“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” These are the words of one Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers and namesake behind the trophy awarded to the Super Bowl Champion each year. Though Lombardi last coached the Packers in 1967 en route to his second consecutive title, before passing away in 1970, he has been the continuous standard for Green Bay football. Now, for the first time since 1997 and fouth time in team history, the Lombardi Trophy is coming home.
Green Bay, Wisconsin is like a city frozen in time. Sure, it has modernized like any other city, but the importance of its lone professional sports team is just as it would have been nearly a century ago; meatpacking and paper plants still dominate the local economy. Founded in 1919 by Earl “Curly” Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun, The Green Bay Packers franchise has long since defined the Wisconsin city. Named for the Indian Packing Company that originally provided jerseys for the team, the Packers have maintained their small-town allegiance since their creation. They remain the only non-profit, community-owned team in a major sport. No other major professional sports team can make that claim.
Likewise, Packers fans have stayed true to the team in the city unofficially dubbed “Titletown” and for good reason. With 13 NFL titles, including Super Bowl XLV, the Packers have been champions more than any other franchise. With all of this success, one would think the team would move to a bigger market but in Green Bay? Never. So loyal are these fans that “Titletown” is written on the city seal. Season tickets are impossible to buy; you literally have to inherit them or purchase them privately. That being said, good luck trying to get a Packers fan to sell you his or her season tickets. Green Bay’s stadium, Lambeau Field, holds about 75 percent of the city’s population. I don’t have to tell you that it’s packed for every game. It was even full for the Super Bowl champs’ return trip following their victory.
Even with all of this Packers love going around, something remains unclear. What does this title really mean for Titletown? I think more than anything, the answer lies in the diminishing legacy of Brett Favre and subsequent rise of Aaron Rodgers. For 16 seasons, Packers fans reveled in the glory of the god-like figure that was Favre (I still don’t get the pronounciation). He started every game in that span, from Week three of the 1992 season until a playoff loss in January of 2008. Though he only brought Green Bay one Super Bowl victory, the Pack was always in contention under Favre’s direction. Finally, after a long and successful career, Favre announced his retirement. It was a fitting time to go out for a man who had become as vital to Green Bay football as Lombardi had been. Then, shockingly, he returned, but not with his beloved Packers. Cheeseheads everywhere were stunned. But hey, it was only one season with the Jets and he would retire. Again, Favre hung ‘em up, only to come back with the division rival Vikings and then retire. Then he came back. Now, as Favre finally seems to be retired for good, his reverance in Green Bay has faded. He is but a shadow of his former self to the Packers faithful.
Football fans, especially in Green Bay, have been quick to compare Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers to Favre. Their throwing motions and style are fairly similar, though Rodgers seems to make fewer questionable decisions. Rodgers is 27, the same age Favre was when he won his title in Green Bay. In spite of these comparisons, I believe that Green Bay fans understand the difference between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Though Rodgers undoubtedly learned immensely from Favre as his backup, he seems to have moved beyond his predecessor; no team or city believes in their quarterback as much as the Packers and their fans believe in number 12. Aaron Rodgers is not Brett Favre. He is not even Brett Favre 2.0. He is simply Aaron Rodgers and that is exactly what Green Bay needed to recover from the physical and personal loss of their hero. I’m almost positive Rodgers will eclipse number four as King of the Cheeseheads if he hasn’t done so already.
Rodgers certainly knows that his career will be forever linked to Favre’s in one way or another, especially with this title. Still, I don’t believe that the quarterback was thinking about Brett Favre when he took the final kneel-down. In fact, I have a funny feeling that the only thing Rodgers cared about at that moment was the joy he had just brought to the city of Green Bay. Somewhere, a guy named Lombardi was smiling.