When I showed up for my first day of work as a newly hired scrub on the 49ers beat, the first thing I learned was that Ronnie Lott hadn't. The greatest defensive player in franchise history skipped the first day of a mandatory minicamp in June 1989 to stick up for his friends.
Management had slashed the base salaries of San Francisco veterans Eric Wright and Keena Turner, and when Lott showed up at the team's training facility the next day, he was visibly pissed. When he emerged from the locker room long after practice and saw me -- a recent college graduate who'd just been hired by a now-defunct newspaper to cover the defending champions -- for some weird reason, he unloaded.
"These men have given everything to this organization," he explained, "and yet the second the people in charge think they can get away with it, they screw 'em over. And before too long, they'll do the same thing to me."
I looked at him dubiously, and then my heart began to race. Joe Montana -- the Joe Montana -- was now standing next to us, nodding. I'd barely met the man, but he must have sensed my youthful naivety, because the first words he said were, "And sooner or later, they'll f--- me, too."
"Yeah, right," I blurted out. Had Montana gone insane? Already, he was a legend, a magician whose dramatic feats had transformed a franchise and, indeed, an entire city's self-image. Before Joe, San Francisco's teams were lovable, wacky ensembles that would inevitably choke in the clutch; with him, the city had become the sporting capital of unencumbered cool. Surely, more than any star player with any pro franchise, he would be allowed to leave on his own terms.
Less than four years later, Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, and his initial lesson to a rookie reporter had been driven home: In the NFL, eventually, everyone gets whacked.
Sadly, for Brett Favre, that moment is fast approaching. Or, at the very least, it should be.
Oh, sure, I know the rules are supposed to be different in Green Bay, where the local time is always 1996, and Favre is still that bodacious gunslinger who put the title back in Titletown. Though that was Favre's only Super Bowl championship, it is nearly impossible to discuss this quarterback with a Packers fan without eliciting an emotionally charged response.
Taking in that blind devotion is one of the cool things about covering football in Green Bay, and Favre is wholly deserving of his beloved status; not to mention, he's also one of my favorite players to write about or interview. But there comes a time when logic must prevail, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the hour is upon us.
The Packers are a rebuilding team, and it's already clear they're going nowhere in 2006. They opened the season with consecutive home defeats, getting destroyed by the Bears in the opener and then losing a close game to the Saints.
Some believe that seven-point defeat to New Orleans constituted progress; to me, it only added to the indignity. Remember when the Packers were a virtual lock to win at Lambeau Field? They've lost nine of their last 12 games there, and their fans may soon be the ones contemplating a Lambeau Leap.