CANTON, Ohio – If John Madden is right, some interesting conversations might begin behind closed doors after tonight.
Madden, the former football coach and broadcaster, told the Pro Football Hall of Fame crowd a decade ago in his induction speech that he believes the Hall’s busts talk to one another at night after everyone leaves.
Well, after Brett Favre is inducted on Saturday night, his bust will go right next to 2015 inductee Ron Wolf’s in the Hall’s famous gallery.
It’s supposedly by chance, because the busts are arranged by year of induction and then in some sort of alphabetical alignment. It just so happens that Wolf – who of course made one of the shrewdest and gutsiest trades in NFL history when he brought Favre to Green Bay for a first-round draft pick in 1992 – ended up in the lower right corner of the ’15 inductees with Favre going into the lower left corner of the ’16 group.
“That means a great deal,” Wolf said. “I didn’t realize that. Brett texted me yesterday with a picture, and gosh, you talk about an exciting moment in my life, that’s it, the fact that we’re going to be side by side in this hallowed Hall. It’s remarkable.”
Favre isn’t necessarily buying that it just worked out that way, but sometimes fate has its designs.
“It wasn’t like on purpose, which, how incredible is that?” Favre said. “Ron and I don’t have to go too far to talk to each other. He’s not a shouter, so he can whisper in my ear.”
So, what exactly will the two talk about, side by side for all eternity?
Several of Favre’s former teammates spoke briefly with packers.com at Favre’s private induction party on Saturday to lend their perspectives.
“Historically they don’t talk a lot. They’re both notorious for that, but this is going to be a different world,” said running back Ahman Green, the No. 2 trade acquisition of Wolf’s tenure as Packers GM.
“After the lights go off and the last janitor leaves, I could see Brett saying something silly like, ‘Outside of getting Ahman here, having the run game the way it was, we needed some more receivers, because I wanted to chuck it down the field more.’
“Ron would probably say, ‘Well, I’d get you more receivers if you’d stop throwing into double coverage.’”
Whether or not the conversations would be serious, they’d be tinged with the respect and gratitude the two men have for one another.
“Brett would say, ‘Thank you for saving my life. I’d been stuck in Atlanta, third-string, and I don’t know where I’d be,’” safety LeRoy Butler said.
Offensive lineman Marco Rivera has Wolf’s response.
“He’d probably tell Brett, ‘Thank God you came through, buddy, because you saved my (rear end). You made me look like a champion.’
“Ron had the knack to find that talent,” continued Rivera, one of Wolf’s late-round draft finds, a sixth-round pick in the Super Bowl year of 1996. “He saw something in him that other GMs didn’t see. He took the chance to bring him in, and that was exactly what Green Bay needed at that time.”
Wolf probably didn’t know all he was getting with Favre personality-wise, though.
Former backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck thinks the busts would revisit some of the stranger encounters, like the time Hasselbeck saw Favre get pulled out of the QB meeting room to talk with Wolf, only to see Favre come running back and slam the door, looking sheepish and embarrassed.
“We’re like, ‘What happened?’" Hasselbeck recalled, and Favre proceeded to explain that Wolf asked Favre what he thought the team needed. “Meaning the roster, but Brett didn’t understand that’s what he was asking.
“So he said, ‘You know Ron, we could really use a water softener. Back home in Mississippi, I get out of the shower, and my skin’s not dry, the soap comes off. But up here in Wisconsin, it’s just really hard to get the soap off, and my skin’s dry. I think a water softener would really help the team.’ Ron looked at him just dumbfounded, so Brett took off and ran.
“I’m sure they have a lot of stories like that. Their relationship is at a whole ’nother level than any of us really know.”
Be that as it may, one pertinent football topic that might come up would be the Hall of Fame itself, and who else from the 1990s resurrection of the Packers deserves to join them and Reggie White in Canton.
Wolf in the past has expressed his support for Butler, while Favre on Friday in his remarks to the media cast a strong vote for head coach Mike Holmgren.
Butler’s combination of 38 career interceptions with 20½ sacks puts him in rare company statistically, and he was a four-time All-Pro named to the all-decade team of the 1990s. But many all-decade safeties are not enshrined, and the position is considered by some Hall of Fame selection committee voters to be among the most overlooked.
In recent years, Butler has been outspoken about his own case, and he’s confident his day will eventually come.
“I covered the third-best receiver on third down,” he said. “A lot of other safeties didn’t do that. So by changing the complexity of the game and how the safety position was looked at, I think I started that, and I think I have a chance to one day get in there.”
His teammates are in his corner.
“I think he should be in,” said tight end Mark Chmura, who had his share of head-to-head battles with Butler.
“I was going up against the best in practice, day in and day out. He really made me a more complete player. I played against safeties that are in the Hall of Fame now, and LeRoy definitely deserves to be there.”
Holmgren’s coaching career spanned 17 seasons, seven in Green Bay and 10 in Seattle, and featured 12 playoff berths, four NFC Championship Game and three Super Bowl appearances, and one championship. His teams recorded fewer than nine wins only three times in 17 years.
Holmgren appreciated hearing that his former QB believes he belongs.
“It means everything to me that he feels that way,” Holmgren said. “That’s important to me. Whether I get in or not, that’s a whole different thing.
“The thing most important to me when I was coaching, other than the players and my team, I wanted to be accepted by my peers. I wanted my coaching colleagues and the guys I competed against to say, ‘He’s pretty good. He can do this.’ I think I earned that. But I haven’t thought much about the Hall of Fame, to be honest with you.”
Butler obviously has, and not just about himself.
“He went to Seattle when no one wanted to go there and took them to the Super Bowl,” Butler said of Holmgren, before reflecting further on the coach’s tenure in Green Bay.
“He was never a head coach before, and it was a losing culture. To turn that around? That’s what I value.
“Everything had to change, so definitely he should have a chance. Me and Coach Holmgren going in would pretty much complete what we did in the ’90s, and I don’t think our fans will rest until it happens.”
Favre and Wolf, behind the Hall of Fame’s closed doors, might not either.