In honor of ESPN replaying the Vikings-Packers Monday Night Football game from Oct. 5, 2009, when Brett Favre faced Green Bay for the first time, Vikings.com spoke with several players from that team and media members who covered the game for an oral history. ESPN is airing the game at 7 p.m. (CT) on April 13.
Brett Favre had a burning question and a buddy who was more than qualified to provide an answer.
After spending the first nine seasons of his career with the Packers, Ryan Longwell signed with the Vikings in 2006.
In the months that preceded the 2009 season, Longwell said he and Favre spoke "two to three times a week for six months before he committed to coming to the Vikings."
"In every single one of those conversations, he asked, 'What was it like playing the Packers for the first time?' Every single time we spoke, that subject came up: 'What was it like going to Lambeau?' 'What was it like playing the Packers?' So, obviously it was a huge part of the equation and a huge unknown of his."
What was the answer?
"He's so good, right? I mean, he had been through so much historically," Longwell explained. "He was the gunslinger; he was throwin' balls all over the place. The only thing I told him was, 'Just go through your routine, and after the first drive, it'll all settle down. I remember the first time I played the Packers; it was like, the first kick, once that was over, it was like, 'OK, we're OK here.' But you know, it's a big deal to see the team in the uniform that you wore for so long."
View photos from the iconic 2009 Monday Night Football game between the Vikings and the Packers in Minneapolis where QB Brett Favre helped lead the Vikings to a 30-23 victory.
Quite the introduction
The Aug. 18, 2009, edition of the Star Tribune referenced a "prediction" by Jay Glazer that Favre would eventually sign with the Vikings. By this point, the paper's skepticism was warranted because Favre had appeared to end a long saga when he said at the end of July that he would stay retired.
The next day's paper featured an A1 "Favre Fevre" centerpiece with a pair of headlines that chronicled a "circus atmosphere" outside Winter Park, the team's headquarters from 1981-2017, with reactions from fans and the quarterback's introduction as a teammate rather than a rival. The paper pumped out a six-page special section to boot.
That was only the beginning of a wild ride and juicy storylines for area scribes like the Star Tribune's Mark Craig, Chip Scoggins and Jim Souhan and ESPN's Kevin Seifert.
Souhan: "It was an amazing time to be a sports columnist in Minnesota because Favre was probably the biggest Minnesota story I ever covered, from the day he got to Winter Park through the NFC Championship Game, that was as intense a time as I think we've ever had. I just don't think you can imagine a bigger story in Minnesota than Favre coming to the Vikings and taking them on a run like that.
"Favre was the Packers for a generation, and I didn't really believe it was going to happen. I was one of the people, 'They're not going to do that, and if they do, it's not going to work.' "
Scoggins: "The day he signed, the first practice was a circus and kind of a thrill moment. His first game for the Vikings [was big], but nothing compared to that first time of going against the Packers and the build-up that week for the Monday Night game."
As for Vikings defenders like Chad Greenway, Brian Robison and Kevin Williams, the transition from foe to friend was smooth because of Favre's proven success and his special composition as a colloquial competitor.
Greenway: "Obviously we all respected him, loved his game and followed him growing up or actually played against him for a number of years. … He fit in right away with the personality of our team. [Head Coach Brad] Childress was very serious, so [Brett's] behavior and antics were well-received in the locker room and kind of kept it light, which I think was really nice. And Brett has a way of taking over a room with his personality and not taking himself too seriously. He fell right in line with what we were already doing."
Robison: "He was a guy I grew up watching and admiring … I think a lot of guys on our team grew up watching him. I knew how good of a quarterback he was. The first time I saw him, I wanted him to autograph a picture of me sacking him. He thought that was pretty funny."
Robison also pointed out that Favre was able to share a couple of laughs with him later that season after the defensive end fumbled at Lambeau Field.
"He got me after that, and we were able to rib each other along the way. I was on kickoff return as one of the up guys. I caught it and tried to make a move and had the ball punched right out of my hands. It wasn't pretty."
Williams: "It was weird, but I'm glad we had him on our team. I had played against him so many times and saw the things he could do and how good of a quarterback he was, so it was great to have him on our side."
Three days after signing, Favre stepped out of a red non-contact practice jersey and into a Purple No. 4. He played two series, completing one of four passes for four yards in Minnesota's second preseason game.
The next pass he threw in a game occurred at Houston in the third preseason game. It was an 8-yard gain to Adrian Peterson on the series that followed the running back's game-opening 75-yard touchdown run. Favre followed with a 19-yarder to Visanthe Shiancoe, but the drive stalled.
