The Vikings and Packers were opening the 2008 season on Sept. 8, a Monday night, at Lambeau Field. The quarterback matchup was Aaron Rodgers for the home team vs. Tarvaris Jackson for the visitors.
Rodgers was in his fourth season and would be making his first NFL start. Jackson was in his third season and would be making his 15th start for the Vikings.
The drama had been outlandish in Green Bay. Brett Favre had taken over as the quarterback in 1991 and allowed the Packers to escape from their post-Lombardi melancholia. He had quit after the 2006 season, then returned to open arms from management.
Favre did this again after the next season, following his ignominious effort at Lambeau in the NFC title game loss to the New York Giants. Favre allowed Rodgers to run the team through all offseason workouts, then leaked to friendly media that he wanted to return.
"Too late,'' said the Packers this time, and Favre wound up with the New York Jets.
The Jets had opened with a 20-14 victory at Miami, meaning Brett was 1-0 as thousands of tailgaters gathered in the Lambeau parking lot and surrounding properties to get blasted before the Monday night kickoff.
I arrived early and parked on somebody's lawn three blocks from the main lot. There were dozens of Packers jerseys supporting a quarterback to be seen on that short walk.
That quarterback was unanimously Favre, not the one about to make his first start. I actually saw three Favre/Jets jerseys before spotting a first garment in support of Rodgers.
Garland Green from Menomonie, Wis., was in that jersey and said:
"Wearing this jersey is a statement. It's a reminder to people that Aaron Rodgers is a young man who doesn't want anything more than a chance to play football. …
"He waited three years behind Brett, and he got caught in an unbelievably chaotic situation … He's our quarterback, and I'm going to cheer for him, and I wish the whiners would grow up and do the same.''
The Packers' first two possessions were a mess. They punted on fourth-and-20 and fourth-and-15. Later, they twice needed numerous chances to score from inside the Vikings 5. Eventually, Rodgers scored a key TD from the 1-yard line and did a Lambeau leap.
Green Bay escaped, 24-19, an unimpressive start to what would become a 6-10 season. The Vikings won the division at 10-6, with Gus Frerotte and Jackson splitting starts.
Satisfied with neither, Vikings coach Brad Childress brought in Favre for 2009. They beat the Packers twice, won the division at 12-4 and lost to the Saints in overtime in the NFC title game.
Favre went from great to cooked in 2010, while Rodgers and the Packers made a wild-card run to a championship,winning three road games and then beating Pittsburgh 31-25 in the Super Bowl.
Rodgers has never made a second Super Bowl, as did Favre, but there is this:
When Favre's Packers went back-to-back after the 1996 (W) and 1997 (L) seasons, they had the NFC's best personnel. Rodgers never had that advantage,
The Packers have played four times in the NFC title game since the 2014 season. They had the first of those won in an upset at Seattle. It was a magnificent team effort, until Brandon Bostick butchered an onside kick inside the two-minute warning.
They were in Lambeau last January as favorites vs. Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, but when you watched the athletes — the Bucs were way better on defense and deeper in offensive talent.
Rodgers needed more, and he had needed it to arrive in the 2020 draft. He loved Justin Jefferson, I'm told, loved him, but when General Manager Brian Gutekunst moved up in the draft, it was to take a quarterback, Jordan Love … and not further up to get Jefferson, now a star Viking.
Rodgers needed a chance to go for a touchdown and a tying two-point conversion vs. the Bucs. Coach Matt LaFleur chose to kick a field goal with 2:05 left to make it 31-26. Rodgers had to watch Brady run out the clock.
Unlike the 38-year-old Favre 13 years earlier, the 37-year-old Rodgers did not create weeks of chaos for the Packers because he wanted to renege on retirement.
Rodgers, fresh from an MVP season that ended with high frustration, wanted out. His view didn't seem hard to figure:
The Packers moved up to find his replacement, rather than bring in a needed asset for last season. So, let me out of here, get a few draft choices in return and play Love.
Rodgers came back for the start of training camp practices last week. He didn't show up cowering. His long and candid answer on why he sought – and failed to receive – more influence within the organization was tremendous.
I've been a fan of Rodgers since seeing those Favre-loving whiners ready to vilify him in that Monday opener 13 years ago.
That's more true than ever for me today, being an enthusiastic fan of candor in an era when organizations are relentless in attempts to pour syrup on the message.
Rodgers didn't let the Packers get away with that this time.