It’s been nearly four years, but the memories came rushing back like they were yesterday.
That sums up what was going through my head while viewing “Last Day At Lambeau” at the Wisconsin Film Festival on April 18 at Monona Terrace in Madison. It’s a film I honestly have been looking forward to seeing since the first teaser hit the internet months ago.
To give a brief synopsis of the film, it documents the fall of Brett Favre through the eyes of a Packer fan. Director Michael Neelsen grew up in Wisconsin and was raised a Packer fan and idolized Favre like so many Wisconsin youth at the time. It’s this same personal attachment to Favre that the director had that makes the film so powerful.
The film truly had it all. At the beginning, brief highlights of Favre’s time as a Packer are shown and then the film delves right into Favre’s final game at Lambeau as a member of the Packers—the 2008 NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants.
We all know how that game ended. Favre’s final pass was intercepted and the Giants won the NFC title in overtime, slamming shut the doors on the Packers’ Cinderella season and Favre’s career in green and gold.
What the film showed at this point was something I never really considered, mainly due to my disgust (which still lingers to this day) over the loss: Cheesehead TV’s Brian Carriveau points out a photo surveying the field from behind Favre on that fateful play—every receiver had some kind of cushion as Favre dropped back….except the one he tried to throw to.
The film also raised a valid point many of us didn’t realize at the time, perhaps blinded by the good thoughts of Favre’s early career. Favre was becoming an increasingly bad quarterback in cold weather. With the NFC title game in sub-zero temperatures, perhaps it really shouldn’t be that surprising that the Packers lost.
We know what happens next. Any Packer fan old enough at the time remembers how the whole Favre retirement and then un-retirement saga played out in that spring and summer.
Or do we? We don’t learn anything new in “Last Day At Lambeau” that could really be defined as “earth shattering,” but it did make me aware of a few smaller things I either didn’t know or didn’t consider at the time the events happened.
First, was Mike McCarthy’s role in this entire affair. It was speculated by some of the reporters interviewed for the film that McCarthy wanted to let Favre go more than Ted Thompson did. As vilified as Thompson has become over the entire episode, this revelation about McCarthy actually made me respect the coach even more.
McCarthy, as “a leader first” according to Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in the film, wanted the hypothetical out of his locker room and insisted in his conversations with Thompson and Favre that after the whole back and forth debate Favre was having with himself, the quarterback really had no business trying to lead a team.
Nickel also tries to point out the exact moment when Favre’s image amongst the Packer faithful began to crack during the summer of ’08. When the Packers released a timeline of the events involving Favre retiring and then unretiring, it painted the picture of a quarterback who couldn’t make up his mind and was in a way holding an entire football organization hostage. The timeline release was something that escaped my mind, and the fact that the film included it really is a testament to how much of his work Neelsen did in putting this together.
This was really where Nickel shined in the film as well. She gave great insight into the events and mindset of those working at 1265 Lombardi Ave during this ordeal and also brought up the point as how the fans were the ones really being screwed in this ordeal. The Packers did what was best for them as Favre did for himself. No one listened to the fans.
Something else that stood out to me was Bill Johnson of ESPN 540 describing how Favre showing up to training camp in 2008 in Green Bay was the last thing the Packers ever wanted. Johnson compared it to being told as a child about the threat of the Russians nuking the United States. He said, to great laughter from the audience, that Favre showing up in Green Bay was the nuclear explosion for the Packers.
Then there were clips of Favre’s interview with Greta Van Sustern of FOX News. I never saw much of the interview and this was the first time I had really seen extended clips of it. The look in Favre’s eyes to me said it all as he bashed Thompson and the organization he spent 16 years with. He looked full of anger, spite and honestly looked even a little deranged. It was clear to me this was not the man we cheeseheads grew to love like a brother.
Not soon after, Favre was traded to the Jets. The movie shows that many fans in Green Bay still cheered loudly for the Packers but also kept an eye turned to how Favre was faring with his new team, including Packer superfan St. Vince who was on hand for the screening.
At the end of the 2008 season, the film says the dust had settled. Packer fans saw hope in Aaron Rodgers and Favre got to play somewhere else far away from Green Bay. Everyone was happy it seemed.
Then Favre joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, and this is where the film really takes off.
Packer fans were OK with Favre as a Jet, but him as a Viking? It was treason.
Favre initially opted to stay retired and Packer Nation breathed a sigh of relief. Then he changed his mind…again. The film does a great job documenting the whole “OJ chase” that was Minnesota media tailing the SUV with Brad Childress at the helm and Favre riding shotgun (vice versa of their on-field relationship). It’s one of the most comedic bits in the film, even if it’s unintentional
Favre’s line at his introductory press conference as a Viking, “If you’re a true Packer fan, you’ll understand” was the spark that ignited some of the most powerful moments of the film: Packer fans’ reaction to this development. It showed many Favre jerseys bursting into flames, one with a fan giving an introduction along the lines of “I’m a true Packer fan Brett, and I understand. You can kiss my Wisconsin ass.” This is paraphrased, but this was another line that drew big laughs from the crowd.
