What A Difference A Year Makes

What a difference a year makes.

Last August 2, despite having just been swept in a four-game series by the hated Cubs, the Milwaukee Brewers were thirteen games over .500 and had the second-best record in the National League.

Behind the newly-acquired CC Sabathia, the splashiest free-agent acquisition in club history, the Brewers would go on to win 20 of 28 games in the month of August.

This year, despite a weaker NL Central, the Brewers are two games under .500. The team hasn’t won a series in a month, despite playing the worst teams in baseball — Pittsburgh, Washington, and San Diego — in that stretch.

And this year’s big trade? The Brewers reacquired previously spurned teammate Claudio Vargas, the type of blah move typical of small-market, out-of-contention teams and hardly the sort of season-altering move that despairing fans and Ryan Braun had been hoping the team would make.

The reliever showed his thanks to the Brewers by allowing a run in his first inning pitched, increasing his ERA by more than half a point in the process.

Brewers fans, it’s over.

Also last August 2, the Brett Favre saga had officially become the nation’s most talked-about soap opera, as  the newly-reinstated Favre was about to fly to Green Bay, where he would eventually be told by Mike McCarthy that he wasn’t in “the right mind-set” to play for the Packers. He would be traded to the Jets on August 7.

Fast-forward a year later, and a surgically-repaired Favre has turned down an offer to go the Minnesota Vikings — the same team that the Packers prevented him from playing for a year ago.

Despite many in the media insisting that Favre will still change his mind and play this year — possibly joining a team in need mid-season — and despite Favre’s odd decision to continue to practice with a Mississippi high-school team, I believed Favre when he spurned the Vikings by saying that he felt his body just wasn’t up to another NFL season.

Favre (and drama) fans, it’s over.

Favre’s decision to stay retired surprised so many people (including me) simply because it seemed to fly in the face of logic. If he ultimately wasn’t going to play, then why have the surgery to repair the torn biceps tendon? If he ultimately wasn’t going to play, then why say things like “we’regoing to have a good offense” in relation to the Vikings? If he ultimately wasn’t going to play, then why did he make us suffer through that appearance on that godawful Joe Buck HBO show? 

Simply put, Favre wants to play but knows he can’t. His decision to stay retired may have been the only logical, rational, thought-out decision he’s made since his initial retirement in March of 2008.

That’s why I believe it’s over.

I believe it’s over even though the Vikings just signed potential rookie wide receiver sensation Percy Harvin — the type of weapon Favre kept hoping  Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson would bring to Green Bay — to a five-year deal.

I believe it’s over even though, in another bizarre twist to this story, presumed Vikings starting QB Tavaris Jackson sprained his left knee during the first day of practice. When I first heard this, I had to think that the defensive lineman who rolled over on Jackson had been paid to do so simply so Brad Childress would have a good reason to reconnect with Number 4:

Childress: “Brett? You all done with your hunting and fishing?”

Favre: “Who is this?”

Childress: “It’s Brad. Hey (barely able to stifle laughter), T-Jack took a nasty hit today in practice and looks like he’ll be out for a while (or as long as we can keep him bound and gagged). So, what say you get on up here and put on some purple and we go to work?”

Favre:  “If you call me again, I’m going to tell Longwell to shank some kicks. He still owes me for a deal I got him on an ATV.”

With Favre out of the picture, Minnesota, with losers Jackson and Sage Rosenfels now competing for the QB position, is in trouble. (Star Tribunecolumnist Jim Souhan compared Favre’s absence at Vikings training camp to the E Street Band showing up without Bruce Springsteen.)

What spells trouble for Minnesota spells good news for Green Bay.

You remember the Green Bay Packers, right? NFL team that plays up in northern Wisconsin in the smallest market in the country?

After a wildly eventful off-season last year, the Packers have had by far the quietest off-seasonof any team in the NFC North. That isn’t to say the Pack don’t have issues, chief among them the off-season switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under new (and fantastically toupeed) defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

But a defensive switch isn’t as sexy a story as the Bears acquiring Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, or the Lions grooming first pick overall Matthew Stafford to take over their UFL-grade team, or the Vikings getting burned one last time from Brett Favre.

No doubt Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson, after the circus atmosphere of last August, are happy to open training camp under the radar of the national media.

Last year there were endless questions about how Aaron Rodgers was going to perform in his first year as a starting quarterback; turned out all of that hand-wringing over his ability to play was largely a waste of time.

Now the main question surrounding Rodgers is wondering whether he or Cutler is the best quarterback in the division.

Both Rodgers and Cutler have faced difficult situations; last year Rodgers handled his team’s flirtation with the possible return of Brett Favre with remarkable maturity. Crybaby Cutler handled his team’s flirtation with Matt Cassel with remarkable immaturity, resulting in the trade to Chicago, a town not prone to embracing soft football players.

Though both have impressed on the field, give me a player with Rodgers’s thick skin over an ultra-sensitive one like Cutler any day.

With Favre out of the picture, a year of experience behind Rodgers, and a defense that is sure to improve over last year, I like the Packers to contend very strongly with the Bears for the NFC North crown.

The 2009 Packers quietly developing into a contending team? That’s more than I can say for the 2009 Brewers.

What a difference a year makes.


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