A town divided

For thousands of Green Bay Packers fans in this waterfront town, Brett Favre has never been closer to their homes.

Or further from their hearts.

Just across the St. Croix River, half an hour by car, is downtown Minneapolis and the Metrodome, Favre's new home stadium.

The decision by the 39-year-old star quarterback last week to come out of retirement and sign with the Minnesota Vikings was the final straw for millions of Packers fans.

It left Hudson -- a picturesque community of about 50,000 that's 250 miles from Green Bay but only 18 from St. Paul, Minn. -- the most conflicted football town in America.

"Personally, it made me ill," said Leigh Halvorsen, owner of the Village Inn, a beer-and-pizza hangout filled to the rafters with signed Favre memorabilia. "Business-wise, it's great, and for football it's great. But we're so close to the Twin Cities, we've had Vikings rammed down our throats since we were this tall."

Across the street at another Packers-crazy pizza joint called Kozy Korner, the marquee in front reads: "BREAK A LEG FAVRE."

It was one thing when Favre played for the New York Jets last season, quite another when he signs with a mortal enemy in the NFC North, forever known for the black-and-blue division.

Favre is no ordinary quarterback, as evidenced by his two-year, $25-million contract with the Vikings. He's the only person named the NFL's most valuable player three consecutive years (1995-97), and led the Packers to seven division titles and two Super Bowls, winning one.

He holds several NFL records, including most career touchdown passes, completions, passing yards and, as his critics are quick to point out, interceptions. He's also astoundingly durable and, with 269 consecutive starts (not counting playoffs), is one away from tying Jim Marshall for the all-time record for any position.

"There's always a warm spot in every Wisconsinite's heart for Brett Favre," said Dean Knudson, mayor of Hudson. "The love for the Packers is deep here, and there's a fervor that borders on semi-religious."

That warm spot for Favre has cooled considerably over the last 1 1/2 years, after Favre tearfully retired after the 2007 season, unretired a few months later and was traded to the Jets, retired again after that experiment fizzled -- in addition to an injury to his throwing arm, he didn't know the New York offense well enough -- and finally unretired once more to join the Vikings.

Favre had surgery on his arm in May in hopes of another comeback, but he seemingly ended his flirtation with the Vikings last month when he told them on the eve of training camp that he had decided to stay retired. Three weeks later, he reversed his field again, leaving many people to speculate he staged the waffling to escape the grind of training camp.

"I think the guys will know I'm in it for the right reasons," Favre said in his introductory news conference. "That's because I still love to play. Regardless of who it's with, I feel like I can help this team or whichever team was willing to take a chance.

"I know there are people out there taking sides of whatever. This is not about revenge, believe me. You can't take away the 16 years I had in Green Bay. It was unbelievable . . . They've moved on and I've moved on."

Clearly, many people in Hudson will have a harder time moving on. Locals estimate the ratio of Packers fans to Vikings fans there is about 3 to 1.

"We even cheered for him with the Jets," said Halvorsen, whose spacious bar draws a crowd of 300 or more on fall Sundays. "People wouldn't even call those 'Jets games.' They'd call them 'Favre games.' "

Scott Nelson, who owns Kozy Korner with his two sons, plans to hold contests challenging patrons to guess how many times Favre will be sacked or intercepted in games. In the two games the Packers will face the Vikings this season, Nelson plans to offer dollar beers every time Favre is sacked.

"You've got to have some fun in life," Nelson said. "We still love the guy, but now we're going to rip him."

In an odd way, Packers bars in western Wisconsin could benefit from having Favre play for Minnesota. Although the Vikings have not had a game blacked out in their local market since their 1997 finale, they came close at the end of last season when they needed two deadline extensions from the NFL to sell out their playoff game. Favre will help ensure sellouts, which would mean fewer Green Bay games will be broadcast on over-the-air TV in that region, leaving Packers fans to flock to local bars and restaurants to watch.

Already, Favre has had a major effect at the box office. In the 72 hours after he signed, the Vikings sold seats at a record pace -- 4,000 season tickets and 14,000 to individual games.

Purple Favre jerseys are flying off the shelves too. According to Reebok, Favre jerseys are the all-time best sellers, and his Jets jersey was ranked No. 1 in sales last year.

