GREEN BAY – For Brett Favre, it was, is, and always will be about the fans.
The iconic quarterback went above and beyond the call of duty by starting 16 consecutive seasons of Packers games without missing one. On Saturday, he expressed the ultimate gratitude for the fans going above and beyond the call this time.
Selling out the Lambeau Field stadium bowl in a matter of hours to give a gameday atmosphere to Favre's Packers Hall of Fame induction and number retirement ceremony is a welcome-back gesture he promised never to forget.
"I mean no disrespect, but I'm more honored by that than by the Hall of Fame induction itself," Favre said as he addressed the media for roughly 30 minutes just a few hours before Saturday's festivities were to begin. "I think that's such a tribute to the fans. That's why Green Bay is Green Bay. Simple as that."
The Packers and their fans have a relationship that doesn't fit the traditional mold, and while Favre helped connect that many more fans to the Packers in that way, they also were drawn specifically to him. He's forever grateful for that, and their heightened interest in his return has clearly trumped any animosity that existed when he played two seasons for a division rival.
Still contemplating whether to proceed with prepared remarks or just go off the cuff when speaking inside the sold-out stadium, Favre emphasized that whatever he says will be from the heart.
"There is a connection with the fans here that you can't get elsewhere, and I played elsewhere," he said. "It was an awesome feeling to come back here as an opponent, to witness what it's like for the other team. I had a newfound respect – which is hard, because I had a lot of respect for this place anyway – to see it from the other perspective.
Check out photos from the Brett Favre Packers Hall of Fame Induction Press Conference from Lambeau Field on July 18, 2015. Photos by Jim Biever/Duke Bobber, Packers.com
"Even though I was shaking in my boots coming out of that tunnel, I'm thinking, 'Man, this is impressive. Tough, but impressive.' You want to win, but you're up against a lot.
"It's just a special place, and I want to relay that to the people tonight. How they've opened their arms, it's not surprising. It really isn't."
Saturday won't be his last time in front of the fans at Lambeau, as he'll be back on Thanksgiving night when his retired number is unveiled on the stadium façade. He's hoping to share that moment with the Hall of Fame QB whose number also resides there, Bart Starr, who has been recovering from some recent health issues.
"I've got my fingers crossed that he'll be there for that ceremony," Favre said of Starr, the last Packers QB to win a championship before him. "Bart junior has promised me he's going to be here in tip-top shape, so I'm looking forward to that."
Before Favre took to the podium in the media auditorium, he listened to other figures in Packers history forever connected to him express their thoughts.
Former team president/CEO Bob Harlan called him the greatest competitor he ever saw play. Former GM Ron Wolf called him the best ever to play for the Packers. Former head coach Mike Holmgren referred to his relationship with Favre as "special" and that he was proud of everything he'd accomplished. Former center Frank Winters, his Hall of Fame presenter and longtime road roommate, called him one of the best football players ever.
Favre admitted to being a bit "embarrassed" by all the pronouncements, but he returned some in kind. He called Wolf the best GM in football, wished he could have played more with Winters, and believed he would have won more titles had Holmgren coached him longer.
"I could go on talking about these guys," Favre said, turning around at the podium as they sat behind him. "I understand tonight is quote-unquote about me, but I would choose to say it's about us, because it really is."
That goes for the resurrection of a dormant franchise as well, even though Favre was the eye of what he has termed the perfect storm. He added that he has no regrets, only that he wished the Packers would have won more games and more Super Bowls.
"I know I did all I could do, I just wish it could have been a little more," he said. "I take pride in the fact that everyone's kind of used to winning now. That's not a bad thing, and we were the ones who kind of started that off."