Pivotal Moments in Packers History: The Gunslinger Edition

Brett Favre's career in a few moments that shaped Packers History

Brett Favre (1995 Pinnacle Brands, INC; PackersHistory.com owns the football card, not the image)

This Pivotal Moments in Packers History Series will be ongoing, looking at the impact of numerous men from throughout team history. Look out for future, similar pieces on other Packers players, coaches and team builders. We started with the Gunslinger himself, Brett Favre, because when it comes pivotal moments for this franchise few have created more than him.

You can count on one hand the names as impactful to the Green Bay Packers organization as the Gunslinger. Of course we’re talking about the incomparable Brett Favre.

One doesn’t simply get the nickname “Gunslinger” for no reason. He routinely ‘shot from the hip’ and created both magical plays that’ll live on in Packers lore and heartbreaking mistakes that will also endure. This dichotomy endeared him to the fans in Green Bay; he played with such joy it continually reminded everyone why they loved sports.

His impact on the field was substantial, but it was his ability to bring the Packers back to glory that truly defines his legacy. For that, he’ll always be elevated above most people in Packers history.

Sure, in the years following his career in Green Bay there were a few things that made some Packer Backers cringe, but hey, you have to take the good with the bad right? That’s always been true of Favre. You don’t get those amazing throws without his constant willingness to get picked off. Four times he led the NFL in touchdown passes and twice he led the NFL in interceptions. Yin and yang on the field and off, I suppose. But we won’t dive into any specific controversies.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the pivotal moments that defined Brett Favre’s career and the Packers franchise as a whole.

Although it should first be noted that the trajectory of the Packers organization would have been greatly and negatively affected had Favre not come to Green Bay. There is a legitimate opinion to be had the team could have left Green Bay. Would Lambeau Field had been renovated without Favre’s success?

Of the last 50 years of Packers history, perhaps no moment has been more pivotal than bringing Favre to Green Bay. We’ve made the argument that he’s, arguably, the most influential Packer in franchise history.

The Trade: New Packers General Manager Ron Wolf used a first round pick to trade for Favre. He put his neck on the line and it paid off in an unimaginable way. A first round pick on a guy that couldn’t even see the field for the Falcons. It still doesn’t get the attention it deserves in gutsy moves in NFL history for General Managers. In some ways, Packers current GM Brian Gutekunst is hoping history repeats itself, again.

The Comeback Kid: The first time Packers fans got to see Favre, he led a comeback over the Cincinnati Bengals that launched his legend. That game-winning touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor will forever be a favorite moment of Packers fans of a certain age. That clutch gene would come in handy over the next two decades. The Packers never thought they were out of a game when No. 4 was on their side.

One of the Great All-Time Duos: Favre and his top receiver Sterling Sharpe were going to go on to set many records as one of the best QB-WR duos in league history. They may have even gone on to be the best ever. Sterling Sharpe, as you probably know, had to retire following the 1994 season due to a neck injury. This was the first great tragedy of the Favre Era.

The Free Agent Impact of Reggie White: There’s an amazing thing in professional sports when an elite player and leader for a franchise finally receives that peer on his team. Reggie elevated the Packers by being Favre’s monumental equal, but on the defensive side of the ball. Think Jordan and Pippen, Kobe and Shaq, Gretzky and Messier, Crosby and Malkin, the list goes on. When a true legend is joined by another true legend, great things happen.

This era of Packers history isn’t talked about as much as it should be. Here we take a look at these transformative seasons.

The ‘Boys: The Dallas Cowboys were Brett Favre’s and the Packers’ nemesis. Three years in a row they simply couldn’t beat them and they kept losing in Dallas. For a time it seemed like the Packers would never be able to breakthrough to the big game because of the Cowboys. Thankfully, the Cowboys’ quick demise gave the Packers the space they needed for great success for the rest of the ’90s.

The Rehab: Want to see your hero humanized? That’s what Packers fans got when Favre publicly battled a vicodin addiction. It was, and still is, very rare for an athlete of Favre’s stature to publicly go through such a struggle. Something about his vulnerability and honesty struck a cord with Packers fans. It’s almost as though they could see themselves, and their faults, in their fearless twenty-six year old leader.

Fans of other NFC Central teams saw this addiction as the end of Favre and a downfall for the Pack. Boy were they wrong.

