Bob Harlan Press Conference Transcript - March 4

Good afternoon. I'll make a statement, and then I'll be happy to take questions from everybody. First of all, I would like to on behalf of the organization thank Brett Favre for the tremendous contributions he made to the Green Bay Packers through the years. I don't think there is any doubt that he will go down as the greatest player in the history of this wonderful organization, and his accomplishments for the Packers will be treasured forever. I always told people I thought it was such an honor to watch him play, and I said you know we're all going to look back someday and say how fortunate we were to see Brett Favre and this wonderful career, and that the last time he went down the tunnel, it'd be a sad day for the Green Bay Packers but it would also be a sad day for the National Football League, and I truly feel that way. He brought enthusiasm to the game, almost a child-like atmosphere, and he had fun doing it. I think fans appreciated that. It took some of the professional out of the NFL and sometimes I think we need that - having a good time playing, we want to compete, greatest competitor I've ever been around. And the thing I marveled at about him was that he played the toughest position, the most demanding position, and you'd see him in the locker room after the game where he could hardly move, or you'd see him during the week in the locker room where he could hardly move, and on Sunday he'd run out of the tunnel because he was ready to go. He was ready to compete; it was time to play. And I thought that was wonderful. I've always said and I'll always maintain that the foundation that restored this franchise to the elite in the NFL in the '90s was Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre and Reggie White. I find it sad today that all of those folks have moved on. I'll be happy to take any questions.

(You said in January you thought he was coming back. Are you as shocked as anybody?)

I was surprised and disappointed, both. I guess you felt the last three or four years that it could happen, and I knew that possibility existed. I always felt, people would ask me, and I said I think he's going to come back because he's a competitor, and as long as he can compete and help the team win, I think he'll want to come back and play. And the reason I felt that way this year, and I haven't talked to him since in the locker room after the Seattle game and he certainly wouldn't have told me anything or what his plans were, but I thought with this young team, the way it played, the way he played, he might want to come back and give it another try. But yet on the other hand, I understand the pressures of being Brett Favre and living up to what our fans expected of him. So I just wish him well. It was a privilege to watch him. I truly mean that. And I talk to people who say "I watched Babe Ruth" or "I watched Lou Gehrig" or "I watched Johnny Blood". Well, we watched Brett Favre. That's pretty good.

(Did he give you any indication of the mental fatigue or the strain he was under?)

No, he never did. I never heard that. Most of the time when I would talk to Brett it would be passing him in the locker room after a game. The only time I think I really ever just sat down and had a very serious discussion with him was when I was preparing to hire Ted Thompson three years ago. I knew Brett was pondering retirement, and before he left town and made his decision, I wanted him to know what thoughts I had about bringing in a new general manager because he knew Ted. I said, 'I know you haven't made your decision, but I want you to know this as you prepare to make your decision.' We probably talked for 45 minutes. We got into a lot of different subjects as the time went along, but other than that it was usually something quick in the locker room. So no, I never recognized the stress, but I realized the stress. Just to watch him in the locker room after a game sometimes and during the week and then see him come out on Sunday. Of all the records he holds, and he holds some magnificent records, the one that impresses me the most is that he was there every single Sunday to play. I think that's huge.

(Is part of the allure of him that he's a kid playing a man's game?)

I think so. People have asked me what's my favorite moment of Brett Favre's career. I really think it was the first touchdown in Super Bowl XXXI when he threw to Rison and he ran off the field with his helmet off. He looked like a kid running home to mom with his first great report card. I was so nervous that morning, so nervous about us being in the Super Bowl, and it gave me confidence to see him throw the ball like that and then run off the field like that. That gave me a great feeling. I've always told people he plays with a sandlot enthusiasm for the game, and you don't see that very often. The league is going to miss that. He was a fun-loving guy who played very well and showed delight in playing. Sometimes your fans say 'I like college football because of the enthusiasm.' I think Brett put that same enthusiasm on the field on Sundays, and I thought that was enormous for the game.

(Can you reflect back on when Ron Wolf came to you saying he wanted to trade a No. 1 pick for a backup in Atlanta, and what did you think when you first met him?)

We hired Ron in November of '91 because we wanted to bring him in early and let him be with this team, and I wanted someone to tell me what was wrong with this team frankly. And Ron came into Green Bay for his press conference early in the week, about a Tuesday I think it was, and he still had a couple of scouting assignments to do for the New York Jets that week, so he was going to finish his assignments and it just so happened that we were in Atlanta the next weekend. He was going to join us in Atlanta and fly back with the team and be with us. I'm up in the press box about an hour before the ballgame. Ron comes in, we shake hands, he puts his briefcase down next to me and says, 'I'm going to go down on the field and watch Atlanta's backup quarterback. If his arm is still as strong now as it was coming out of college, we're going to make a trade for him.' So Ron walks away, and I take the flip card and I turn it over and I assumed the kid's name was 'Fah-very.' And I thought, well, we'll see what he does. So, I started watching him from the press box as he warms up. Ron comes up about 40 minutes later and sits next to me and says, 'We're going to make a trade for Favre, are you okay with that?' Well I had just hired him that week. And I said, 'When I hired you Ron, you have full and complete authority to run this football operation, and I'm not about to interfere with your very first decision.' I got some angry mail and some letters about what's this new guy doing trading a No. 1 (pick) like that. But like I say, if it wasn't for Ron Wolf, there wouldn't be a Favre, there wouldn't be a White, and there wouldn't be a Holmgren. Ron Wolf was right on.

(Why do you think Brett didn't decide to have a final year, a farewell season?)

I don't know if that's the way Brett is. I don't think Brett was looking for that kind of an exit. Plus, I'm not sure he had any idea last year during the year that that was his finale. I really don't. I think he does battle with that decision during the offseason. It is a huge decision. And the older he gets, the older his family gets. I think Ted and Mike handled it very well in their answers about there is a lot of pressure on that position. I guess that's another reason why of all the records I admire that the most. There is pressure to go out there every Sunday and carrying this young ballclub and getting everyone to be on the same page with him. I think his decision was tough every year for him to make.

(Is this 100 percent resolved in your mind? What happens if it gets to July and he starts to get the itch?)

I think somebody would find a place for him. No, I would assume he's given this a lot of thought, and I've always felt Deanna would have a lot to say about it when the time came. And I'll tell you another thing about it. We've always seen a lot of great, great athletes who decide to try that one more year and it's a disappointment. I've always felt badly that Reggie came back and played that year at Carolina because he wasn't the same Reggie White. And I think it'd be very sad to see that this wasn't the same Brett Favre. He has been so magnificent. He went out on top: great season, great team record. It's a great way for him to exit and add to his legacy.

(If you thought you could change his mind, would you try?)

No, I've always said the football people make the football calls and decisions, and I still feel very strongly about that.

(When you think back to the day of his press conference announcing he was going into the clinic, do you feel you saw him grow as a human being, and is that something you're proud of as well?)

Very much so. I was told that he was going to have a press conference that day, and I asked someone that I'd like to speak to him before he goes downstairs and talks to the press. He and Deanna were up on the second floor of our old administration building, and I got a chance to speak with both of them. I've been here from Day 1 when Brett Favre walked into camp, and I've been with him through these 16 years, and to see him grow as a person and as a quarterback, yeah I'm very proud of him, very proud of his family. I think Deanna was a gift to Brett Favre. I think he ought to thank God everyday that that's his wife and what she helped him with because she was a very strong influence with Brett, and he'd be the first to admit that he matured and grew and became a legend. I salute him for the way he grew and matured. It was huge.

{sportsad300}(What words of solace or hope would you offer to fans?)

You know the Green Bay Packers have to move on. There have been so many years when there have been huge disappointments. I was here in Bart's last years when he wasn't what he used to be, when he was leaving. In the '70s and '80s, and this is when we had four winning seasons and two playoff appearances in 20 years, the number of fans who used to call me and tell me the Lombardi era was the last great era that the Packers would ever have. It is never going to happen again. That's really why I think we decided in '91, let's bring someone in here who can make that happen again. And that was Ron Wolf, and we did things. And consider in the early '90s we were starting free agency and the salary cap, and every time you read a newspaper from someplace around the country, it said the first place to suffer would be Green Bay. It's too small, it's too cold, no one is going to want to play there, and we signed the most attractive free agent the league has ever had in Reggie White. We took off, and maybe it wasn't as glorious as the Lombardi years, but it certainly put the Green Bay Packers back among the elite. After going 20 years with four winning seasons, we've had 19 years with three losing seasons. So it can be done. And somebody else is going to have to do it again. I don't think you ever reach the end of the line. You always hold out hopes for the future. We have two great football people running this operation. They are very competent, they are very dedicated, and I think they can keep the Packers back among the top teams in the league.

(But the option to play with a man like Brett Favre certainly was attractive to other players?)

No doubt about it, no doubt about it. He's an icon. There won't be another Brett Favre. I recognize that, but you move on. There are a lot of fine football players on this team right now. It's a young, capable team that can do a lot of growing and have a lot of good years ahead of it. Ted and Mike will fill in the spots where we need help.

(What do you think the young guys on this team will have gained by playing with Brett?)

They ought to treasure it, and I think they will. They should be very thankful that they had an opportunity to be with someone who will be first ballot in the Canton Hall of Fame, will probably have records that will stand here for years and years. That's a great honor. I've always said it's a great honor to come to Green Bay and play for the Packers anyway, but to come in and join a Brett Favre - huge. And I can't believe that any receiver that played here won't sit back and say, 'I was fortunate to play with Brett.'

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