Quarterback Brett Favre is no stranger to Opening Day. The veteran gunslinger will be making his 12th straight Opening Day start under center for the Packers when he settles in behind Mike Flanagan Monday night in Carolina.
Favre knows the importance of getting out to a fast start, and as he spoke Wednesday, you got the feeling that he's ready to get the season underway. He may not be all that excited about seeing the defending NFC champions on the opposing sideline, but Favre said that the Panthers will give the Packers a real test early on, and show them what they're made of.
"It's exciting," said the quarterback. "All games, especially openers, should be exciting. When you get a chance to play on Monday Night Football, what better showcase is there? Unfortunately, we're playing at Carolina. It's a big test for us. They've got a real good football team. I think they have as good as any front four we've ever faced. We'll find out what we are right out of the box."
For fans who have been watching the Packers through their four preseason games, they might be wondering exactly what they are as well. Due to injuries along the offensive line, and a knock to the knee that kept All-Pro running back Ahman Green out of last week's game at Tennessee, the starting 11 have yet to step on the field at the same time this season.
Favre isn't too worried about having everyone on the same page, though, since all 11 are returning from the league's fourth-ranked offense from a year ago. He even sees the fact that some younger players and reserves got some time with the first unit as a good developmental tool, in case one of the front-line players has to miss any time in the regular season.
"There's no need to be concerned about it - that's just the way it is. Unfortunately, in preseason that happens. It enables other guys to get a chance to practice and play with the first unit, and I hope that experience will help us out from here on. Since guys have been out, we really haven't gotten a chance to play as one complete unit, but we have done it before. It will come together.
"I can't remember us ever just being lights out in the preseason. That probably would scare me more than anything. You'd like to see some success in the preseason, but the way it's approached, not just by us but by all teams, it makes things a little more difficult. You don't get as many reps during the week, and there are a lot of guys participating."
Favre carries the sting of last year's Opening Day loss to the Vikings at Lambeau Field as a reminder that this year needs to be different. Getting out to a quick start will be a key to avoiding the nail-biting scenario that was needed to reach the playoffs in 2003.
"For guys that were here last year, that was kind of a wake-up call. Any time you suit it up and play another NFL team, you can be beaten. Not only was the opening game a wake-up call last year, but Arizona, and Thanksgiving (at Detroit) too. You've got to prepare like you can be beaten by anyone. It's all about making the plays and getting ready to play every week. Minnesota obviously was more ready than we were that day."
The quarterback thinks that how everything played out down the stretch last year will light a fire under the team to be ready as soon as the opening whistle blows Monday night.
"It came down to one play, but even before that, you could point to one play here or there throughout the season that made the difference in us not getting in, even before that last play in Arizona.
"Unlike baseball or basketball, where you can afford to go into a slump for 'x' number of games, in football, you can't do that. That was a perfect example last year of how every play is so important. Minnesota had played so well all year long, and then it came down to one play. That play was in our favor, but it could have easily been any play throughout the season that made the difference, and it almost did. We were fortunate to get in, but we can't afford to make it that difficult on ourselves."
Look for Favre to come out firing on all cylinders Monday night. He and his teammates have learned that every game has great magnitude in the NFL season. They will be ready to go when they turn the lights on for Opening Night.