Favre played deep into the third quarter and finished 13-of-18 passing for 142 yards with a 28-yard touchdown on a short pass to Chester Taylor.
Souhan covered that preseason game in Houston, taking note of how quickly things were taking shape with Favre and his skills players.
Souhan: "The efficiency with which he moved, and he would put the ball right on their hands where they didn't have to break stride, he made everything look effortless. In that same game, I saw him make a couple of throws over the middle that most quarterbacks wouldn't have tried. He zipped the ball in there with velocity I was not used to seeing. That was my first, 'He really does still have it' moment."
Magic Man Builds Momentum
The second instance occurred in Week 3 of the regular season when Favre led Minnesota on a 10-play, 80-yard drive in 87 seconds that he capped with a 32-yard pass to Greg Lewis with two ticks left on the clock.
Souhan: " 'That play can't happen. You can't make that throw.' If there was any doubt left in my mind, that throw erased it."
Seifert explained the game-winning pass as a noticeable transformation point. After averaging 5.24 and 5.74 yards per attempt and combining for 265 passing yards in Weeks 1 and 2 at Cleveland and Detroit, Favre totaled 301 yards against San Francisco and 6.54 yards per attempt.
Favre's biceps tendon on his throwing arm had been surgically repaired in May following his lone season with the New York Jets. A tear in his rotator cuff was discovered, but it was not repaired. Yet, the player who turned 40 on Oct. 10 that season struck with a thunderbolt in the clutch to dispatch the 49ers in his first start at the Metrodome in Purple.
Seifert: "I remember Brad Childress not liking the phrase or insinuation, but he was kind of just managing the game. They were giving it to Adrian Peterson, which made perfect sense, and he was going off. … Favre managed the short-range passing game. … When he first started with the Vikings, it wasn't clear if he was still going to be the same Favre in terms of going down the field and being a gunslinger. … When they come out in the season with this really short-range offense, you start thinking, 'Childress doesn't trust him enough to be the usual Favre,' or 'He can't do it.' The throw he made at the end of the 49ers game told you that the arm was still there. That was the first game where we saw more of the Favre-type of throw, so you left that game thinking, 'He's back.' Combine the 49ers game ending with him throwing the ball all over the field against the Packers, 'This is the old Brett Favre. He's back.'
Craig described Weeks 3 and 4 as "vintage Favre" with the quarterback building on the momentum from the clutch touchdown and carrying it into the Monday Night Football showdown with the team he quarterbacked for 16 seasons.
Craig: "That whole last drive was one of my favorite series that I've ever watched in football, just how he set it up and made that throw."
Scoggins: "That San Francisco game, you saw, 'OK, this could be something special.' You saw the Favre that you thought you would see and kind of imagined. "The town was electric because of that win and the way he played. … Favre tried to downplay it all week, saying it's just another game, which we all kind of laughed at. … The buildup and kind of the drama of seeing him go against the Packers for the first time is something you'll never forget.
The Monday Night Football announcers at the time were Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden. The trio participated in a conference call on Sept. 30 between the 49ers and Packers games, noting the magnitude of the matchup. The quotes from Tirico, Jaworski and Gruden were distributed by ESPN.
Tirico: "Talking to Favre a couple different times since he left Green Bay and being around the Packers a little bit, this is the game Brett Favre's wanted to play. When the Packers essentially said, 'We don't want you to be our quarterback anymore,' Brett Favre had an unbelievable clock ticking inside him to want to play the Green Bay Packers. So you can say that he's waited 13-14 months for it and you're not overstating it. It certainly equals the hype."
Jaworski: "When you get an opportunity to go up against a team that basically got rid of you — 'You're not good enough' — you want to show what you can do … Brett Favre is going to approach this game and he's going to be angry, he's going to be vindictive and he will come out smoking."
Gruden was an offensive assistant who picked up Favre at the airport in 1992 after the quarterback was traded from Atlanta to Green Bay. Gruden was promoted to receivers coach for 1993-94, getting a unique perspective on the quarterback's arm.
Gruden: "As a receivers coach, I can't tell you how many fingers he's broken, how many face masks he's twisted and how many times the fans on Oneida Boulevard at training camp drove home marveling at some of the throws this guy made. He had a cannon, and it was accurate, and it was unbelievable. You could hear the ball hissing through the wind."
Now the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, Gruden held the same role with Tampa Bay from 2002-08. He also shared the backstory of trying to get Favre, the Gulf Coast native, to the Buccaneers in 2008.
