Brett Favre's number retirement against Bears healed deep wounds with Packers

Brett Favre's number retirement against Bears healed deep wounds with Packers

As far as Thanksgiving evenings go, it was as miserable as it gets. Cold. Rainy. Windy.

And yet, no one inside Lambeau Field seemed to mind. The 78,488 fans in attendance were just happy Brett Favre was actually there.

For a long time, many wondered how long they would have to wait to see Favre’s No. 4 retired. It had to happen eventually, but the divorce between Favre and the Packers was so messy that over seven years passed before the quarterback was finally honored at Lambeau Field.

Nov. 26, 2015. A primetime game on Thanksgiving. Against the Chicago Bears.

For Bears fans in the 1990s, Favre wasn’t exactly a fan favorite. But like many outside Wisconsin, I came to respect the gunslinger who went 22-10 against the Bears in his career. Honestly, it felt more like 30-2. As time passed and I gained the perspective of covering the NFL for a decade, I now look at Favre as the most exciting quarterback I ever saw. Considering the quarterbacks I witnessed in Chicago over the course of Favre’s career, that conclusion shouldn’t be too surprising.

But it’s a big reason why I was genuinely excited to cover Favre’s number retirement ceremony in 2015. Typically, I’m not too thrilled to leave my family on Thanksgiving, but since our Thanksgiving dinners take place in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, I was able to sit down for an early meal before driving over to Green Bay.

As cruel as it seemed, the NFL did a good job scheduling the game against the Bears. It’s still a crime that Favre wore a Vikings jersey before his number was retired in Green Bay, and those wounds were still too deep to have the ceremony occur against Minnesota. It had to be a Bears-Packers game.

Few will remember that John Fox got his only win over the Packers that night or that Marquess Wilson caught a touchdown in the 17-13 Bears victory. From Chicago’s perspective, the Bears got a little revenge and sent Favre out with a loss, even though he didn’t play in the game.

"I grew up a Brett Favre fan, so that night, I was definitely aware of the fact that Brett Favre was being recognized and I thought it was really cool that we spoiled that," former Bear Kyle Long, who played right tackle in that game, told NBC Sports Chicago this week.

In Wisconsin, the Bears' win is just a footnote. Despite the ugly weather and being subjected to “Simply The Best” for 15 straight minutes, the halftime ceremony was perfect. Bart Starr stole the show, making it onto the field at 81 years old despite having suffered two strokes and a heart attack the year before. He clearly shouldn’t have been there, but refused to miss it -- a true testament to Favre.

Few remember that Jim McMahon won a Super Bowl in Green Bay. In fact, I don’t even think Packer fans remember that. So it was a little weird seeing the former Bears quarterback on the field in a Packer jersey, but there he was.

The most significant moment came right as the halftime ceremony was ending. The players were running back onto the field and Aaron Rodgers went out of his way to find Favre. The two exchanged a genuine handshake and hug, signaling an end to the frozen war of Wisconsin.

In 2013, Rodgers and Favre surprised everyone when they took the stage together at the NFL Honors. It was a scripted, intentionally awkward appearance, and provided some hope that Favre and the Packers could reconcile and settle their differences. But Favre and Rodgers were anything but friends at the time, so the embrace at Lambeau Field in 2015 was meaningful. Today, that relationship is much different. By the time Starr passed away in 2019, Rodgers was posting messages like this one on Instagram.

In Wisconsin, Nov. 26, 2015 will be a night that healed wounds and brought together the Packers’ three greatest quarterbacks ever.

In Chicago, it was the time a bunch of random Bears like Chris Prosinski and Jeremy Langford spoiled Favre’s big ceremony.

For this sportswriter, it was a night that fused my childhood with my professional career. It was a night I’ll always remember.

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Danny Trevathan already knows just how dominant the 2020 Bears defense can be

Danny Trevathan already knows just how dominant the 2020 Bears defense can be

While most of yesterday's Bears media availability focused on more pressing issues, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan both breifly talked about the state of the Bears' defense heading into 2020. 

2018's historically good side came down to earth a bit last year, but the free agent additions of Robert Quinn and Tashaun Gipson, along with rookies Jaylon Johnson,  Kindle Vildor, and Trevis Gipson have some believing there's enough talent on the unit to compete with 2018's production. Healthy seasons from leaders Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan will do wonders, too. 

"We’re going to be monsters," Trevathan said. "There’s no doubt in my mind. I watched Quinn from afar. I know he’s been going for a while. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a wrecking machine. Now you’ve got to watch this side here, this side over here. You’ve got to watch the middle. You’ve got to watch the back end. Front seven. Dangerous."

