Greg Jennings will be the latest Viking to make a return to Lambeau Field as a member of the Vikings. In recent years, the first trip to Lambeau has been bittersweet for guys like Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell and, most notably, Brett Favre.
Despite the fact that all of them joined the Vikings after the Packers made the organizational decision to move on from them, when they returned to the land of green and gold, they got chilly receptions from the fans. The Packers didn't want to pay market value, but the fans turned on their former players when they joined the Vikings. When Cris Carter and Randy Moss came back to Minnesota, they were cheered. Granted, they weren't coming back as Packers, but they were appreciated for their contributions to the franchise.
Jennings returned to the practice field Thursday and, barring a setback, he will be in the lineup Sunday – returning a week after being a game-time scratch from the Seahawks game because of an Anchilles injury. Head coach Leslie Frazier believes that Jennings will be looking to make a big impression with his new team against his old team.
"I'm sure he'll be pretty fired up for this ballgame," Frazier said. "We all should be fired up for it, but he's excited to play, excited to get back on the field after not being able to play last week."
Does Jennings expect anything different? Perhaps the most intelligent Packers fan was in charge of a hotel sign in downtown Green Bay when Favre made his Lambeau return. The sign said, "Welcome back, Ryan Longwell." Classic! Much better than the professionally produced in-stadium sign that compared Favre to Judas.
Jennings knows his career likely will be defined by his Packers years, unless he and next year's first-round draft pick (a quarterback) become legendary together. In the long-term, he will once again be pulled back into the welcoming bosom of the Packer family. But, come Sunday? That's another question.
"I really don't have any expectations for a reception," Jennings said. "That's not why I'm going over there, to get a reception. I'm going over there to focus on getting the Vikings a win, focusing on us and trying to get better."
Jennings did his best to downplay the first return to Green Bay, but opened up a little bit when it came to actually entering the building and going to the visitor's locker room and seeing the familiar faces of stadium employees he got to know over the years.
"It's definitely going to have to be in the back of my mind for later," Jennings said. "I'm sure it's going to hit me. I mean, it was strange when they came here, watching their offense on the field and me standing on the other sideline. It was different. It was a different feeling. I'm not going to sit here and act like it wasn't. So I definitely expect for it to be different, but I can't get stuck in that. I can't get caught up in that. We're going over there just like any other road game, to get a win, to try to better who we are and what we're trying to do as a team. That has to be the mindset."
One thing Jennings has learned is that the venom coursing through the veins of purple and gold face-painters is the result of their hatred of the Packers – it is their top rivalry. The Bears and Lions are secondary. Jennings brought a dose of reality for Minnesota's mouth-frothing fan fringe. When it comes to rivalries on the Green Bay side of the border barbed wire, the Vikings were No. 2 on the rivalry chart.
"It's definitely different because, over there, it was more Bears as the rival," Jennings said. "The Vikings were definitely a big-time rival, but Bears were kind of like, ‘get over that hump.'"
Perhaps the best perspective comes from a teammate who is still loved, beloved and the namesake of several Wisconsin infants over the years – linebacker Clay Matthews. He went through the awkward Favre divorce/Rodgers quickie marriage and the animosity that flowed on both sides of Packers family. Scars – real or delusional – heal over time and the devotion returns.
"I can't really remember that the Favre welcome back was too cheerful for him," Matthews said. "Greg did a bunch of great things here, and that will be overshadowed by the fact he's playing for the rival for the time being. But in the long run, much like Favre is still revered in Green Bay, playing for a rival is just an afterthought now. I think everybody here is very thankful for the time and work and all his accomplishments on the field – including winning a Super Bowl – but it's kind of on to the next man."
If Jennings really wants to plant his flag in the middle of the "G" in front of the hometown acolytes, he could have a career game, something on the lines of eight catches, a buck-20 and a touchdown? On said touchdown, what would be the odds of a Lambeau Leap for old time's sake? He says he won't do that, but it would be epic for the rivalry. Favre bitterness would evaporate.
Years from now, when the Packers hold an anniversary party for the 2010 team, Jennings can say he "took one for the team" to deflect Brett animosity. The current purple face-painters are good with that.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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