Gruden: "Both of us thought he was coming to Tampa. I was sure we had Brett Favre. I talked to Brett on the telephone, and I think if you talk to Brett yourself, both of us thought he was coming to Tampa. I went to bed at about 20 minutes after 12, 12:30 thinking we had Brett Favre. I was sure we had Brett Favre. When I woke up the next day, Santa Claus didn't arrive."
Gruden's Bucs went 9-7 that season and defeated the Packers in Week 4 of 2008. Favre's Jets also went 9-7, but his stats took a big hit. The Packers, however, no longer had a say in who he could or couldn't play for — if he decided he wasn't done.
When Favre signed with the Vikings, it created seven weeks of anticipation to another installment of the Border Battle and a fantastic narrative that would grip the nation.
The game delivered the biggest audience in the history of cable television with a 15.3 rating that represented more than 15 million homes (21,839,000 people).
If Favre was nervous ahead of the Packers game, it went unnoticed during his weekly media availability.
Scoggins: "He didn't seem any different than any of his other press conferences. I know players kept saying, 'It wasn't about one person. … This is the Vikings vs. the Packers,' but everybody knew that was just lip service. You knew how much this meant to him, but I didn't get the sense, from just watching him, I didn't see anything different, that he was out of the ordinary at his press conference.
Teammates could put themselves in Favre's shoes.
They wanted to follow what Greenway described as a "huge, epic throw and finish to Greg Lewis" with an outing in the national spotlight.
Greenway: "The two matchups against Green Bay were going to be something that everybody was watching. It was an amazing experience, an amazing year and fun to watch him navigate that – and also fun to watch the hype of those regular-season games that felt much more like a playoff game. The buildup was enormous in the media. … With him individually, [it was] just a bigger focus – but also, at the same time, not losing perspective on the way he played the game. You could definitely tell there was more intensity and focus in him leading up to those games because they meant more."
Robison: "A lot of the time, the division kind of ran through us or Green Bay. We knew the importance of winning that game, especially on Monday Night Football. It was definitely an atmosphere you wanted to be a part of, but you had to gear up and get ready throughout the week."
Longwell: "It was like, 'OK, this guy that had this magic for all these years now has it for us.' As a fan base, you could sense the energy coming off that game, and as a locker room, it was like, 'We could be in for something special.' It's still early in the season, but then that game kind of increased the hype of Brett versus the Packers on, you know, a Sunday game would have been a big deal, but the Monday night game made it a huge deal, right? That's why it was amped up."
Seifert, who was covering the four NFC North teams for ESPN at the time, noted the tension between the Vikings and Packers.
Seifert: "The biggest anticipation point at that moment was not so much Favre rubbing it in the face of the Packers or the Packers fans. That was more the game at Lambeau. This was, people forget how really intense and tense the relationship between the two franchises was at that time. Normally I always kind of laugh when people talk about rivalries and pro sports and all of that because the fans definitely feel that way. … Normally you don't have an actual rivalry between the franchises, but that year, the Vikings and Packers did. It had been percolating for a year because the Vikings very clearly wanted to sign Favre prior to the '08 season when the Packers were letting him go, and the Packers wouldn't let it happen. … He eventually gets there in 2009, and you realize this is going to be the first chance for this to all play out on the field. I remember feeling there was a great level of tension between the franchises and front offices. … This was going to be a referendum on A) Did the Packers do the right thing by keeping Favre away from the Vikings? and B) Were the Vikings being a little too foolish thinking he could solve all of their problems?"
Craig: "At the old Metrodome, the GMs from other teams would sit behind us, and I remember the buildup to that game was kind of an eerie feeling. The Packers are on the field, and Brett Favre is in a Vikings uniform. They're in the throwback uniforms, Favre was wearing pink shoes for breast cancer awareness. … Looking at [Ted Thompson (Packers GM from 2005-17)], I felt like, 'If this goes the way that Brett wants it to go, we're living inside Ted Thompson's nightmare. The nightmare that he dreaded.'
"History is going to be on Ted's side because it was time for them to move on from Brett's waffling in the offseason. They won the Super Bowl [in 2010], but on this particular night, that was Ted's worst nightmare, because Brett wanted to come back, and they tried so hard to keep him away from the Vikings. They sent him to the Jets, but here they were on Monday Night Football after Brett had just had that great game the week before. The Vikings were 3-0, the Packers were 2-1. I just remember thinking, 'What's it feel like to have everyone looking at you if you're Ted Thompson?' "
By this time, Longwell had participated in 25 Border Battles (19 as a Packer and six as a Viking). A dozen of those occurred at the Metrodome. But the lead-up to him opening the game with a kickoff was unlike any he had experienced.
