GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Favre’s night became Bart Starr’s night -- not just for the sellout crowd of 78,488 at Lambeau Field, but for Favre himself.
For while Thursday night was supposed to be all about honoring one of the Green Bay Packers’ legendary quarterbacks and unveiling Favre’s retired No. 4 on the north end-zone façade, it was Starr, the team’s first iconic signal-caller, who delivered the night’s most meaningful moment when he stood on the Lambeau Field turf and he and Favre embraced.
And that was more than all right with Favre.
“I got more of a thrill out of that than what I was here for,” Favre said afterward. “I mean -- it was awesome.”
In August 2014, when Favre and the Packers announced plans to retire his number, it was Favre who suggested during a conference call with reporters that Starr be part of the festivities. The way he blurted it out, it seemed like a typical Favre, draw-it-up-in-the-dirt improvisation. In reality, Favre had been thinking about it for a while.
After the announcement, the two had been tentatively scheduled to come to Lambeau Field for a game last fall before Starr suffered multiple strokes and a heart attack.
“I just felt, not obligated, but I felt compelled to include him,” Favre explained during the third quarter of what ended up being a 17-13 Packers loss to the Chicago Bears. “Back last year, [when] it didn’t work out, we really set the plan in motion for this year. Obviously, time is not on his side. But we held out hope, and Bart Jr. and [Bart’s wife] Cherry and their entire family was determined to get Bart back.
“I think it was the right way to do it. Didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to include him in this whole atmosphere.”
Clad in a Packers hooded parka and a charcoal knit hat, Favre emerged from the tunnel to a standing ovation, then hugged a dozen or so former teammates before his number was unveiled. Favre then spoke briefly to the crowd before Starr, with his wife of 61 years seated next to him, rode onto the field in a cart. Starr was clapping and waving as the cart made its way to midfield, where he got out with some help and stood face-to-face with Favre before the two embraced.
Later, Favre admitted that, after seeing Starr earlier in the day, he wasn’t sure such a moment would be possible, despite the stem-cell treatments that had accelerated Starr's recovery. But then he looked in Starr’s eyes and saw how much the moment meant to him.
“It meant a lot. It meant a lot,” Favre said. “As I saw Bart earlier today -- the first time I’d seen him in I couldn’t tell you how long -- I was worried. I was worried. But that was a totally different man [on the field].
“I talked to Bart Jr. right before [going out], and I said, ‘Is your dad ready?’ And he said, ‘Oh, he’s ready.’ So you’re thinking, ‘Hmm, OK.’ But he was gritting his teeth. I mean -- it was awesome.”
“[This] was more than likely his last time to be here. And it’s sad, but I really wanted him to be here. His family really wanted him to be here. I think that was a special way to send him off. I mean, he’s an amazing guy, an amazing career here, an icon for so many. And it was a special moment.”