The city of Green Bay went all out to greet their proud hero on Saturday evening, packing Lambeau Field with thousands of fans for a celebration to honor Brett Favre’s induction into the Packers Hall of Fame. His iconic No. 4 will be retired, too.
The cheering went on unabated for five minutes. The quarterback, who lifted the franchise out of the doldrums in the mid-1990s and led the team to a run of dominance that included a victory in Super Bowl XXXI, sat back and was clearly emotional.
This day was a long time coming and at times, seemed like it would never happen after Favre’s nasty split with the team 2008. However, on Saturday, it was obvious that all was forgiven.
"I’m a little bit embarrased that all this is for me. I really am … I never dreamed of standing here before you in a moment like this. It’s just way beyond what I’ve dreamed of. I’m so honored.
The fan reaction of social media was also positive.
"I understand that this night is `about me,’ but I would choose to say it’s about us," Favre said, gesturing to those sitting behind him and referring his teammates. "And that’s why I’m here today. It has nothing to do with me. But again, I’m extremely honored and that’s probably an understatement."
Favre headed up the Lambeau Field tunnel, a path that he had walked dozens of times. He turned left at the end, and then walked through a set of double doors. The Packers’ locker room was just down the hall on the right.
And that’s when it finally it him. He was back at his football home.
"It was like I never left. It was a great feeling. It was kind of weird because I had been here for a couple of hours and just walked off of Lambeau," Favre said before the ceremony. "It’s kind of funny how things are triggered. And then it was kind of a sigh of relief almost."
It was a moment that some Packers fans thought would never come, not after the "will he-or-won’t he retire" drama that marked the end of his 16-year tenure in Titletown. He was traded to the New York Jets in 2008, then played two more seasons with division rival Minnesota starting in 2009 before calling it quits for good.
Now a reconciliation that has been years in the making is finally complete.
"Congratulations Brett. Welcome home," Packers Hall of Fame president Perry Kidder said while presenting Favre with a ring and bronzed football.
Fans, many of them wearing No. 4 jerseys, gave him standing ovations. Family members, friends, along with former teammates and coaches watched while Favre spoke for about 50 minutes, pausing at least once to collect his emotions.
"Yes, I have been away from Green Bay for quite a while. A lot of people that I am close to have sort of forgotten the body of work" with the Packers, Favre told attendees. "Simply because of what has happened and the departure when I left. Of course, that is all forgotten. Today is a special day."
His hair is graying. But in a way, it was as if Favre had never left.
He cracked jokes. He held the audience captive with locker room stories and vivid anecdotes of former team officials, coaches and teammates. He resumed his love affair with fans.
Tailgaters milled around parking lots as if they were getting ready for a Bears game. More than 67,000 people were expected to watch the ceremony on video boards inside the stadium bowl.
Favre said he would try not to get emotional on Saturday night. He was fighting back tears by the time he was addressing fans on the field by microphone on a sticky afternoon before his induction ceremony.
Chants of "MVP!" ringed the stadium.
"The reception, it was hard to put in words," Favre said. "Boy, was that moving."
Former general manager Ron Wolf and former coach Mike Holmgren were among those who feted Favre. The quarterback was introduced at the event by his former roommate, center Frank Winters.
A banner with Favre’s retired number was unfurled high above the stadium atrium. Favre will return to Lambeau on Thanksgiving night, when his No. 4 will join other retired numbers on the stadium’s interior facade in a ceremony during the Packers’ game against the Bears.
Holmgren likened Favre to a son he never had. Wolf said it was an honor to laud — "and I realize I’m biased — the best player ever to play for the Green Bay Packers."
Wolf acquired Favre in 1992 from the Atlanta Falcons for a first-round draft pick. It was the move that would spark the revival of one of the league’s marquee franchises.
What followed was a slew of records, including the NFL mark for quarterback durability of 297 straight regular-season games. The Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996, beating New England 35-21. They returned to the Super Bowl the following season, losing to Denver 31-24.