The (Off the Field) Comeback: He overcame his addiction, supported by the team, and vowed to bring a championship to Green Bay. He kept his promise in dramatic fashion. In a way, he taught every Packers fan that they could overcome their demons, too. As Favre battled his demons on a national spotlight and brought a championship home to Green Bay for the first time since the days of Lombardi and Starr. It’s one of the best stories in franchise history.

The Gunslinger: There was no throw Favre didn’t think he could make. More times than not he was right. But yes, he was wrong a lot, too. Still, I don’t think anyone would trade Favre’s tenure in Green Bay for anyone else. He was so much fun, so wild, and often times made jaw-dropping throws against all odds. His arm was perhaps the biggest in league history when he announced his presence in the mid-1990s. Although, his nickname “The Gunslinger” was also fitting because he’d go on to throw some of the most famous interceptions in NFL history, too.

The Bear Killer: You want Packers fans to love you? Beat the Chicago Bears. You want Packers fans to adore you forever? Beat the Chicago Bears 10 times in a row. That’s what Favre and his Packers accomplished from 1994-1998. His overall record against the Bears was 22-10. There’s a reason he’s so loved in Green Bay and will be forever. In both 1994 and ’95 Favre played through injuries (hip and ankle) and led the Packers to big victories. That set in motion a massive change in the Packers-Bears rivalry.

The MVPs: Three straight AP MVP Awards. No one had done it before. Not Jim Brown, not Joe Montana, no one. And no one has done it since, not even Peyton Manning who won the award five times. The NFL had never quite been taken over by a star player before in quite the same way. His MVPs helped legitimize the effort underway that put Green Bay on the national spotlight again. That record is not appreciate enough in how impressive it really is. Aaron Rodgers and Bart Starr combined for three AP MVP Awards in all of their seasons. Wow.

Brett Favre’s prime was, arguably, the best ever prime in the Super Bowl Era.

The Super Bowl Win: The most vivid and best memory of that Super Bowl win was Favre to Rison for the touchdown. The joyous sprint to the end zone by Favre will forever live in NFL lore. Yes, he had almost an entire game to play and yes Desmond Howard had his moment and yes Reggie sealed the deal late in the fourth quarter. But who can forget that run to the end zone by Brett? No one.

He brought the Lombardi Trophy home for the first time since the Packers 1960s dynasty. Other Packers quarterbacks may win more rings than him, but they’ll never win a bigger Super Bowl than he did. That game rebuilt the self-esteem of millions of Packers fans. The team has, amazingly, sustained great success since that day.

The Super Bowl Loss: This was the moment that would have launched Favre into the “GOAT” debate with unbelievable momentum. And although he had statistically a better game in Super Bowl XXXII than he did in the previous year’s victorious Super Bowl appearance, the team came up short. Who would have known it would be his last Super Bowl? Not many people would have made that bet, but that’s life. Nothing is guaranteed.

He Did What?!: Favre wasn’t afraid of the big moments and there are many late in the game or overtime throws that we’ll never forget, but that overtime win over the Vikings on Monday Night Football in 2000 was the best. Antonio Freeman, the man who caught the most touchdowns from Favre, somehow caught that pass, got up and ran it in for the win.

The Interceptions: The reality of life is that you have to take the bad with the good. Part of what made Favre so special was his fearlessness and hopefulness. However those tendencies did result in some seemingly bone-headed throws. But remember, you don’t get the magical throws without that fearlessness either. He will likely forever own the NFL’s all-time interception record. Oddly, that’s a credit to how good he was. Bad quarterbacks aren’t allowed to throw that many picks in the NFL.

Perhaps the biggest and most devastating interception Favre ever threw was his last pass as a Packer. He was beat up, tired and cold through and through by overtime of the 2007 NFC Championship Game. Then, he seemingly threw the ball to a New York Giant defender and the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes faded in an instant. We talk more about this moment later in the piece.

Although his interception which led to losing the “4th and 26” game in Philadelphia ending the magical 2003 season (which we look at below) is also high on that list. The Favre Era was obviously not immune to heartbreaking losses.