Longwell: "I've played in some crazy loud games as the visitor in that Dome being with the Packers, and I've never heard it as loud as it was that night for the reunion game with Brett. The energy was so thick. It definitely had more of a playoff-type, tense nature in the air than it did a regular-season game, for sure."
Longwell had seen Favre in big games before, including Super Bowl XXXII, and in his 2003 performance against the Raiders on Monday Night Football the day after his father passed away.
"It's not foreign for Brett to be in those situations; he's been in them before. He's always dealt with nerves by going full-throttle – obviously that's what he did the Monday night game after his dad passed away, that's what he did his whole career – and ultimately during that whole game, that's what he did there. He just kept firing and firing."
Craig remembered Packers fans booing Favre as he came onto the field.
Craig: "There was just this eerie, surreal scene, and it played out again four weeks later when they played in Green Bay. To see Brett come into Lambeau in a Vikings uniform is one of the cooler and more surreal things I think I've witnessed covering football.
"It would be kind of a corny movie scene, but it was real, and just the way he played was magical. … I'd say the first magical moment was the 49ers ending, but then to follow that up with the Packers game was just a magical performance by him in that and the other one."
Scoggins: "He looked like the Favre that you were used to seeing, the arm strength and really putting the ball where guys can go make plays. He turned 40 later that week, so this was his last game in his 30s. You kept waiting to see Father Time step in and affect him, and it didn't at all that year. You didn't see it. He had the arm strength."
Sage Rosenfels was traded by Houston to Minnesota in February of 2009. He went from competing with Tarvaris Jackson, who died in a car accident on April 12, and John David Booty for the starting QB gig through training camp to vying for a roster spot when the Favre signing became official. Rosenfels obviously spent a tremendous amount of time with Favre in the position meeting rooms. He said the Week 3 to Week 4 transition was "one crazy game to the next."
Rosenfels: "I just remember that in both Packers games, there was just something different about Brett in those games. Maybe an extra seriousness the closer we got – he badly, badly wanted to win those games. And I think the rest of our team felt that and raised their play. They felt that it was important to Brett, so it was important to everybody else. It's like we were all there to have his back because we knew how badly he wanted to beat his old team, and he would have hated to lose to the Packers at home on Monday night. He knew the spotlight was there; we wanted to support him. Going 4-0 was great – 3-1, 4-0, both great starts to a season – but this game meant a lot more than just a 4-0 start."
Rosenfels noted the way that the Vikings defense badgered Rodgers, which really started on the opening drive.
Rosenfels: "Rodgers was harassed constantly by our defense. I think that was the difference. Brett wasn't sacked at all."
After Green Bay moved to the Minnesota 24, Jared Allen and Robison combined for a sack of Rodgers. Allen forced a fumble on the play, and Greenway recovered it at the 33-yard line.
Minnesota turned the turnover into a touchdown with a gritty drive during which Peterson converted a fourth-and-1 from the 10. Peterson followed with a gain of 7 before Favre found Shiancoe for a 1-yard touchdown.
Favre responded by chest-bumping … the kicker? Yup.
Longwell: "A lot of it was that historical context of the six-months prior, of all those conversations, and when we drove down the field and scored, it was just kind of like the weight of the world was off. We were all functioning, we were all good, he had done his thing, and it looked like the team had shown up to play, which was a huge component of that."
Green Bay clapped back with a 62-yard score from Rodgers to Jermichael Finley three snaps later to tie the game at 7.
Antoine Winfield intercepted Rodgers at the Minnesota 23 with 11:42 left in the second quarter, and the Vikings again reached the end zone after a Packers turnover. Favre converted a third-and-11 with a 16-yard pass to Bernard Berrian three plays before converting another with a 14-yard touchdown to Sidney Rice. That time, Favre accidentally knocked Taylor to the turf with his chest bump.
After Minnesota forced a three-and-punt thanks to another sack by Allen, Peterson was stripped on a first-down run by Clay Matthews, who returned the ball 42 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14.
The Vikings took a 21-14 lead into halftime thanks to a 1-yard run by Peterson with 30 seconds left in the first half. Favre made consecutive completions of 16, 19 and 43 yards to move Minnesota from its own 19 to the Green Bay 3.
Favre struck again on the opening drive of the second half, connecting with Jeff Dugan for 25 before hitting Berrian for a 31-yard touchdown that put Minnesota up 28-14. Back on the Vikings sideline, Favre tried to put Berrian up in the air in celebration.
