Wednesday, July 23, 2008


You’ve wanted football talk? You got it!

Early this evening on ESPNews, Michelle Bonner moderated her nightly roundtable discussion; this evening bringing about the latest chapter in the Brett Favre saga. Unanimously, these three sports talkies said that the Green Bay Packers – the team that Favre and others (including Reggie White) brought back from the dead –should do everything possible to not only bring him back, but to delay the development of Aaron Rodgers for another season by returning the future Hall of Famer to his starting role.

One of the talkies (whose name doesn’t come to memory at the moment) said that having Rodgers, the fourth-year quarterback from California, wait out another season as Favre returns would be similar to a scenario played out in San Francisco in the early 90s: when Steve Young waited for his time to shine behind Joe Montana. Again, unanimously, all pointed to the sudden fortunes for the 49ers once Young took over behind center. Not only did he add the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title after the 1994 season, but won the league’s MVP award twice, led the league in passing rating six times, was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame three years ago.

While it’s all well and good (and this Scribe will freely admit to Young being the personal favorite signal-caller of all time), the logic that these apprenticeships are similar is a bit off.

Way off.

For starters, let’s look at how the Montana-Young combination was created in the first place. Young, whose success at BYU led him to becoming one of the major signings for the short-lived USFL, had bombed out with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When the Bucs drafted Vinny Testaverde in 1987, Young was traded to San Francisco for the Niners’ second- and fourth-round draft picks.

For four seasons from 1987-1990, Young served as Montana’s backup, but with various injuries to #16, the scrambling leftie had some significant playing time. As the number 2 QB, Young threw 23 touchdowns to just six interceptions. In the 1989 season where Montana won his second league MVP and fourth Super Bowl, Young still amassed 1,001 yards, eight TDs and just 3 picks.

With Montana having missed the 1992 season due to an elbow injury suffered in the ’91 NFC title game, Young was the undisputed starter. When Young himself was erratic or injured, he was replaced by another Steve, this one being Bono. Bono played well enough in a few games that season that it warranted some discussion on not only who should be the starting signal caller, but how much better the team performed with Montana. Though Montana was returning to full strength, he was unable to do so for the start of 1992 season, allowing Young to hold on to the starting role. It was a blessing in disguise as #8 overcame another show start to take home his first MVP award, first Pro Bowl and first playoff appearance (defeating Washington, but losing to Dallas in the NFC Championship). This gave the front office the confidence to stick with Young by trading Montana to Kansas City before the 1993 campaign.

Of course, Young exceeded everyone’s expectations by not only winning another MVP and a Super Bowl of his own, but carved his own legacy in the Bay Area.

The situation is much different for Rodgers. Unlike Young, who entered the league with collegiate and USFL brilliance to be humbled in his first few years in the NFL, Rodgers’ success in California was scrutinized heavily from the moment his NCAA career ended. As discussed previously, it was essentially a coin flip between him and Utah’s Alex Smith, by none other than… the lusterless San Francisco 49ers. Once the Niners chose Smith with the top overall pick in 2005, he was passed over by twenty teams whose immediate need was not at the quarterback position. Instead, he was selected to reside on Green Bay’s bench until the last whim of Favre would lead him to retirement.

Yet, Favre’s record streak of 275 consecutive starts under center (253 regular season and 22 playoffs) proved that he still had something in that right arm.

Favre, for all of his grit and toughness, was fortunate to never have endured an injury that would sideline him for a significant amount of time (or at all, actually). Yet, Rodgers found significant playing time in one of the mere six games Favre had been unable to finish in his career. After just throwing 35 passes (completing fifteen for 46 yards and one pick), Rodgers had a stellar backup effort in a 37-27 loss in Dallas last fall. In 2 ½ quarters of play, he went 18-for-26 with 201 yards and his first touchdown toss. While he was sacked three times, it gave Packers management a better idea of how their potential heir apparent could perform when the game still matters.

The moment that Favre announced his farewell in March, rumors and prayers were abound in hopes that he would not file his retirement papers. Green Bay, having gone through Favre’s flirtations with retirement for years, seemed to be poised to finally let Rodgers lead the team. Despite reaching the NFC title game last season, it appeared as if management was willing to let him take the reins with what is arguably the most complete starting roster in the NFL.

Whether Rodgers turns out to be a flop or first-ballot Hall of Famer in his own right remains to be seen. There are a few active quarterbacks who had to wait longer than others before becoming The Man for their franchises, such as Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck (a former Favre backup), Houston’s Matt Schaub, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Jacksonville’s David Garrard. While none had to ‘wait for the old man to retire’, they have proven to have the goods to win in the NFL (though Hasselbeck and Schaub had to be traded for their chances). Rodgers could be the next to join this group.

As Young watched Montana nearly twenty years earlier, Rodgers must have learned a ton by observing Favre, albeit with reluctance and anxiousness. As Young, he spent a few years understanding the exacting West Coast offense with a clipboard, practices, preseason games and mop-up duty. As Young, he came to a team that while loaded with emerging talent that could contend for titles in the future, it was anticipating the sunset on a legend that could have gave them at least one. Yet, the common thread ends there.

Injuries set the wheels in motion for Steve Young to supplant Joe Montana. Competitiveness and/or stubbornness of Brett Favre could be keeping Aaron Rodgers in limbo.

And maybe the Green Bay Packers’ future.

Say What?!?!: Well, if the Pack is serious about moving forward with Rodgers, they might want to take off Favre from that current players' masthead on the team website.

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