Saturday, May 23, 2009

Murphy, Thompson Roadblocks Unlikely

A comment from HHHTheGame following my last article about Curly Lambeau triggered some interesting thought processes on the role of Mark Murphy, and subsequently, Ted Thompson, on their roles on if and when Brett Favre would be invited back into the Packer family.

HHH’s comment:

Yeah, that sounds about right. If Brett plays for the Vikings it will take about 20 years for the Green Bay faithful to forgive and forget. One wild card in this is Murphy. If he takes this personally, it could be a long time before Favre is welcomed back. He's only 51 years old and most likely will stay president for a while. Look at Herb Kohl and Marques Johnson and their rift. 20 years sounds about right....

So, I thought: would Mark Murphy really be the one to lead an ongoing rift with Favre for many years? I suppose it is possible, but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Personally, I don’t think Favre’s number will be retired until they induct him into the Packer Hall of Fame (much the same thing as Reggie White). That gives him five years from the point of his retirement until there is some sort of “obligation” to invite Favre back to honor him in some way or another.

I see this summer working out one of two ways. The first way is that Favre is going to want to play for the Vikings, but either physical issues or Viking decision-making will prevent that from happening. Personally, this is my preference (actually, my real preference was he had remained retired in 2008), and one that I think has a good likelihood of happening. The shoulder injury and age are going to catch up with him, and the Vikes may look at those issues and decide that this is just one year too late for them.

If this happens, Favre is eligible for induction in the Packer Hall of Fame in 2013. While obviously many fans will see his desire to play for the despised division rivals as criminal intent, it is also as likely that five years will wash away some of the ill will.

The second way this could work out is that he does end up playing for the Vikings. I don’t think it matters if he actually plays against the Packers or not (though that would certainly increase the hard feelings). Even if he were put on injured reserve in the preseason, the fact that he signed the contract and donned a purple jersey will have created a conundrum for most Packer fans. Many will find this unforgivable for a long time.

If he were to finish this year playing for the Vikings, he would not be eligible for the Packer Hall of Fame until 2014. While there would still be some healing (especially if the Packers find major success in the next few years in spite of the Vikings), it would be a much more difficult induction ceremony for Favre and the Packers.

The other two possibilities, Favre playing for a team besides the Vikings this year, or coming forward and admitting his wrongdoings, are both so unlikely they don’t deserve consideration.


So, getting back to Murphy in either of the likely situations, I still find it to be a stretch that the team president would place himself in the middle of this situation. In a sense, Murphy is in both a difficult situation and an easy situation. Yes, as a P.R. man, he has to balance the egos and demands of all those in Packer Nation, including the players, the fans, the coaches, and the legends. Yet, he wasn’t Favre’s President, and the only interaction he really seemed to get drawn into was the $20M marketing contract offer. Favre has directed no vitriol in Murphy’s directions, so this places him in an ideal spot to make good, objective decisions without harboring any of his own personal ill will.

I suppose it is possible that Murphy could be upset that Favre marred his first summer on the job, but in reality, the onus is on Murphy to be the professional, even in the face of Favre's juvenile behavior. It is no medal to be pinned on Murphy’s chest for him to lower himself to the same levels of personal vendettas as Favre. Taking the high road is his best choice.

Bob Harlan, the past Packer president, was a master at playing the P.R. game. He struck that very delicate balance in being supportive of his staff, but also being available to the emotions of the fans. He had a way of keeping his hands clean of any dirt that was being flung around at the time. Murphy will be wise to take a page out of Harlan’s book.


So, while I don’t see Murphy standing in the way of a Favre return, it does beg the question of the man who is the target of most of Favre’s vitriol, Ted Thompson. Will Thompson be the kind of man to stand in the way of Favre’s invitation back to the ring of honor at Lambeau Field someday?

Most fans tend to think so. Mike Vandermause recently wrote that while he believed that Favre will one day be invited back to Titletown, it “won't be until Ted Thompson is gone”. We can take that one of two ways: that Favre won’t accept an invitation back until Thompson is no longer part of the organization, or that Thompson would, actively or passively, block the way for Favre’s return.

I find it unlikely that Favre would, after five years of retirement, rebuff any attempts by the Packer organization to honor him, even if Thompson is still the GM. Hall of Fame honors and retired numbers are not the business of the GM, but of the President and other folks in charge of the P.R. buzz. The GM is in charge of football operations for the current season, and five years from now, that’s going to be just as busy of a job as it is today. Thompson doesn’t have time to be concerning himself with the welfare of Dorsey Levens’s legacy right now. He needs to be trying to figure out of Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson can carry the load in 2009.

And face it: it is pretty clear that Favre enjoys the attention of the media and making himself a bigger part of things that he might actually be. Combine that with five years away from the spotlight and it is likely that he will be ready to come back to Green Bay in 2013 or 2014 and be a part of his glorification, whether Thompson is there or not. My guess is that the men on the field with Favre would have last names like Holmgren, Sherman, Wolf, and Driver, with Thompson watching from the comfort of his box seat.

The question is, then, would Thompson actively (or passively) block or delay such an honor? It is hard to tell, because Thompson himself is such a hard nut to crack anyway. But, let’s glean information from what we know of Thompson and see what we can decipher.