Rosenfels: "Brett was quite the celebrator after touchdowns, and whether you're playing the 32nd team in the league or the best team in the league, it seemed like the touchdown celebration – the excitement by him, like a kid at recess – was the same. He did that multiple times throughout the year, going and trying to lift the guys up. And it usually didn't go well. Brett is a strong and was a very strong guy, but for whatever reason, when he tried to lift guys up, whether it was Bernard, who was smaller, or a guy like Shiancoe or something, it always ended up awkward (laughs)."
Greenway: "I think it just shows his love for the game, his love for his teammates and how he played. He played like a 15-year-old kid, like he was having so much fun and playing out in the backyard. He wanted to celebrate and relish every moment. You appreciate a guy like that who left it all out there on the field, left his emotions – and led with his emotions, as well. That's what you appreciate about him as a fan, a competitor and also as a teammate."
Allen added his name to the scoresheet midway through the fourth quarter when he was credited with a safety of Rodgers.
Jordy Nelson caught a 33-yard pass from Rodgers with 3:40 remaining, and Mason Crosby added a 31-yard field goal with under a minute to go, but the Vikings prevailed 30-23.
Allen led the Vikings with 4.5 sacks, and Robison totaled 1.5. Ben Leber and Jimmy Kennedy each recorded a sack to give the Vikings an eight-pack on the night.
Robison: "Oh man, we were ready to go. … There was obviously extra fuel for Brett. Anytime you spend that long in an organization and they let him go the way they did, then being able to play them … there was extra motivation for him. But for us, it was about putting ourselves in a great position for the division as the year moved on. When you had an offense like we had that was putting points on the board, it made it fun for the defense because we weren't on the field all the time, and it got teams behind early and allowed us to pin our ears back and get after the passer.
Craig: "Rodgers ended up throwing for 384 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked eight times. Unlike what Aaron has become as one of the greatest quarterbacks when it comes to avoiding turnovers. He had two turnovers early that game that Favre took for two touchdowns. Looking back on their two careers, the irony of their first meeting — and such a memorable meeting — being Aaron Rodgers turning the ball over twice leading to 14 points and Brett not turning the ball over, it's kind of funny when you think about it."
Favre finished 24-of-31 passing for 271 yards with three scores and a passer rating of 135.3 on the way to arguably the best season of the three-time NFL MVP's career. His end-of-season yards per attempt were a career-best 7.9, and his 107.2 passer rating marked the only time of his career in which he exceeded triple digits.
Rosenfels: "I think he tried to downplay a little bit how much it really did mean to him. It was a great team win, but you could tell that everybody was happy for Brett. I think sometimes he would carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, wanting to win so badly – and particularly against the Packers – and would try not to show that. But I think sometimes games like this, it was probably just as much relief that we won the game, maybe even more than pure happiness that we were 4-0. And sometimes that's the way it goes for quarterbacks."
After the game, Favre admitted in his media session that he was as nervous as he had ever been before a game. He was quoted by Judd Zulgad:
"I didn't think I would be, as the week progressed I felt fine, but I got to the hotel [on Sunday] and it kind of dawned on me. I had church today at 3 o'clock and was sitting there throwing all kinds of prayers out. I said, 'Man, I'm losing it.' "
Scoggins: "I wasn't surprised that he played well, but I guess I didn't know how it would go because we couldn't tell how nervous he was. He told us after the game that it was as nervous as he had ever been before a game, but he didn't show it on the outside, so you didn't know if he'd be able to harness all of the emotions and nerves he was feeling inside his body."
Seifert: "I don't think he ever took a shot at the Packers, 'They shouldn't have gotten rid of me.' I don't know what he thought, what was in his head or his heart, but in terms of how he was publicly, he really never gloated about how he had managed after two years to not only get on the field with the Vikings but be the high-end quarterback he had been prior to the injury.
Longwell said he and the quarterback shared a sense of relief.
Longwell: "It was definitely, not 'celebration' as far as rubbing it in, but celebration as more of, he played great, we played great, we got the win. … I think that was Brett in the locker room – he was just so excited that he had played great, that we had won, and it was just the relief of, we got through it, and he accomplished what he wanted to.
"From my perspective, there was more riding on the game than just the win or the loss. … A lot of it was the six months of conversation going into it, but a lot of it, selfishly, my neck was kind of on the line by getting Brett to come to the Vikings. … There was a little more riding on it for me than there was for anybody else, just because I didn't want to let down my buddy by promising, 'It'll all be OK' and then it not happening. That was kind of my mindset, which went into the chest bump after the touchdown and the relief after winning the game. But then as quick as the celebration ended, you started having to look forward to going to Lambeau [in Week 8] to do the same thing again, and that was a whole different can of worms."
By: Craig Peters, Eric Smith and Lindsey Young