Fan Fest Kicks Off New Era

Life will go on after Brett Favre. At least the 3,500 folks who came to the fourth annual Fan Fest certainly seemed to be embracing that thought, giving rousing ovations to the dozens of current and former players introduced during the kickoff event Friday in the Lambeau Field Atrium, including a particularly loud cheer for Favre’s successor, Aaron Rodgers.

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Head Coach Mike McCarthy (right) is interviewed by Larry McCarren during the kickoff ceremony for Fan Fest on Friday at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

Life will go on after Brett Favre.

At least the 3,500 folks who came to the fourth annual Fan Fest certainly seemed to be embracing that thought, giving rousing ovations to the dozens of current and former players introduced during the kickoff event late Friday afternoon in the Lambeau Field Atrium.

It was no accident one of the loudest ovations was for Favre's successor, Aaron Rodgers, who also received emphatic votes of confidence from both Head Coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson during the kickoff festivities.

"I have zero concerns about Aaron Rodgers. I think his time is now," McCarthy said in a televised interview that was live for the Fan Fest crowd. "He is ready to go, and he will have another offseason to prepare for that."

That offseason program begins in just 10 days, when Rodgers will assume a leadership role around his teammates that he hasn't shied away from in the past. In previous offseasons, it was always temporary, knowing Favre would be arriving at some point to formally take the reins.

But now Rodgers will have those reins full-time, and both McCarthy and Thompson believe the former first-round draft pick is prepared for it.

"I like the fact that he's come into a situation that's tough, and he's taken on those responsibilities," Thompson said. "The fans haven't seen, but he goes out to practice every day, and he's very well-received by his teammates.

"He understood his role, and that's a difficult thing to do for a young man who wants to play. So I think he's positioned himself as a leader even though he wasn't playing, and I think he's positioned himself to be the leader going forward."

McCarthy added that "playing within himself and within the system" will be the key for Rodgers, and not trying "to do too much, a common mistake young quarterbacks make."

While Rodgers understandably will feel the pressure to replace Favre, the message from those in charge is he shouldn't.

"Aaron is going to be our guy, but collectively our team has got to embrace this," Thompson said. "Our team is going to take it on, pick up some of that slack. That's the only way we know how to do it, and that's the way Coach McCarthy has constructed this team, to be a team."

Defensive end Aaron Kampman noted he welcomes any additional leadership duties that come his way, and he expressed similar confidence in another player sure to be scrutinized in 2008, though not to the same extent.

Last year's first-round draft pick Justin Harrell steps into a much larger role on the interior of the defensive line with the trade of defensive tackle Corey Williams to Cleveland. Harrell battled through old and new injuries as a rookie, but Kampman for one believes he'll be a significant contributor when called upon.

"I think he can," Kampman said. "Toward the end of the season he really progressed nicely. This will be a big offseason for him, and I think he'll be fine."

{sportsad300}So will the Packers, as Favre's retirement this week continues to sink in. Coincidentally, Fan Fest may be serving as one of the first steps in the healing process.

"We do feel like it will take a few days, for us as an organization, for the fans, to come to grips with it," Thompson said. "As soon as we turn the page, we're going to turn the page, and here we go.

"Our goals are not going to change. We're still going to be competitive, we're still going to expect to win, and we're still going to go forward as all Green Bay Packer fans would want us to do."

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