Jets, Packers owe Favre for success

IRVING, Texas -- It could've been the Brett Favre Bowl, the New York Jets versus the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

That probably would've been painful for the gray gunslinger, seeing two of his former teams face each other for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Jets were one win away from making that happen -- one half, really -- but let's not let that little fact get in the way of the real story:

Favre made the Jets and Packers better teams … by leaving them.

When Favre retired (ha!) after the 2007 season, it prompted the Packers to elevate Aaron Rodgers to the starting role. When Favre played the same retirement game the following year with the Jets, it led the quarterback-starved franchise to select Mark Sanchez in the 2009 draft.

Rodgers and Sanchez, a couple of California kids, have flourished in different, pressure-packed situations. Sanchez led the Jets to the brink of the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons, and Rodgers made it all the way to the big game in his third season as the Packers' starter.

The kids are all right. Call it a 4-gone conclusion.

"The guy is a true Hall of Famer, he has great character and I love him to death, but this is a new era and the game changes," said Packers wide receiver Donald Driver, one of Favre's go-to guys back in the day. "The old men are out and the young guys are in."

The Packers received major heat for trading Favre to the Jets in August 2008. After all, he was a Green Bay icon, coming off a terrific season, and his job was handed to the unproven Rodgers, a former first-round pick who has been collecting dust for three years.

The man behind the move was GM Ted Thompson, whose popularity in Wisconsin sunk to the level of rotten cheese. But now Rodgers is one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Packers are on verge of claiming their fourth Super Bowl title. Thompson has a right to scream one of the loudest I-told-you-sos in sports history, but he chooses not to go there.

"We've moved on," he said politely, offering no further explanation or commentary.

The Packers received a third-round pick from the Jets, and they packaged that pick and two others to trade up into the bottom of the first round in 2009, selecting linebacker Clay Matthews. It was another brilliant move; Matthews was the runner-up in the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Matthews was a wonderful bonus, a tangible commodity from the Favre trade, but no one would be applauding Thompson if Rodgers was a bust. He put his career on the line, unloading one of the greatest players in Packers history -- a messy divorce that still resonates with some of the older Packers.

"I think the whole team was shocked," tight end Donald Lee said. "Until the trade became official, I always thought he'd come back."

Guard Daryn Colledge still remembers the first time he saw Favre in a Jets uniform.

"It was weird, to say the least," Colledge said. "You grow up as a kid and you have this vision of Brett Favre being in a Green Bay Packers uniform for a long, long time. But stuff like that happens in this business.

"Obviously, with No. 4, it was a big deal. But as a young team at the time, we didn't know Brett as well. There were a few players that it hit hard that a change was being made, but for most of us it was another day at the office."

But not to Rodgers. There aren't many people on this planet that know what it's like to replace a legend. The next New York Yankees shortstop will know the feeling. It takes more than physical skill, it requires mental toughness.

Rodgers downplayed the whole Favre deal, saying he "just tried to stay true to my character." Like Thompson, he doesn't beat his chest. His teammates will do that for him.

"It took some time, but he knows it and we know it: He's the leader," wide receiver Jordy Nelson said of the quarterback they call A-Rod. "He's the face of our franchise."

The face used to be the old dude with gray stubble on his face, the creaky quarterback who spent the past two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and says he's done for good. Now Favre is just a ghost -- in Green Bay and especially New York, where he didn't stick around long enough to create a legacy. Sanchez and Rodgers have made it easier to forget and forgive.