Source: Favre has 'itch' to return; player calls it 'rumor'

Updated: July 3, 2008, 2:52 PM ET
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN.com

With his family "tugging" on him to play, Brett Favre has an "itch" to come out of retirement and report to training camp with the Green Bay Packers later this month, according to sources close to the team and player.

Favre has communicated his potential desire to coach Mike McCarthy but talks have not advanced to a substantive stage, a Packers source said.

Favre was reached on Wednesday by Mississippi's Sun Herald newspaper and tried to calm the storm.

"It's all rumor," he said of reports that he wants to return.

As for the ensuing media storm surrounding the story, Favre said in a text message to the newspaper: "No reason for it."

However, Favre's brother, Scott, said Wednesday night that Brett has been working out and put a return by No. 4 at "50-50."

"There's no doubt he can play," Scott Favre told WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. "He's in good shape, he's working out, we know he can still play, he's healthy, so, if he did, it wouldn't surprise me."

And at least one Packers player has said that Favre hasn't completely gotten the game out of his system.

On ESPN's "NFL Live," Packers defensive back Al Harris said on Wednesday: "I've talked to Brett and I know he has the itch to come back and play. If he will or not, I don't know. But I know he's feeling he wants to play."

When asked how Favre expressed his desire to return, Harris said the quarterback said, "I got the itch."

Rodgers' Plea To Fans

When it comes to trying to fill Brett Favre's shoes, Aaron Rodgers hasn't gotten off on the right foot -- with the cheeseheads, at least.

It's been assumed for three years that Rodgers would ascend to the quarterback throne when Favre retired, which Favre did during the offseason. But Rodgers did not endear himself to Packers fans recently when, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, he said, "I don't feel I need to sell myself to the fans. They need to get on board now or keep their mouths shut."

Later, Rodgers made amends when addressing his remarks in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"I do care deeply about the fans and I think anybody who has been to training camp and sees I'm a lot of times the last one out signing autographs sees I care about the fans, I care about their opinions," Rodgers told the Journal-Sentinel. "Everybody wants the fans to care for them and to pull for them and I am no different.

"The biggest disappointment in this whole thing is if anybody is offended by the stuff I say, because I think that my track record pretty much speaks for itself in the way I feel about the fans. I don't want the wrong message to come out of this."

-- ESPN.com news services

The source said the Packers would be reluctant to open the door for Favre because "Brett retired for the right reasons, even though I know his family is tugging on him [to play]."

Another source conceded Favre was "getting the itch" to play football in 2008.

Citing NFL sources, multiple media outlets in Wisconsin reported on Wednesday that Favre or his agent, James "Bus" Cook, contacted the Packers about returning a few weeks ago and the conversation ended with the quarterback asking for his release. The team reportedly refused his request.

ESPN's sources said that while Favre asking for his release is a possibility, the situation hasn't yet reached that stage.

Favre deciding to return does indeed put the Packers in an awkward situation. The entire offseason has been spent preparing Aaron Rodgers to play quarterback to the point where "the offensive scheme has evolved" and, psychologically, closing the door on Favre's legendary 17-year career.

Favre asking for his release would indicate that he still wants to play but that the Packers aren't a willing partner. A league official told ESPN that Favre could force a decision by asking the Packers, in writing, to reinstate him to active status. The team would have to comply or release him.

"That's speculation and I wouldn't go there," a team source said. "We value Brett's legacy, we think he values it, and we'd want to protect that. Brett's a high-quality person and he's not going to push it that far. He'll do the right thing [and stay retired]. This was almost predictable, the idea that Brett would get the itch to play as we get closer to the season."

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Meanwhile, Favre's agent downplayed the likelihood that the quarterback could un-retire or that he was prepared to report to camp July 28.

"As far as I know, right now, Brett Favre is retired and until he tells me something different, that's what it is," Cook said.

A Packers spokesman said that McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson were on vacation.

"The Packers have no reaction," team spokesman Jeff Blumb told The Associated Press.

Favre's mother, interviewed by WITI-TV in Milwaukee on Wednesday, said her son felt a vibe coming from GM Thompson that indicated the Packers were eager to move on without the future Hall of Famer.

"He's felt like that for the last couple of years, that the Packers didn't really want him back," Bonita Favre told WITI. "But nothing's been said. You know it's just been bits and pieces throughout the last couple of years, things that would come up, and it just didn't seem like they went out of their way to keep him. It was kind of like, 'You're done.'"

Favre has two years remaining on his contract at an average of about $12.5 million per season. His salary is not currently counting toward the salary cap because the Packers placed him on the reserve-retired list.

While Favre's return would upset the team on some level, many teammates would be fine with it happening.

"As a veteran and as a leader of the team," Harris said on "NFL Live," "I would welcome Brett with open arms."

He added: "We embrace Aaron. We support Aaron. Aaron is our quarterback. Brett is retired, but if he wants to come back, there will be some guys that wouldn't mind it."

In an interview done with ESPN around the time Favre retired in early March, McCarthy predicted Favre "will have an itch to come back. I saw Joe Montana go through it, even though I was a younger coach in Kansas City at the time."

McCarthy said it was Favre who convinced the coach that retirement was the "right thing to do."

"I tried to talk him out of retirement," McCarthy said back in March. "Tom Clements [Green Bay's quarterbacks coach] and I were trying to sell him on the concept that he could still play at a high level with 80 to 85 percent of the commitment he had last year. Brett thought that maybe he could do it but he reasoned that when you cut back the commitment, you open yourself up to injury, to not being on top of your game -- which was very important to Brett -- and letting the team down in the process.

"Really, what Brett did was very honorable because the stress and pressure he feels is a direct result of the standard he sets for himself."

Chris Mortensen covers the NFL for ESPN.