GREEN BAY – This is not about what Greg Jennings did or did not scribble on that Minnesota Vikings helmet. He could have taken his silver Sharpie and written the Declaration of Independence or the full lyrics of Skol Vikings if the person asking for his signature had requested it.
As it turns out, it appears one of the Vikings fans who met Jennings – a man who’s seldom met a marketing opportunity he didn’t accept, and who’s available to speak at your next event for the low, low, bargain rate of $10,000 to $20,000 – for an autograph signing at the FedEx Office location in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina asked him to sign a mini helmet with the inscription Packers Suck along with his John Hancock. And Jennings obliged.
That’s what the circumstantial evidence would show. The Instagram photo is still floating around in cyberspace, even though the apparent owner of the helmet and his wife deleted their joint Twitter account shortly after it went viral. (Later, a friend Tweeted to Jennings that the couple wanted to apologize “for the chaos it caused.”) And when Jennings was asked about it in the Vikings’ locker room at Winter Park on Wednesday, he didn’t exactly deny it.
“Oh my gosh. I’m not even going to jump into that. I’ll let that story be what it is,” Jennings replied when asked about the story. “If you guys want to hype it. That doesn’t have anything to do with football, does it?”
When asked if the story was true, Jennings’ answer was, “I’m not even going to address that. Are we talking football? Are we talking football or are we talking something else?”
Sounds like a guilty man to me. But again, this isn’t about what Jennings wrote.
Just like it’s not about him calling Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers “the guy they have now” in an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press in early June. Or about the way Jennings went on SiriusXM NFL Radio and made similar comments shortly thereafter. Or about what Jennings said when he appeared on ESPN’s First Take and again took his former quarterback to task (“You get respect when you give respect”) and said that one of the reasons he left Green Bay was to give other receivers a chance to spread their wings.
It’s not about that Minneapolis Star Tribune interview in July, when Jennings compared the Packers’ environment to that of the Vikings, calling the Packers’ approach “cookie-cutter” and saying that players “walk on egg shells” in Green Bay. Or about the full interview published in the newspaper the following Sunday, when Jennings claimed Rodgers made it about him and not the team. Or about the cockamamie apology he issued (“I don't really recall saying anything negative about Aaron or anyone over there, but hey, I apologize”) at training camp after Vikings coach Leslie Frazier gave him a talking-to for all his Packers-related chit-chat. Or when he went on the radio and claimed the Packers “brainwashed” players into thinking their franchise was better than everyone else.
It’s not about any of those incidents – or wouldn’t be, if there had been just one or two isolated incidents. But here we have all these examples – and the Packers and Vikings still don’t play each other for another 39 days. (They’ll meet Oct. 27 at the Metrodome and Nov. 24 at Lambeau Field, where Jennings figures to be mercilessly booed, if inaccurate quarterback Christian Ponder hasn’t gotten him hurt by then.)
Jennings is well within his rights to feel jilted by the Packers, and he certainly isn’t the first ex-Packer to express a less-than-glowing opinion of his former employer. During my time on the beat, I’ve seen hundreds of players come and go. Javon Walker and Mike McKenzie tried to force their way out with time remaining on their contracts and eventually got their wishes. They – and their agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who represented both players – didn’t say many nice things about the Packers (McKenzie was not a fan of Mike Sherman, to be sure), but neither player went scorched-earth the way Jennings has. A few years ago, Walker even came on Green & Gold Today and openly campaigned for the Packers to give him a tryout.
Not even the highest-profile of ex-Packers to become Vikings went as far as Jennings has. Darren Sharper was released by general manager Ted Thompson and took his well-thought out shots at his former team after he, like Jennings, wound up in Minnesota. (When we talked in 2006, he couldn’t even bring himself to call Thompson by name, even though he got a four-year, $14 million deal from the Vikings the day after the Packers cut him.)
And then there’s Brett Favre, who certainly had plenty to say to Greta Van Susteren during the summer of 2008 before the Packers traded him to the New York Jets, but largely kept his disdain for Thompson and his former team to himself during his two seasons in Minnesota, save for a few passive-aggressive moments (like suggesting Rodgers should have won his first Super Bowl “sooner”).