But Nelson, for one, wasn't thinking about the bottom line in the immediate aftermath of the Favre news. He was thinking of the nightmare scenario.

"We're all scared to death of the Vikings winning the Super Bowl," he said. "With them losing it four times, we've held that over their heads forever."

Not everyone in Hudson is unhappy about Favre's signing with Minnesota. Andy Whitehead, for one, could not be more pleased. He does piercing at the Ink Factory, the local tattoo parlor, and he's a faithful Vikings fan.

"My mom's got a Vikings tattoo on her leg," he said. "I never thought I'd buy her a Favre jersey, but she's getting one for Christmas."

A block north along the historic downtown row of boutiques and trendy restaurants, one business owner is hopelessly torn.

Agave Kitchen owner Paul Rode is a Packers season-ticket holder who used to routinely make the five-hour drive to Lambeau Field to see his favorite team play. More than that, though, he's a Favre fan.

So on the day No. 4 signed with Minnesota, Rode took a deep breath, drove across the border and bought six season tickets to the Vikings.

"This guy gave everything he had for us -- blood, sweat, tears, time with his family," Rode said. "For us to not respect him, shame on us in Packers Nation."

Try to make sense of this: Rode plans to stand and cheer for Favre when the Vikings are on offense, yet cheer against their defense.

And when the Vikings and Packers meet Oct. 5 in Minnesota and Nov. 1 in Green Bay?

"I want Favre to throw six touchdowns," he said. "And lose."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

SPORTS TRAITORS

Bill Clinton and Jack Nicklaus have it. So did Mark Twain and Paul Newman. As a whole, Green Bay Packers fans don't. It is colorblindness, and most Packers fans would rather throw out their Cheeseheads than see what they witnessed Friday night: Brett Favre in the purple uniform of the Minnesota Vikings. But Favre is not alone as a franchise icon who chose to don a rival's uniform or coach an archnemesis. Stephen Ruiz of the Orlando Sentinel looks at five others who colored one fan base red with rage when they joined the dark side. The conditions: The person must have played or coached long enough with a team to become synonymous with that team, and a player must have chosen to cross enemy lines and not been traded:

Marcus Allen

Act of betrayal: After 11 seasons with the Raiders, a reduced role and dispute with team management led him to sign with the Chiefs. He played five seasons in Kansas City (1993-97).

Buzz: It's hard to blame Allen for leaving after owner Al Davis referred to him as a "cancer," but couldn't he have found a home outside the AFC West?

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Roger Clemens

Act of betrayal: Clemens' run with the Boston Red Sox (1984-96) didn't end well. After two years in Toronto, any chance for reconciliation was broken when he joined the New York Yankees (1999-2003, 2007) and won two World Series titles.

Buzz: "Misremember"? Red Sox fans would like to forget the Rocket's playoff failures.

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Tom Glavine

Act of betrayal: Began career with 16 seasons as an Atlanta Brave (1987-2002) before signing with the New York Mets. Rejoined the Braves in 2008 before being released in June.

Buzz: Glavine's 300th victory came with the Mets in 2007, a tomahawk chop to the heart of any Atlanta fan.

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Rick Pitino

Act of betrayal: Pitino won a national title and 219 games as Kentucky's men's basketball coach (1989-97). After a failed stint coaching the Boston Celtics, he returned to college at Louisville in 2001.

Buzz: In light of Pitino's extramarital scandal, new Kentucky Coach John Calipari already is urging Wildcats fans to treat Pitino with respect when the teams meet at Rupp Arena in January. Sorry, Cal.

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Nick Saban

Act of betrayal: After guiding Louisiana State to the 2003 BCS title, he left to coach the Miami Dolphins in 2005. After two seasons in Miami, he returned to the Southeastern Conference -- at Alabama.

Buzz: Saban said after his return to Louisiana State for a game in November that his move to Alabama was "nothing personal."

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Would they dare?

Other athletic figures we couldn't imagine joining their team's rival:

* Bobby Bowden coaching Florida.

* Kobe Bryant signing with the Celtics.

* Derek Jeter playing for the Red Sox.

sruiz@orlandosentinel.com

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