Not long ago, Brett Favre's retirement would have opened wounds across Wisconsin and beyond. Cheesehead Nation never could get over its beloved quarterback bolting the Packers, the team with which he will forever be linked, and ultimately landing with their detested rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.
When word leaked on Monday that Favre had sent in his notice to the league office, Green Bay did not quite say, "Brett who?" Yet the news was but a moment's distraction from today's NFC Championship game involving their scalding hot quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
On four straight weekends, the Packers have stared down elimination challenges - two in the play-offs, two before they began. They won all four, Rodgers delivering 11 touchdown passes with one interception.
In the latest, Rodgers was Favre-esque at Brett's finest: 31 completions in 36 throws, three TDs, no picks. His deft footwork, which Favre could only dream of, limited Falcons sacks to a pair.
"That was unbelievable," Clay Matthews, the Packers linebacker, said. "I haven't seen a performance like that in a very long time."
Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay coach, promoted Rodgers three seasons ago when Favre, facing competition from the youngster, finagled a trade to the Jets, ending a glorious 16-year run in Green Bay. Rodgers did not quake at the prospects of following a legend.
"He's definitely developed into a special player," McCarthy said. "He does it the right way. He breaks [the defence] down physically, mentally. He's in a great rhythm now."
Players find motivation in perceived slights, and Rodgers clings to his tumble to 24th in the 2005 draft after being projected as high as No 1. The lead-off selection, by the 49ers, was Alex Smith, who has floundered. Though Rodgers was next among a dozen quarterbacks chosen, bitterness lingers.
"I wouldn't change what happened," said Rodgers, taking an all-is-well-that-ends-well approach. He could not help but add, "It was difficult to go through that one day in April."
Rodgers warranted a crooked thumbs-up this week from his Packers' predecessor.
"Aaron is the best QB" left in the play-offs, Favre opined in an e-mail to ESPN. Then, not wanting to slight his old pitch-and-catch pals, he typed, "And the receiving corps is the best ever, maybe."
Assuming Favre did not sign his retirement papers in invisible ink, Cheeseheads far and wide can let go and accept the fact that the ol' greybeard will no longer wear a Packers jersey again, except maybe at his Hall of Fame induction.
Today’s play-off games
• Green Bay at Chicago
History lesson: The Packers-Bears rivalry is the oldest in the league, dating to 1921. This is their 182nd meeting.
When Green Bay have the ball: The Bears must invite them to run the ball and jam the Packers’ receivers coming off the line. QB Aaron Rodgers appears to be unstoppable.
When Chicago have the ball: The Bears’ so-so offensive line could get overwhelmed, so QB Jay Cutler must rely on short, quickly released passes.
In the regular season: The Packers lost 20-17 at Atlanta and Chicago. They have avenged one of those defeats, pounding the Falcons last week 48-21.
• NY Jets at Pittsburgh
History lesson: Since the Jets won Super Bowl III, the Steelers have played in seven championship games, winning six.
When the Jets have the ball: The Jets, with inconsistent QB Mark Sanchez, are a run-first team. They must take some aerial shots, though, against the top-rated rush defence.
When Pittsburgh have the ball: The Steelers also prefer to stay grounded. But QB Ben Roethlisberger, pictured above, loves to throw mid-range and deep, and will do so today against a stout run defence.
In the regular season: A play-off berth was clinched – by the Steelers – on the day of the Jets’ 22-17 win in Pittsburgh. New York clinched their spot the following Sunday when they, too, lost.
Stat of the week:
The Packers and Jets could become the 11th (and 12th) non-division winners to reach the Super Bowl. One was, like they are, a sixth seed. to stay grounded.