If Lambeau Field weren't sold out from here to eternity, you might suspect the Packers and Vikings of constructing elaborate plots, like self-promoting boxers or googly-eyed pro wrestlers, to sell a few more tickets.
Perhaps never before in this rivalry of contrasts and contempt have these teams given us so many converging, feature-film-quality story lines, many of them revolving around a guy who won't be in the stadium. But memories of Brett Favre will hover over Lambeau like holograms.
Favre ranks first in NFL history in most passing statistics. This summer, he also became the first healthy, popular and productive quarterback headed for the Hall of Fame to bicker publicly with his team about whether he could rescind his retirement; to call the coaches of his team's foremost rival often enough to inspire a tampering charge; to force a trade after a season in which he threw for 4,000 yards and almost went to the Super Bowl; and to dominate conversations in Minnesota and Wisconsin more than an incoming blizzard.
Favre spent the summer alternately teasing, tempting and enraging Vikings and Packers fans.
All the activity left his replacement, Aaron Rodgers, squirming like the third person on a loveseat.
Right into the fire
The Packers' decision to trade Favre to the Jets was a Lambeau Leap of Faith, meaning Rodgers will make his first NFL start in prime time on "Monday Night Football" at the helm of a team that went 13-3 last year and almost made it to the Super Bowl, while facing the team best qualified to contend with the Packers for the NFC North title.
And the team whose coaches spoke with Favre while he was bickering with Packers management. The NFL decided not to charge the Vikings with tampering with a player under contract to another team, but the accusation means that there could be as many glares between the teams' front offices as among the players.
Or the coaches.
When Brad Childress took the Vikings' head coaching job, he intimated that he would have accepted the Green Bay job had the Vikings allowed him to leave town. The Packers didn't seem to appreciate the assertion, especially as their choice for head coach, Mike McCarthy, is 21-11 while Childress is 14-18 -- and 0-4 against McCarthy.
The Vikings' last visit to Lambeau -- which resulted in a 34-0 demolition -- marked the low point of Childress' career. In that game, the Packers' Ryan Grant became the only opponent all season to rush for 100 yards against the Vikings defense, leading defensive tackle Pat Williams to say, "It ain't going to happen this Monday night."
In that game, Vikings star Adrian Peterson took a body blow to the side of his knee from Packers cornerback Al Harris.
The hit looked like a dirty play, even though Peterson didn't complain. It knocked him out of the game and led to reports that the Packers had put a bounty on Peterson.
From a loss, a winning streak
That 34-0 loss, strangely, preceded the best stretch of Childress' career -- a five-game winning streak that left the Minnesota brain trust believing that an influx of talent could lead to a division title this year.
The Vikings spent $60 million in guaranteed money -- and far more in total dollars on the contracts -- to bring in NFL sack leader Jared Allen, receiver Bernard Berrian and safety Madieu Williams. Allen immediately said he plans to bury his helmet in Rodgers' back.
Two former Packers -- Vikings safety Darren Sharper and kicker Ryan Longwell -- could play big roles tonight. Sharper left Green Bay with almost as much rancor as Favre toward Packers General Manager Ted Thompson.
"I'll miss playing against Brett," Sharper said.
"But there are a lot of other reasons this is a great rivalry."
There figure to be more by the end of the night, with Favre gone but not forgotten.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • firstname.lastname@example.org