The 2009 season saw Favre within a whisker of his third Super Bowl. Then he blew it again, to cheers from the festival crowd when he threw that fourth quarter interception against the Saints.
The film could have ended there, and the film itself says so. Pelissero said that Favre had played his best season, beat the Packers twice and got himself in position to win another Super Bowl.
It didn’t end there obviously. Instead, the film concludes with Favre’s final appearance at Lambeau Field in 2010, cutting between scenes of Favre on the field to fans celebrating the eventual Packers win at Stadium View Bar near Lambeau Field.
It makes we wonder, and this was brought up by Neelsen in the post-showing question and answer session: What if it did end after the 2009 season? How much would that have sucked? There was a palpable emotional boost the entire Packer team got after beating Favre in 2010 and it arguably helped propel them to a world title. What if that never happened?
The other question that drew debate was when or even if Favre would reconcile with the Packers. Nickel brought up Terry Bradshaw and how he stayed away from the Steelers for 25 years after a falling out with the organization and Chuck Noll. She said she wouldn’t be surprised at all if Favre stayed away that long. It made sense, given how similar Bradshaw and Favre are as far as personality and where they grew up.
After the conclusion of the Q&A session, we left the theater and I was left with my thoughts.
What stood out from this film to me? First was something not even in the film itself—audience reactions. With the early clips of Favre’s successes as a Packer, people cheered and applauded.
Have Packer fans moved on? Are they ready to begin applauding their former hero again?
As the film progressed, it was evident they had not yet moved on and the wounds were still very fresh from this whole episode, even with the Packers winning Super Bowl XLV after sweeping Favre’s Vikings. Fans booed when Favre was shown running onto Lambeau Field in purple. They laughed heartily every time Favre said he was retired for good. Knowing the end to this little story no doubt helped.
In regards to my own feelings over Favre, this film did nothing but confirm what I had thought before. My position was that in 2008 I wanted Favre back and when he was traded I just shrugged and said ‘OK, let’s see what the kid (Aaron Rodgers) can do.’ That’s not to say this episode didn’t haunt me because it did, particularly throughout the 2009 offseason leading up to the 2010 campaign.
Was the film pro-Favre or anti-Favre? I can say neither though members of the audience who still vilified Favre seemed happier with the movie than those who still think Favre was in the right in 2008. A Viking fan behind me kept complaining during the film. I blocked much out but he said “Christ” at least ten times so I suppose that shows the intelligence and open mindedness of that fan.
The subjects interviewed all did a fantastic job. Nickel was as warm and well-spoken as she is in person, and Johnson was the funnyman who threw jabs at Favre, but not without having facts to back him up. Pelissero was funny and not to mention incredibly blunt. For example he said, “I think Favre grossly underestimates what him going to the Vikings and trying to beat the Packers would mean in terms of Packers fans’ perception of him, but secondly I don’t think he gives a shit.”
Well said, Tom. Well said indeed.
What also stood out to me what was what Neelsen left out of the film. He said the original cut as over two hours long (the final cut was around an hour and a half) and it was tough to eliminate some things. Most notable to me that was left out was Favre’s anger over Thompson’s failure/refusal to obtain Randy Moss before the 2007 season began. Favre and Thompson didn’t get along at all and there was a real personality conflict between the two. No one knew the behind the scenes stuff however, as Favre had one of his best years that season.
The other thing was the absence of anything involving Jenn Sterger and I am glad this was not in the movie. Neelsen agreed and after talking to him after the showing, he said he didn’t want that in there because it would have added a tabloid quality to his film and he didn’t want that.
Now that I have had two days to take all this in, what have I learned?
The biggest lesson the film teaches us is something fans of any sport have come to realize as of late: We may love the athletes, but the athletes probably don’t love us back. It’s a tough lesson, especially for children, to learn. We saw it with Favre in football, Tiger Woods in golf and LeBron James in the NBA.
“Last Day at Lambeau” is a must-watch for any Packers fan. When our children who were babies in 2008 ask us about Favre, we will speak of the good times we had with him. Then we will show them this film, and tell them that our hero had a dark side and sometimes it gets tough to look past that.
This film is now part of Packers history and it’s a place it rightfully belongs in.
I’d like to thank Michael Neelsen for his time answering my questions and Lori Nickel and Bill Johnson as well for being so accommodating.
The filmmaker is working on distribution rights, but Neelsen told me they are working on trying to get it to film festivals around the country. It is next showing at the St. Anthony Main Theater on April 29 at 7:15 pm and gain this summer in Duluth, MN with a date time and venue to be determined.
You can follow the film on Twitter @FavreFilm and on Facebook at Last Day At Lambeau. The film is distributed by First Story Media (www.firststorymedia.com)——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke