GREEN BAY, Wis. — Ryan Longwell never had the option of remaining with the Green Bay Packers after the 2005 season. That realization made it easier for the now-retired kicker to move on to another team.
However, six years with the division-rival Minnesota Vikings didn’t change Longwell’s mind about which team he ultimately wanted to be remembered with.
As Longwell stood at the podium Tuesday inside Lambeau Field, the Packers’ all-time leading scorer seemed to appreciate his nine years in Green Bay even more after seeing it from an outside perspective.
“We were so blessed to be able to see this whole operation from the other side, from the visiting sideline, from the visiting locker room, from the other side of the state line and see just how special – not just the tradition and the fan base, but the people here and how crazy the fans are and playing in front of sellouts all the time and just seeing how special this was,” Longwell said.
“Knowing that this little kid from Bend, Oregon, was the all-time leading scorer. It’s kind of how we wanted to go about it.
“I didn’t know, because of my time in Minnesota, if it was even possible. But when we started reaching out to Ted (Thompson) and Russ Ball months ago, ‘Hey, this is what we’d like to do,’ they were all in. It was really good and the timing was right for it.”
Over the past decade, Longwell hasn’t been the only former Packers player to sign up with the Vikings on his next stop. Darren Sharper and Brett Favre did so, and recently Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop also became part of the trend.
“I know a lot of us have migrated that way, and most of us migrate back,” Longwell said. “It’s just one of those things. The rivalry between those two organizations and two teams is what it is. It’s a great rivalry. Guys are seen from them and seen from here playing a lot, and it just leads to some emotion that you don’t get if you go elsewhere.
“You could go to any other team on the planet but when you happen to go to the team right across the border, it kinda amps up that thing.”
Longwell — who’s been a close friend of Favre’s and talked to him earlier in the day — is confident that the Packers and their former gunslinging quarterback will come together and have a similar retirement announcement at some point.
“I feel like it will happen soon,” Longwell said. “I feel like everybody’s in a good place about it, and, like I said, I think time heals everything. I think it’s his desire to be here. When that happens, I think it will be the right time, but I don’t know when that is.”
Longwell was in Minnesota when Favre joined the Vikings in 2009 and remembers how it felt when that transaction took place, one that he found himself right in the middle of.
“I think as a Viking we knew what piece we needed and the best guy available was Brett,” Longwell said. “Obviously, it got a little bigger than we anticipated. But Brett’s a great friend. I was sad as a friend to see what happened here. I knew there were two sides to the argument, one that Brett wanted to play and we got a great player in waiting that we want to go onto.
“It wasn’t like you could pick a side of the argument and say, ‘You were wrong.’ Both of them were right. And ultimately it was just one of those tough, tough decisions that had to be made. People deal with those all the time in life. There’s just those big decisions that have to be made. No matter what decisions are made some people are going to be happy and some people are going to be mad.
“It was interesting when Brett was done with the Jets and then came to Minnesota, another curveball. It was fun to be part of, it was crazy to be part of. Someone actually contacted the Vikings to try to buy the car I picked up Brett in. It’s like this crazy stuff never happening in your life. Helicopters were following you and it just became such a huge story that I think people lost the overall picture that it was just a tough decision that had to be made.”
Longwell didn’t have many regrets, but there is one that he still hasn’t lived down 16 years later.
“The one I regret was not enjoying my rookie year Super Bowl run more,” Longwell said. “I was in the locker room with Favre and Reggie White and these guys, and I’m thinking, ‘We’re going to go to the Super Bowl every single year. So it’s not even a big deal that we lost this one.’ Man, I never got back. I wish we would have enjoyed that a little more.
“I’ll never forget that 38-yarder against the Bears on Monday night. That was probably every kid’s dream: ‘Monday Night Football’ for the defending world champs and on the opening drive you kick a field goal. I’ll never forget that. And then the non-football side of things, I had great teammates.
“The two experiences that I’ll never forget and really changed my life were walking through the old tunnel with my best friend and buddy and teammate Josh Bidwell the night before a game and he goes, ‘Hey, I need you to pray for me because I think we might have found something and I’m going to go and get it checked after this.’ And then how that spiraled within a 12-hour period just changed my life forever with his cancer situation.
“Then, obviously, when Doug and Josh and I were with Brett and he got the call that his dad had passed. That and moving on to that game on Monday night in Oakland, it was surreal to think you lived through it and were a part of it. Those are the experiences. I had a lot of great times and those couple that really steered our life in a different direction and made you appreciate everything a whole lot more.”
Longwell made 226 field goals and 376 extra points in a Green Bay uniform, accumulating 1,054 points in the process.