The Iron Man: It wasn’t that Brett Favre didn’t sustain injuries throughout his 20 year NFL career, it was that despite his injuries he kept showing up for work. When he was in Green Bay literally nothing could keep him off of that field. His legend, bolstered by many unforgettable moments, is just as strong today as it was when he left the team in 2007. Part of what made his Iron Man legend so strong was his starting streak. Speaking of…

The Starting Streak: Knowing each and every week that Favre was going to be out on that field was a sort of comfort. It was also an inspiration and a source of pride for all Packers fans. No franchise has ever been able to feel that way about their quarterback for such a long period of time. His starting streak was that rare (297 consecutive games started, most of which with Green Bay).

The Game for Big Irv: As avid Packer fans, we already knew the greatness of Favre and truthfully, before this game, I would have told anyone that there was nothing more that #4 could do to increase his legend in our eyes or in the eyes of Packer Nation as a whole. Man oh man, were we wrong.

The Monday Night Football game following Favre’s father’s death will never be forgotten. That game, those throws, the catches, the love his teammates showed for him, the respect and love and even the love the notoriously tough Raiders fans showed to him added to the legend of Favre and the NFL as a whole. He gave Big Irv one heck of a sendoff.

Broken Thumb: The aforementioned game for Big Irv occurred during the Packers’ 2003 season — a truly fascinating season in Packers history. In that year Favre broke his thumb, but played through the pain. Not only did he lead the Packers to six wins in the last seven games the season and a NFC North title, he led the NFL in touchdown passes, too. He nearly won his fourth AP MVP Award and I’m not sure Packers fans have ever loved Favre more than that season.

The 24th pick in the draft: When the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers 24th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft many people were upset. Why would they bring in a quarterback when they were building a roster that had a chance at a Super Bowl and a future Hall of Fame quarterback? Well, it obviously was the right thing to do even if it was hard to see for some at the time.

Well, time is a flat circle and Packer Nation is right back here again with Jordan Love and Aaron Rodgers. It’s kind of surreal for it to play out like this again, but we hope history is somehow, against all odds, repeated again.

Mike McCarthy’s Influence: It’s been said that a new coach always wants “his guy” and as great as Favre was and despite how much he had accomplished in Green Bay, it was clear from the beginning that Aaron Rodgers was McCarthy’s guy. The future became abundantly clear when Rodgers stepped in for an injured Favre against the Cowboys in primetime and played more like a starter than an inexperienced backup. However McCarthy still used Favre effectively and they nearly won a title together before the team moved on to the younger Rodgers.

The Last Gasp: In 2007 the Packers went 13-3 in Favre’s final season in Green Bay. He was named to the Pro Bowl and had his highest rating since his unbelievable 1996 season. Something felt different about these Packers and Favre had that 82 yard touchdown pass in overtime to Greg Jennings against the Broncos, again on Monday Night Football. It was one of the last moments that got you out of your seat while Favre was still the team’s quarterback.

The Packers nearly made it to the Super Bowl in that season. However the lasting memory from that season, despite what we dive into next, was the “snow bowl” game against the Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. That falling down, off-balance pass to Donald Lee specifically stands as one of the final classic Favre moments.

The NFC Championship Game the Cold and That Interception: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, third year quarterback Aaron Rodgers should have been put in for that overtime. You could see the cold and defeat in Favre’s face. For one of the first times, he looked truly old for a professional athlete.

We, the two of us behind PackersHistory.com, watched that game together. I, Daniel, couldn’t believe what David was saying at that moment. He said, “Put in Rodgers, put in Rodgers.” I was disgusted. He was right though. Favre was too cold and uninterested when overtime hit. We are not going to describe that interception again, but man, what a brutal moment. Favre’s 90 yard touchdown pass earlier in the game to Donald Driver remains the best moment of that game.

Retirement: Favre flirted with retirement for years, but following the 2007 season the Packers’ front office famously made the decision to move on from him in favor of Rodgers. Favre had retired, then un-retired and what ensued was a crazy summer of speculation and an understandably confused fanbase. The Packers graciously let him move on to the New York Jets… but Favre couldn’t help himself. He left New York after just one season.

The End in Purple: As tough as it is to write about, or even think about for that matter, the truth is Favre ended his career in Viking purple. As always, the majority of Packer Nation stood in solidarity as fans of the green and gold first and the player (perhaps the greatest player in franchise history) second. A lesson was learned by all during Favre’s season in purple… lessons in tolerance and heartbreak and more. Some fans temporarily defected, but we won’t name any names. Their shame is punishment enough.

