Support for Favre muted as Packers shareholders meet

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There were plenty of No. 4 jerseys in the stands and a smattering of jeers for general manager Ted Thompson at Thursday morning's annual meeting of Green Bay Packers shareholders at Lambeau Field.

But given the chance to air their grievances directly to the team's leadership, shareholders didn't turn the meeting into one big bring-back-Brett Favre rally.

Instead, most of the 9,375 people who attended the meeting pleasantly applauded Thompson and team president and CEO Mark Murphy, then gave a sustained standing ovation to head coach Mike McCarthy.

The reaction seemed to indicate that many of the fans who own a tiny stake in the team they love are backing the front office in its standoff with Favre. The three-time MVP asked to be released from his contract when his 11th-hour desire to unretire was met with lukewarm enthusiasm from the Packers, who committed to moving forward after Favre retired in March.

"Quite a few people look at the situation and say, 'Boy, that's really a tough one,"' Murphy said, speaking with reporters after the meeting. "You know, you've got an iconic player (who) has meant so much to the team. But with all the circumstances, the organization moved on after he retired. So I think people realize that it's a pretty delicate, sensitive situation and we're trying to handle it the best we can."

The Packers are the NFL's only publicly owned franchise. Shareholders vote for the team's board of directors, but don't earn dividends or get a direct say in the team's day-to-day operations.

The team's 112,000-plus shareholders are entitled to gather at Lambeau once a year to receive football and financial reports from the team's leaders. Murphy, a former NFL player who took over for longtime Packers top executive Bob Harlan in January, addressed the Favre situation in his opening remarks.

"We are all in unison, and are very supportive of the way Ted and Mike have handled this situation," Murphy told the crowd, drawing applause along with a boo or two.

"Brett has obviously meant so much to the Packers and the NFL," Murphy continued. "He will always be remembered as one of the finest players ever to play this game. We want to be fair to Brett, but we also must act in the best interest of the Packers."

Murphy said he wanted to turn the situation into a positive for Favre, the team and the fans - causing a lone woman in the crowd to shout, "Bring him back!" - then introduced Thompson.

"We are family here," Thompson said. "Families sometimes disagree. But they still remain family. We will always be part of the family, and I'm honored to be part of the Packer family."

After pausing briefly for applause, Thompson continued.

"This has been a difficult time for all of us, for everyone who cares about the Green Bay Packers," Thompson said. "This is a very complicated matter that we will continue to work through."

And at this point, a trade might be the best option for everyone involved.

Thompson has said he has no plans to grant Favre's request to be released. The Packers have filed tampering charges against the Minnesota Vikings, suspecting that interest from their division rival was the main reason Favre suddenly changed his mind on retirement.

Favre's rights belong to the Packers until his contract expires after the 2010 season. He would have to be released or put back on the Packers' roster if he applies to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement. But Murphy said Favre has yet to do so.

If Favre came back to the Packers, Murphy reiterated Thompson's position that it would be in "a different role." With Favre unlikely to return as a backup or in competition with Aaron Rodgers, he could be traded, although Murphy did not directly address that possibility.

That is, assuming Favre really wants to play in 2008 - something the three-time MVP still hasn't unequivocally said, despite three weeks' worth of fussing about his future.

"That's the big question. I don't know," Murphy said. "I think that's really something that only Brett can answer."

While the team generally appears to have support from its fans, there were a handful of awkward moments Thursday. As Murphy mingled with shareholders, a man sporting a Favre jersey and a ponytail began bellowing, "Bring Brett back!"

A few others picked up Appleton native Shane Keddell's chant, but it died out after about a minute as Murphy continued to sign autographs.

Thompson also mingled with shareholders after the meeting. Most offered words of encouragement, but a woman in a gold Favre jersey at the edge of the crowd shouted, "Brett Favre deserves more respect than he got!"

A man responded, "He retired. Get over it."

Among the group surrounding Thompson was former Madison East high school football coach Lee Ackley, who said most fans understand that Favre's constant waffling on his football future left the team in a tough spot.

"It's to the point where it's really not doing the franchise any good, and it's really not doing Favre's legend any good," Ackley said. "It's really kind of sad. You can see both sides. I mean, I can see where the Packers are coming from. The guy said, 'I'm done.' 'I'd like to come back.' 'I'm done.' 'I'd like to come back, let's talk.' ... I'm sure they'd have loved to have had him, but there's a point where you have to put the mark in the sand and say, 'Hey, we're moving on."'

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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