave him more of a fire – he earned my respect. And I think probably everyone else’s respect that year.”
While Favre’s return divided the fan base, those who were on the team in 2008 insist that it did not divide the locker room. Although there were some Favre loyalists – Donald Driver most prominently – Rodgers’ performance in relief of Favre in Dallas during the 2007 season and the way he carried himself throughout the transition made most of his teammates believers.
“A lot of fans were kind of salty about it,” Bush said. “But the locker room, I thought, was fine. Obviously we knew the transition they were trying to make, and we just knew that both quarterbacks could play. It really didn’t matter which quarterback was in there, we knew ‘12’ could play as well as ‘4.’ It was their decision, and they stuck by it. At the end of the day, we needed to win football games.”
Added Kuhn: “We were all ready to make the move with Aaron. We were excited about how great Aaron was, and I think it all played out how the organization had hoped.”
And as the organization’s reconciliation with the legendary quarterback took another step forward with Monday’s announcement, it was clear that those who’d played with Favre or endured the summer of 2008 had been briefed with talking points. The focus was clearly on Favre’s accomplishments in 16 seasons in Green Bay, not on the way things ended or his two-year stint with the rival Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s a great thing,” Williams said of Favre’s impending return. “Obviously Brett meant a lot to the people here. Obviously the ending to his career with him going to Minnesota and those things are going to stick with some people. But he’s done too much for the organization and everyone in the community.
“It’s a good thing that they decided to do this now. I think everyone’s going to applaud him. Obviously, you hope that he doesn’t get boos, but I think everyone is going to applaud him. He was a great teammate, first of all. When I was here, great character guy. Obviously he’s been through a lot, but I’m glad to see him do this now.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.