No, what this is about is this: Either Greg Jennings has done the ultimate “heel turn,” as wrestling aficionados apparently call it, or we never really knew him at all during his seven seasons in Green Bay.
Either way, that is what sucks.
I enjoyed covering Jennings during his time in Green Bay. We weren’t friends, but I found him to be engaging, thoughtful, eloquent, charming and intelligent. We spent plenty of time talking about his non-football life – it was fun to compare parenting notes – and he seemed to “get it,” which many players do not. I know he sees football as something he does, not who he is, and he will someday make for a phenomenal analyst on television, if he chooses to take his post-playing career that direction. Or maybe he’ll become an actor, having already had bit parts on Royal Pains and Criminal Minds.
If all this has been just another acting role for him, then I don’t for the life of me see the upside. He’s hardly the first – and thanks to Desmond Bishop, already isn’t the last – Packer-turned-Viking, and given how awful the Vikings’ receiving corps were last year, his mere signing was plenty to get Minnesotans to like him. Even a few of these shots across the border bow would have been fine, but now even some Vikings fans are wondering why he’s more obsessed with dissing his former team than talking up his current one. All he needed to do to ingratiate himself to his new fan base was catch some passes, stay healthy – which has become increasingly difficult for him – and complement the best running back in football.
If it’s the latter, and we were all a bunch of Wisconsin rubes who fell for Jennings’ preacher’s-kid, charismatic act, then that’s even more disappointing. And that possibility has to be considered, given some of the things that have trickled out lately, from Jordy Nelson calling last year’s wide receivers meeting room “awkward” to James Jones – the godfather to one of Jennings’ children – admitting that the whole saga has put him in an uncomfortable spot.
But maybe the signs were always there. Jennings complained about not getting the ball in 2009. Jennings complained about not getting the ball in 2010. His sister Valyncia famously went off on Twitter during the regular-season finale at Minnesota, when her brother was catching eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. And before the pads even went on in training camp last year, he made it clear that he didn’t think the Packers wanted to re-sign him, even though multiple sources have said the Packers made Jennings an offer that averaged between $10 million and $11 million per year – and Jennings told them there was no reason to talk to him unless the offer was for $16 million a year.
That strategy didn’t work out too well – his five-year, $47.5 million deal averages $9.5 million – and his public persona since hasn’t seemed very wise, either.
To our west, they refer to how locals treat transplants as being “Minnesota Nice,” meaning that they are courteous and friendly but a bit standoffish and passive-aggressive. Perhaps Jennings had heard about the phenomenon and went a bit overboard trying to gain their acceptance.
But at this rate, he’ll never again experience what “Packer Nice” is. Among the beloved players who were on the 1996 team that won Super Bowl XXXI are Edgar Bennett, Santana Dotson, Antonio Freeman, Dorsey Levens, William Henderson, Frank Winters, Gilbert Brown, Mark Chmura, Don Beebe, Marco Rivera and of course Favre. More than half of them played for another NFL team after that. And yet, every one of them – save Favre, whose day is coming – have been back for alumni events, autograph signings, the Tailgate Tour or Packers Hall of Fame induction.
Can you picture Jennings doing those things right now?
Jennings accomplished so much in his seven years in Green Bay. In 96 career regular-season games, he caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards with 53 touchdowns. He was instrumental in the team’s Super Bowl XLV title, with two of his four receptions in the game going for touchdowns and the fourth, as clutch a catch as you’ll see, all but clinching the title on a third-and-10 strike from Rodgers in the fourth quarter. Even if he played out all five years of his contract with the Vikings, he could have still come back here and been beloved if he’d have just stayed on the high road. (Like, say, Ryan Longwell, who retired as a Packer last month.) Instead, it’s clear a significant portion of Packers fans dislike him, some even more than they dislike Favre.
Who knows? Maybe that will still happen. Maybe he’ll only play a couple years in Minnesota, say all the right things after it’s over – he’s good at that – and smile his way back into Packers’ fans good graces. After all, if Favre and Rodgers are regularly texting back and forth, anything can happen. But it won’t be the same as when we were buying A&W Root Beer from him, and Russ Darrow vehicles from him, and Old Spice deodorant from him, and thinking he liked us as much as we liked him.
And that sucks.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.