head and heart—denis gullickson—feb. 2020
“Hey, you. Yeah, you, Mr. Packer expert!" the guy was yelling to me from the outside patio of a local sports bar. I'd just done a book signing and presentation on Packers history inside.
“So, you wrote a bunch of stuff about the Packers and you're some kind of expert," he said — slurring his words enough to indicate his current state of mind.
“I have written a lot about Packers history," I replied. “I sure wouldn't call myself an expert."
His wife touched his arm — trying gently to shush him.
“Nah," he said, pushing her hand away. “I want to tell him what I think."
“Well, Mr. Packer expert," he slurred on, “I want to tell you something. I fucking hate Aaron Rodgers and I fucking love Brett Favre.
Why he was calling me over to tell me this was my first question.
“Okay." I said. “I love them both."
“You can't love them both," he continued. “There's no comparison. Favre was a man of the people and Rodgers is an arrogant motherfucker."
“Well, I think you can love them both. They're both great chapters in Packers' history. Two Hall of Famers. But I don't think you can compare them; it's the difference between head and heart. Rodgers is cerebral, careful and calculating; Favre played with his heart every down."
“Head and heart my ass," he chortled. “Aaron Rodgers is an arrogant fucker and I can't even stand watching him play."
“But you still do," his wife said.
“Yeah, because I fucking hate the bastard," the guy said to her — even angrier. “And you only like him because you think he's cute. I think he's fucking ugly. Turns out, you don't know much about football at all, do you?" he said to me.
“Well, you folks have a nice evening," I told them — wondering how I got dragged into this.
“Sorry," his wife said as I made my escape.
“I'm the one who's sorry," I thought. “You're married to this prick."
Right-Brain V Left-Brain
The experience has hung with me. It wasn't the first time I'd encountered someone who was completely hot and cold toward either Favre or Rodgers and I really to love them both.
Divining why such a watershed exists at all is worth a bit of time. After all, to my way of thinking Packers fans might be the envy of the NFL and should count their blessings. In the 28 years since Brett Favre first showed up, the Packers have essentially had two great starting quarterbacks while other teams have — on average — fielded almost 10. That includes teams like our beloved Bears who have started over 30.
The human species is an interesting one. A combination of shoot-from-the-hip decisions and can't-be-too-careful calculations — we have been at war with ourselves since Caine killed Abel or Eve ate that apple. In this corner, the human heart. “Roll those dice. Go with your gut. Don't overthink it." In that corner, the mind. “Careful now. Remember the last time. Slow down."
Of course, some suggest it's right-brain/left-brain stuff and that vital organ pumping blood plays absolutely no part at all. That's fine. It still comes down to emotions v logic and — for our purposes here — head and heart work great. Even dating websites parse the line between those two when offering relationship advice.
And sure, it's overly simplistic to suggest that Favre and Rodgers fall exclusively into one or the other. Favre exhibited plenty of gridiron savvy and suggesting that Rodgers plays without emotion would ignore every fist pump following a key touchdown pass.
Statistically, however, there's likely some basis for the contrast.
Both Favre and Rodgers play or have played the most challenging and prestigious position in modern sports. Under the bright lights of the most-popular, hyped sport on the planet, a starting NFL quarterback touches the ball on virtually every single offensive play from scrimmage. No athlete on any team in any other team sport occupies such a pivotal point.
Gun Slinger V Method Man
The numbers, then, should tell a story of a couple of superstars. There is little doubt that one would include Favre and Rodgers in a list of all-time top “QBs" — both active and retired. A list with a pantheon of storied surnames like Montana, Manning, Unitas, Starr, Young, Bradshaw and contemporary stars like Brady, Brees and Wilson. And many, many more.
It would be little surprise to scan pro-football reference.com's list of all-time field generals based on Quarterback Rating (QBR) and find Rodgers in the #1 spot with a 102.4 lifetime. What might be surprising is searching the list for Favre's name — cruising past random names like Roethlisberger, Warner, Luck, Pennington, even Kaerpernick — to find Favre in the 35th spot with a QBR of a flat-86 just behind Cam Newton.
What? Favre had an illustrious career. Stats like 3 MVP awards, 62 percent of games won and 60.6 percent passes competed, 12.6 miles of ground gained, and 508 touchdowns tossed belong to one of the all-time best, right? He is one of just three quarterbacks — with Brees and Manning — to have beaten every team in the NFL. (Rodgers has bested every team except the Packers.)
Other stats suggest the temerity of Favre's play: 302 consecutive games played over 16 seasons through an anatomy chart's worth of injuries — a record that will never be broken by another quarterback. 28 fourth-quarter comebacks and 43 game-winning drives underscore a career of cunning and derring-do under pressure.
But there's that one stat — that nagging stat that also will likely never be broken — 336 interceptions. Yikes! While the guy at the bar that day would overlook those turnovers — focused instead on the glowing numbers above it — Favre put the ball into opposing team's hands an average of 21 times a season via the air. He also clocked 111 fumbles.
“Sure," defenders will say, “it goes with playing in over 300 games. Others, “Hey, the guy was 'the gun slinger.' You don't hit your mark every time, but when you do … look out!"
Somewhere in that statistical story, however, must be the bar-guy's ardent admiration. In fact, if ever a quarterback reflected the “intangible" of playing with “heart," it was Favre. There's that first pass completion to himself and that game against the Oakland Raiders the day after his dad died.
Like the bar-guy and thousands of other Packers fans, this writer loved Favre's style. “This is the best thing we've had behind center since Bart Starr," this writer screamed into the phone to his wife after Favre ambled into the endzone for a win against the Falcons in 1994 with no time on the clock.
Favre haters hang on those interceptions — every one of them a drive-killing error. Die-hard fans point to the impossible pass completions that no one else would try and the 4th quarter comebacks that few other QBs could muster. The getting off the table at game time — no matter what the injury or malady plaguing him on a given Sunday.
After all, the interceptions and the logic-defying completions and comebacks come from the very same place — Favre's heart.
A look at Rodger's numbers unveils some staggering stats as well. Right there in the number one spot — with that gaudy QBR — sits Mr. Rodgers in a pretty elite neighborhood — Russell Wilson in the next house over and the street lined with mailboxes reading Brees, Manning and Brady.
Rodgers also holds the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history at 4.23 and the lowest career interception percentage at 1.5 percent as well as the highest single-season QBR of 122.5.
This column is written two weeks out from Super Bowl LIV and the day following the Packers beat-down at the hands of the 49ers. A pall hangs over Titletown today joining all Packers fans — whether they are fans of Favre, Rodgers or both.
The good news? After some perceived clashes, the two have embraced one another in recent years — showing that head and heart can jibe after all.
This magazine continues despite the untimely, tragic loss of founding editor, Andrew Kruse-Ross. Fortuitously, Andrew's beloved spouse, Aimee Suzanne, has assumed the helm and everyone remains firmly aboard to assure that things proceed on an even keel. We owe it to Andrew.
Andrew was kind-hearted, broad-minded and passionate about life and learning. He epitomized an approach to life that fully engaged one's head and heart — why he was a great writer, editor and friend.
Andrew believed in the worth of all people and a life-long persistence to derive meaning from experience. Taking his lead, this writer chooses to take meaning and encouragement from his time working with and being a friend of Andrew.
Thanks for everything, buddy. Tashi Delek!
Author, educator, historian, horseman and farmer Denis Gullickson writes about all things Green Bay and Green Bay history — especially the Packers. President of the Green Bay Theatre Company board, he also leads oversight of Green Bay's unique arts and performance incubator — The Premier.