And though they haven't been able to practice together yet, Trevathan mentioned that he's been encouraged by the steps the defense has taken to ensure that the transition back to the practice field goes as seamlessly as possible.

"I feel like right now is the time where we create that communication between one another," he added. "We’re kind of the first people in the history of football to have to deal with a situation like this. We’ve got to hold it down on our part. That’s why I feel like keeping in contact with one another is going to be a deciding factor between which team comes out of this victorious and on top. And I feel like we have the people on this team and this defense to be one of the ones who stand out and ones who come out of this positively. I feel like all we have to do is take one day at a time. Push one another. Call one another out. Have each other’s back. And let’s roll out."

How Bears are thinking about playing football again amid coronavirus pandemic

How Bears are thinking about playing football again amid coronavirus pandemic

Football players are conditioned to block out things on the “outside noise.” The focus for the Bears, though, has recently been on racial injustice and police brutality — and those topics will continue to be part of the team’s daily discussions. There’s no blocking those out anymore or taking a "stick to sports" mindset. 

Linebacker Danny Trevathan isn’t concerned about those issues impacting his, and his teammates’, ability to play football, though. But something else might. 

“I'm more worried about Corona than I'm worried about that in football,” Trevathan said. “I’m not worried about, I mean it still exists in the world so let's not forget about corona, bro. You know, I might go to camp and somebody might have that and I might not be able to play no more.”

MORE: Inside the Bears' emotional team meeting on Monday

Typically, the Bears would right now be in the midst of OTA practices at Halas Hall. The offseason program would conclude with a minicamp in mid-June, providing coaches with a total of 13 non-padded practices to install the playbook and build a foundation ahead of training camp. 

None of those practices will take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Coaches will be allowed to return to team facilities on Friday but no more than 100 employees can be in a building at one time. And no players will be allowed, meaning none of the remaining OTA practices or this month’s veteran minicamp will be conducted in person. 

So the first time the Bears as a team physically convene again will almost certainly be for the start of training camp. But coronavirus will still be around when that happens. 

“It is scary,” defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said. “It's scary to think that most of my job is physical contact with other players. And so boy, I don't know. I don't know. I want to be safe and I'm sure they're going to do their best to make sure we're in the best possible situation in order to be able to play this game and do it, right? But it's scary. That's how I feel.”

How the NFL handles concerns from players like Hicks will be critical. Players will inevitably test positive for coronavirus, but widespread outbreaks in team facilities will need to be prevented. 

"We fully well expect that we will have positive cases that arise because we think that this disease will remain endemic in society and so it shouldn't be a surprise that new positive cases arise," Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical doctor, said last month. "Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and to prevent spread to any other participants. We're working very diligently on that and we'll have some detailed plans to share about that at a later time."

MORE: Read Akiem Hicks' full comments on social injustice and Colin Kaepernick

The NFL and the NFLPA have at least a month and a half to plan for returning to play in the midst of a pandemic. There is a certain level of trust, though, that wide receiver Allen Robinson has in the sport’s decision-makers to create as low-risk an environment as possible this season. 

Robinson, too, has recently been working out with and catching passes from Mitch Trubisky recently (which coach Matt Nagy said is "freaking awesome"). 

“Honestly, me personally, I'm not too concerned,” Robinson said. “I think that if we're going to be put back in the facility I think that measures are going to be taken. I think that a plan will be had and I think that enough research and stuff will have been done to put everybody in the best kind of situation.”

Let’s hope Robinson is right. Because while the NBA, NHL, MLS and the NWSL have moved toward returning to play — and Major League Baseball moves toward a ruinous destruction of the sport — none of those leagues have actually staged games yet. The NFL has the ability (and luxury) to see what problems may arise with those sports’ return before encountering those issues as a league. 

But as Trevathan said, we can’t forget about corona (bro). It’s — unfortunately — another massive issue facing our country, one that’s also bigger than football. We’ll eagerly await the NFL’s plan to keep its players, coaches and staff safe in 2020. 

Until then, though, maybe we’ll try to figure out what was actually in Hicks’ Quarantini cocktail. 

“There’s been a lot of variations,” Hicks laughed. “What I will say is this: after I found out that, I read an article — and just like everybody else, you read an article on twitter and every other form of media — they said that drinking alcohol could increase your chances of getting COVID. That kinda went down the drain at that point. 

“But I will say this: Tequila was involved.”

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