For Ryan Longwell (and Brett Favre), appreciation for Packers grew from time with Vikings

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When Brett Favre was mulling whether to join the Minnesota Vikings during the 2009 offseason, he and kicker Ryan Longwell spoke frequently. And when Favre wondered -- or worried -- about how he'd be received by Green Bay Packers fans upon his return to Titletown last summer, the iconic quarterback again reached out to his longtime teammate.

After all, no one else on the planet could have understood Favre's emotions better than Longwell, who made the same Green Bay-Twin Cities-Green Bay, full-circle journey before Favre did.

And just as Favre, who is set to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month, was overwhelmed last summer by the largely let-bygones-be-bygones welcome he received coming back to Green Bay, Longwell says he believes it took playing for a hated rival and then returning years later for both of them to fully appreciate their Packers careers.

Favre played 16 seasons in Green Bay (1992-2007), and Longwell played nine (1997-2005). Including the two seasons they were together with the Vikings, 11 of Longwell's 15 NFL seasons were spent on the same team as Favre.

"From my perspective, and I don't know if Brett would say this [publicly] -- I know he's shared with me -- we would not be nearly as appreciative of everything that the Packers are had we not seen it from the other side," Longwell said during an interview on "Green & Gold Today" on ESPN Milwaukee earlier this week.

"And that's a perspective that I'm so thankful and blessed that I was able to get. Because for me, you come into the NFL and your first team is the Packers and you think it's [the same everywhere in] the NFL. Going to Minnesota really made me appreciate everything the Packers are. Because it's not the same way everywhere else. For sure."

Longwell became the Packers kicker in 1997 -- as an undrafted free agent initially claimed off the waiver wire for $100 as insurance behind rookie third-round pick Brett Conway -- and left Green Bay following the 2005 season as the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 1,054 points.

After the Packers didn't try to re-sign him, Longwell picked the Vikings over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency and became Packers fans' public enemy No. 1 in 2006, long before Favre took the title with his own move to Minnesota.

Longwell incurred the wrath of fans in part because, upon signing with the Vikings, he was asked by a Twin Cities reporter what he was looking forward to with his move to Minneapolis. Longwell responded by saying he and wife Sarah were excited about the big-city restaurants they'd have at their disposal, joking about how many times they'd eaten at the Applebee's on Oneida Street in Green Bay.

A writer back in Green Bay caught wind of it and reacted with a critical column about Longwell, who ended up receiving the restaurant section of the Green Bay Yellow Pages in the mail, along with a nasty note, not long afterward. That was one of the many angry responses to his largely innocuous remark.

In his first game at Lambeau Field as a visitor in December 2006, the same people who cheered him as he made 81.6 percent of his regular-season field goal attempts as a Packer were all over him as soon as they heard his name announced before the second-half kickoff.

At the time, Longwell couldn't have imagined doing what he did seven years later: sign a ceremonial, one-day contract so he could retire as a Packer in August 2013.

Two years after Longwell's return, Favre came back to Green Bay to have his No. 4 retired and to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. He credits an appearance at a golf tournament organized by former Packers wide receiver Bill Schroeder for helping him "test the waters." The celebration included nearly 70,000 fans packing Lambeau Field to see Favre back on the same field where so many had booed him during his final appearance there as a member of the Vikings in 2010.

Longwell was there and says he believes that moment was transformative for Favre, the organization and the fans, allowing Favre to now enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame without the specter of his acrimonious 2008 departure hanging over him.

"I think much like everything in life, everything happens for a reason. And when you get out of situations, perspective is a wonderful thing," Longwell said. "You kind of knew it should happen, so it's been great to see him back. The reception he got inside the bowl last summer when he went out there -- I think you could ask him -- I think that was life-changing for him. That was kind of all the anxiety and all the potential baggage that would have been there, it was kind of all gone in that moment. I think that was a huge relief for him."

A year earlier, Favre had expressed concerns about coming back to Lambeau and hearing fans boo him, which Longwell completely understood. When he returned to the stadium in October 2013, after his ceremonial retirement, some in the crowd booed him when he was shown on the scoreboard counting down to the singing of "Roll Out the Barrel."

And while he still hears the occasional Applebee's-related wisecrack, Longwell says he feels he has been re-embraced by Packers fans, just as Favre has.

"Much like when we went over to Minnesota and we were able to talk to Brett about what it was like going over there, I could talk with him about coming back and going through that a year before Brett did," Longwell said. "I was easily able to share with him, 'This is what it's been going like, and yeah, you'll have people who will never forgive you, but those are the people that you really don't need in the long run.'

"There are some that you just are never going to win [over], and I'm OK with that. Some people have a hard time letting things go. In nine years there, Sarah and I really gave a lot to that community and I gave everything I had on the football field. [The Applebee's] comment was taken out of context and probably came out the wrong way -- it probably was stupid to say. [But] if they can't get over that, then that's more their problem than my problem."