Workers were sent home at noon, given the afternoon off so another rebuilding project could enter a new phase. The podium stood where an escalator will someday be, while the incomplete walls were covered with plastic tarps and the garbled voice at the other end of the phone line echoed off the metal beams and concrete floor.
Yes, with the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre having finally agreed to a reconciliation blueprint – one that will fully bring Favre back into the fold in July 2015 – the still-under-construction renovated Packers Hall of Fame could not have been a more symbolic backdrop.
Especially when you consider that Lambeau Field may never have been redeveloped without him. While Favre certainly didn’t build the place, he – along with general manager Ron Wolf, coach Mike Holmgren and perception-changing free-agent Reggie White -- very well might’ve saved it by delivering the team from two decades of mediocrity, and worse.
“I’m just very thankful for what Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre and Reggie White did for this organization,” said retired Packers president Bob Harlan, who orchestrated Favre’s return, which is set for July 18, 2015, when he’ll be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and have his number retired. Favre’s No. 4 will then be unveiled on the Lambeau Field north end zone façade at halftime of a yet-to-be-determined game during the 2015 season.
“If you talk to our fans back in the ‘80s, it was bad. Those guys, they truly did resurrect [the franchise]. They lifted it right out of the ashes.”
And Harlan, whose tireless work allowed the team’s 2000 stadium referendum to pass by a 53-47 margin to pay for the $295 million project, believes the measure never would have passed without the team’s on-field success, led by Favre.
“I think it would have been an impossible sell if we would’ve been playing the way we were in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Harlan said. “The worst thing I ever heard was after we won the referendum. Paul Jadin, who was the mayor at the time, called me and he said, ‘I felt that if you lost that referendum, the Packers wouldn’t be here by 2015.’ I’m not sure how we could have competed in that old stadium.”
Instead, the Packers are alive and well, annually breaking revenue records and completing their final renovation phase of the Lambeau Field Atrium, which will include the new and improved Hall of Fame. Slated for completion in spring, the Hall will enshrine Favre as a lone inductee in the 2015 class and as the first selection in the new facilities.
“I hear [Lambeau] is unbelievable, and it was unbelievable when I left. To play in Green Bay and see the transformation all those years was just amazing, and I hear I wouldn’t recognize it now,” said Favre, who participated in the event via conference call from his home in Hattiesburg, Miss. “It is time to come back."
The news came nearly six years to the day after he was traded to the New York Jets for what would end up being a third-round pick, an acrimonious parting of the ways that divided the team’s loyal fan base during the summer of 2008. After one year with the Jets, Favre retired a second time, only to join the rival Minnesota Vikings, for whom he played two seasons.
But all that was largely forgiven and forgotten on Monday, when the focus was on Favre’s 16-year run with the Packers, which included three NFL MVP awards, two Super Bowl appearances and the 1996 league title. The talk wasn’t about Favre’s two appearances at Lambeau Field in Vikings purple, but rather his homecoming to the stadium where he authored so many great moments.
And, in typical Favre fashion, the ol’ gunslinger unexpectedly upped the ante on his return. In response to a length question from NFL Network’s Steve Mariucci, his former quarterbacks coach in Green Bay, Favre said that he would like to return to Lambeau Field this fall for a game – a possibility that had been acknowledged previously and which Favre said he has discussed with president/CEO Mark Murphy.
But then Favre had an idea.
“Just thinking out loud, wouldn’t it be nice, and I don’t want to speak for [Murphy] or anyone within the organization, but wouldn’t it be nice to flip the coin with Bart Starr prior to the game? I’ve got chills right now thinking about it,” Favre suggested. “I just think that fans, that would be an electric moment. And again, another honor. I’ve always said that about Bart. If we could get that done, it would be an amazing moment.”
As for the unveiling of his No. 4 on the façade along with the numbers of the five other numbers retired in their 94-year history – Tony Canadeo’s No. 3, Don Hutson’s No. 14, Starr’s No. 15, Ray Nitschke’s No. 66 and White’s No. 92 – Favre said he wanted Holmgren and Wolf to join him, wife Deanna and daughters Brittany and Breleigh on the field for the event.
“Without Ron, I would not be on this phone right now having this discussion. This ceremony would not take place,” Favre said. “I’ve told Ron over and over again how thankful I was that he believed in me when many people did not. Along with Deanna and Brittany and Breleigh alongside me, I would love to have Ron Wolf walk out with me. And I’d love to have Mike Holmgren [walk out, too]. If they can work that out at that time, that would be such a special moment, which it will be anyway.”
For his part, Favre insisted that he’s not worried about a negative fan reaction, and he also said he doesn’t miss playing as much as he expected. He recently became a grandfather for the second time after Brittany, who is finishing law school, gave birth to a son. Between Deanna competing in triathlons and Breleigh playing high-level club volleyball, he’s getting his competitive fill being a fan.
But he does miss the camaraderie of being on a team and the kinship he felt with those who helped resurrect the franchise with him.
“I was just one piece to the puzzle. It starts with the top. Had it not been for Bob Harlan, Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, it would not have happened,” Favre said. “I needed all those pieces in place, as well as the players that I played with.
“The grace of God provided me with talent and a competitive nature and tremendous players and teammates and coaches and by far the best fans. And so, this is a great honor. I knew this moment over the last couple years would come, and I’m just thankful that we’re here and it’s set in stone and it’s going be done.”
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.