Fortunately, our dear Vikings fans friends got to learn one more lesson about that special kind of “Favre heartbreak” that comes in the form of a terrible interception that ends a season with a potential Super Bowl berth just minutes away. Although it got even better for Green Bay football fans. Favre’s final season in the NFL, his second with the Vikings, culminated with Minnesota missing the playoffs and Rodgers leading the Packers to a Super Bowl XLV victory — a fitting end to a complicated chapter in Packers history.

The End of the Streak… in Purple: The starting streak had to end….right? In all honestly, it really didn’t. Had Brett had stayed retired after any of his last few seasons the streak would have gone into retirement with him. But we all know the streak did end. Minnesota just had to ruin one of the great streaks in sports history. From our perspective the two most memorable events of Favre’s Viking career were the streak ending and that beautiful interception against the Saints in the 2009 NFC Conference Championship Game.

The Return: Packer Nation accepting Brett back to the Lambeau Field, and back into the green and gold family, was amazing. Seeing Favre celebrated beside both Bart Starr and Aaron Rodgers was monumental. Having those three men at Lambeau together was the rarest and most special moment in the history of professional football.

As you know, lineages mean something in Green Bay.

The Return – Number Retired at Lambeau Field: This was quite a night, one we’ll never forget. To see Favre walk out onto that field, in primetime, with rain falling against the Chicago Bears… man. Can you script it any better? The sold-out crowd went crazy, but they cheered even louder when Bart Starr came out onto the field. When they embraced, I think most people shed a tear or two. Then Favre embraced Aaron Rodgers as he walked off the field for first time with his number up on Lambeau Field’s facade. The Bears won the game, but who cares. It was perfect. Many wounds were healed that night.

The Hall of Fame: Brett entered the Pro Football Hall of Fall in 2016, but #4 truly became a Hall of Famer after his second consecutive MVP season. Amazingly, he became a first ballot Hall of Famer after his third consecutive MVP — in our opinion. Still, his list of memorable moments kept coming after those amazing years.

Relationship with Rodgers: What was once undeniably awkward has become a fun relationship to watch. It’s developed over the years and, likely you’d suppose, it got healthier once they were no longer competitors. Knowing how Bart Starr reached out to both quarterbacks, it was important for Packer Nation to see Favre and Rodgers smooth out their relationship. You can even go so far as to call them friends. For the sake of this franchise, its history and the fans it’s a welcome relationship.

Retired Life: Favre will still make the controversial comment and he’ll certainly be given a platform by many outlets in the coming years as Jordan Love (likely) becomes the Packers’ starting quarterback as Rodgers moves on. Does he like the attention? Oh you better believe it, almost as much as throwing touchdown passes.

Again, him being welcomed back to Green Bay was amazing, just like how he said he’d “love to see Aaron Rodgers play for the Chicago Bears” was less than amazing. Just like throughout his entire career, he’s equal parts lovable and frustrating.

Lasting Legacy: Ever since Favre took over the football world a few things have been true. The Packers are now expected to be contenders. They’re expected to have elite quarterback play. They’re an always relevant team that’s worth billions despite residing in, by far, the smallest market in the NFL. In many ways Favre’s stardom essentially replaced the Packers’ two games in Milwaukee that helped financially support the team for decades. Looking forward, we believe many of these things will remain true (being a contender, top quarterback play, staying relevant, etc). Rodgers has helped with these obviously, but it did all start with Favre in the early ’90s.

Seeing Favre there with Cherry Starr as the Packers honored Bart Starr following his passing in the 2019 offseason was as emotional as it was powerful. But again, just as he’ll likely be back at Lambeau Field again for another emotional day, he’ll likely say or do something that rubs Packers fans the wrong way.

That is just the way of Brett Favre and we’ve learned to love it, the good and the bad.

One thing is certain, The Gunslinger will forever be synonymous with the Packers and the city of Green Bay. His legacy is secure. This franchise isn’t the same without him. Maybe they aren’t even still in Green Bay.

Brett Favre is simply like no one else in Packers history, perhaps NFL history.

We have written before about some of our favorite Favre memories, what are some of yours?

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We seek to bring more context to, and share interesting stores about, the history of the Green Bay Packers and the NFL as a whole. Clickbait be damned. "We" are Daniel and David Zillmer; hit the about or contact to learn more.

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