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BIG SANDY… There are few folks who have cheered against the Green Bay Packers more then have I. An opponent, especially one that represented a major rivalry was to be scorned and at no time could you soften your stance. That’s how it was for the Pack and I. It didn’t help that for the first few years of the Minnesota Viking existence we didn’t do real well against them on the field. But that would change in due time with the arrival of one Harry Peter “Bud” Grant from right across the bridge in Soup town. Not too long after his arrival the Green & Purple battles tightened up considerably. Oddly enough, with Minnesota having no NFL club ever before, there was a moderate Packer fan base in the North Star state. I think for some folks over 65 for instance, they may still favor the Pack a bit.
I myself don’t watch much NFL football anymore, but I’m not going to go political here this week, and mostly I don’t have the time to spend 12 hours on Sunday to watch 3 games encompassing about 56 minutes of actual football action and moreover, 1,546 commercials. I’ll tell you what though, when I was still a rabid fan I saw pretty much most of Green Bay’s Brett Favre’s career as well as his cup of coffee with the Vikings. I can’t tell you I was crazy about the young Favre. But I have never, ever, been one to discount a players greatness no matter who they played for. Could I admit that a Packer player might have been truly great? Without hesitation. And this player was great. He was also exciting and he was an honest player.
So last Saturday evening I did something I hadn’t done in awhile; I watched the NFL Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Of course I wanted to see former Gopher gridiron great Tony Dungy get inducted as well, but make no mistake, it was a Green & Gold weekend there in Canton, OH. One by one the inductees were brought to the podium and gave their acceptance speeches except for the two inducted posthumously, the great Ken Stabler and an old timer from the fifties, Dick Stanfel. In one of those moments that can just pull the emotion right out of you no matter your self control, Stabler’s two teenage Grandson’s came on stage to unveil his bust and when they did, one of them kissed the bust and broke down crying. One of their Grandfathers favorite targets, Fred Bilitnikoff, embraced the young man and tried to comfort him. It was powerful. Sports has that grip.
Former Linebacker Kevin Greene gave an outstanding speech, “Coach Tony” did too. And don’t ever forget his contributions to the Vikings when he was a member of the Vikes coaching staff. He did make mention of the late Denny Green and that drew a round of applause. And don’t ever underestimate what Denny brought to the game of football and how he treated people. He left a mark on the game and on the Vikings.
But the guy that everyone was waiting for would be the last speaker of the evening. And when he finally came out the ovation was long and loud. And everyone there was on their feet. And one of the best Quarterbacks of All-time didn’t disappoint. He gave what was called afterwards the longest speech in Hall history. He went for 36 minutes plus. But every bit of it was poignant, well thought out and had some meaning to it. He thanked all he could think of in his life, talked a lot about his late father Irv and put it all together in brilliant fashion, just as he did when he played.
He talked of mistakes he made early in his career, on and off the field, but his centerpiece story was that of his father. He didn’t get a lot of verbal praise or love from him, in fact his father was always his coach until he got to college. He got pushed very hard by his father. He told of the story at the end of his HS playing days when waiting for his nightly ride home from school and practice he overheard his father tell the other 3 coaches that he knew that Brett didn’t play well the week before but that he knew he would this upcoming game because he always “redeems himself”.
Favre mentioned that he has never really told anyone of this incident but that he never forgot it. He thought that perhaps that was the single greatest praise he ever got from his dad. He talked then of how his personal and professional life have always been driven by redemption. That if and when he let someone or something down he had to push harder to make it right. And he delivered that message and theme as smoothly as any polished speaker I have ever seen.
There are those that have always seen Favre as some kind of bumpkin from Mississippi, long on physical talent but not necessarily a Rhodes scholar. They would all be wrong. Favre was not only one of the best players of all time, but an intelligent man with a very professional way about him. He himself said he wished he had hit the books more, but there is nothing wrong with the way he carries himself. He is at home in the locker room or in the Board room.
I came away from the evening quite pleased that I opted to watch the entire ceremony, and it has been awhile since I have said that about much of anything to do with the NFL. The only question mark I would have for Favre is why didn’t he stay home after the beating he took from the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game? That season with the Vikes no less may have been his best career year, the following year a total stink bomb. But for those of us who were never in that spot, that corner, we will never know how hard it is to say goodbye to something that has been your whole life. Especially if you loved it as much as he did. There is nothing like seeing a guy smiling when he is on the job…. nothing. PEACE