Thompson is a private man who seems to have one driving motivation, which building his football team. For many men, this can build a high level of personal pride and ego in them, since it tends to define all they are. But I don’t see that in Thompson. Remember, this is the man who has been booed at Draft Day Parties and been reviled in the media for his lack of activity in free agency.

Yet, through it all, there has never been even a smidge of personal ego-bruising or outrage from Thompson. In fact, his reactions might be best described as objective amusement. There’ve been no “Who the hell is Mel Kiper, Jr.” outbursts, or even a reaction to the “Fire Ted Thompson” movements that took place even before last summer.

He seems somewhat impervious to the demands of the outside world. Many GMs would have made moves in response to media and fan outcries. He has stuck to his guns implicitly, making the moves that he has in mind even when they don’t make sense to the rest of us.

So, when you try to measure of the impact that Favre’s anger and immaturity directed at him, I tend to believe it is negligible. Certainly, Thompson is human, and it is human nature to strike back when you are attacked. But whatever personal affronts he feels, he has kept those reactions out of the public eye.

And that, again, is the key. Favre has chosen to avoid the high road for some time now. It’s his choice and right to do so, and to suffer the consequences for it. He has made questionable decision after questionable decision, and lost the Superstar Mulligan a couple times over in the eyes of many fans. But that is his choice.

It is Thompson’s choice in how to react to it. He is the one paid to act professionally and represent the Packers organization. Now, I will be the say that I thought he could have handled last summer better. Yes, he was given a difficult situation to handle, but that is his job and what he is paid to do. I wish he had simply granted Favre’s release when he first asked for it and let Favre take the heat for his own decisions, instead of clumsily trying to “protect his legacy”. After the last 12 months, its pretty clear that if Favre won’t protect his own legacy, it certainly was no responsibility of Thompson.

But since that time, Thompson has chosen to cross the Rubicon with his quarterback, his coach, and his team. And one can say he is loyal to the players he has brought in, particularly Aaron Rodgers. This is true of any GM, and in fact we often use the “loyal” descriptor in a more negative tone when describing Mike Sherman. When you build your team, those players are “yours” and you have a vested interest in their development.

Thompson, in my opinion, takes that loyalty to high levels, letting overpriced veterans go to be replaced by high-scouted draftees (he does pride himself on his scouting acumen). He doesn’t have time to worry about how good the team might have been had he kept Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. He has to continue to find players to replace them. And besides, we all can keep arguing about that move for him.

Five years from now, if Thompson’s ego holds steady, I don’t think he is going to stand in the way of Favre’s welcome-home party. I think he will wisely not be a part of the ceremonies, but the idea that he would actively stand in the way of it seems greatly out of character. And frankly, it would be lowering himself to the same levels that Favre had.

The other consideration would be if Thompson would passively prevent or delay such a ceremony…giving off enough vibes of discomfort that Mark Murphy or others involved would feel like perhaps it is a good idea to hold off until Thompson has left the building.

I also think this is unlikely. I don’t think Thompson holds himself in as high regard as some of his most fervent fans. The lines I heard repeatedly last summer that I raised an eyebrow at was, “I’m not a Favre fan, I’m a Packer fan”, or “If you disagree with/hate Ted Thompson, then you aren’t a Packer fan.”

As if Ted Thompson is the Packers.

He’s not. No more than Mike Sherman was the Packers when he was GM. And I think Thompson understands this.

Thompson is in charge of football operations, and is in charge of building this team. As many have taken sides on the Thompson/Favre Fan War, they have elevated Thompson up just a touch higher than I think Thompson would find comfortable. Certainly, it must be reassuring to know he has support from the fans, but to be considered “The Packers” is more than most of us would agree with.

Thompson comes off as a relatively humble man who is passionately married to his plan on how to build a winning football team. Ego is a big deal for any man. In fact, while taking the Lambeau Field stadium tour, my tour guide told the story of how Favre used to have a special parking spot inside Lambeau Field while the rest of the players had to park outside. Then he pointed to a truck and said, “Now that Favre is gone, guess who uses that parking spot now? Yep, that’s Ted Thompson’s truck right there.” I had to smile a bit.

But I don’t believe that Thompson now sees himself as the walk-on-water diva that Favre saw himself as. The parking spot (incidentally, next to Mike McCarthy’s) is simply a more suitable location for the leadership of the team (particularly in a climate that saw some harsh reactions to last summer).

Once again, it will come down to the P.R. role of the President, and how that person feels the mood and tone is among Packer Nation. If there is still fierce animosity among the fan base, that could be reason to postpone any honors. That isn’t Thompson’s decision, nor do I think Thompson’s feelings will come into play when it comes to making that decision.

In the end, it will likely come down to us, the fans and the media, and whether or not we are ready for #4 to be emblazoned next to names like Starr, Nitschke, and Hutson under the scoreboard at Lambeau Field. It will come down to whether or not Favre is voted in on the first ballot to the Packer Hall of Fame, whether or not fans are receptive to seeing a jersey retirement ceremony, and most of all, whether or not Favre antagonizes the situation further over the next five years.

But I don’t think Mark Murphy or Ted Thompson will be the one’s putting up the road blocks on the way. Favre’s done a good enough job of that himself.

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