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Pack should be forever grateful for No. 4

When Packers fans settle into their recliners to watch the game against the Chicago Bears tonight, bellies full of turkey and stuffing, they should pause to give thanks, between bites of pumpkin pie, to one Brett Lorenzo Favre.

It’s appropriate that the Packers are honoring Favre for his 16 years of Sunday service on Thanksgiving. Because if it wasn’t for No. 4 — a number never again to be worn by a player in Green Bay — who knows what the franchise would look like today?

Favre came along at the perfect time for a team mired in loser’s muck. In Mike Holmgren, he had a coach who knew how to saddle a wild southern stallion. Together, and with a great supporting cast, they took the Packers to dizzying heights.

It could be argued that Ron Wolf’s trade for Favre in 1992 started a chain reaction that led to one of the most important free-agent signings in NFL history, two-plus decades of winning, the drafting of heir apparent Aaron Rodgers, a stadium renovation and a coming entertainment district. Not to mention three Super Bowl appearances and two victories.

But what if it had never happened? What if Wolf had no interest in the rawboned, rocket-armed gunslinger who was so undisciplined as a rookie that he hadn’t bothered to show up for the Atlanta Falcons’ team photo?

In an alternate universe, it might have looked something like this …

1992: Wolf has studied plenty of film of Favre and admires his arm strength, but concludes the quarterback is inconsistent and unreliable. Instead, he sets his sights on a record-breaking college player, and with the fifth pick in the ’92 NFL draft the Packers select David Klingler from Houston.

In Chicago, Bears team president Mike McCaskey rolls the dice and trades a first-round draft pick to Atlanta for Favre. Coach Mike Ditka clashes with his headstrong young quarterback early and often, but by the middle of the season Favre has replaced Jim Harbaugh as the starter and Chicago finishes 9-7. A reinvigorated Ditka signs a five-year contract extension.

1993: The Packers pursue free agent Reggie White, but his agent doesn’t return their phone calls. Instead, White travels to Chicago to meet with Ditka, who gives him a tour of Soldier Field and promises that one day he’ll be mentioned in the same breath with Butkus, Nagurski and Grange.

White is more interested in the excitable but talented kid under center. He knows a winner when he sees one, and signs with the Bears.

1996: The Bears go 13-3 and advance to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans, where they beat the New England Patriots. Favre helps carry Ditka off the field and in the offseason the two open a chain of restaurants. The specialty on the menu is “Packer Sacrificial Lamb.”

In Green Bay, Holmgren is fired after five seasons, having failed to develop a quarterback.

1997: The Bears advance to Super Bowl XXXII and rely heavily on the run in the second half to beat the Denver Broncos in San Diego. Favre wins his third NFL Most Valuable Player award and dedicates it to Ditka, whom he calls “the greatest coach I’ve ever had.”

1999: Lambeau Field is becoming outdated and Packers president Bob Harlan personally champions a $295 million renovation plan, but Brown County voters — insulted at being asked to support a perpetual loser — overwhelmingly reject a 0.5 percent sales tax to finance the plan.

Harlan has no choice but to sell the naming rights to the stadium. He finds only one taker and in 2000 the stadium officially is renamed Mrs. Fields’ Field. When the Packers continue to lose, fans hold up signs that read, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

2005: “With the 24th pick in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears select Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, California.”

2009: Favre, having decided to unretire after the Bears handed the starting job to Rodgers (and having played one year with the New York Jets), signs with the hated Packers. Green Bay fans are up in arms, but warm to Favre when he leads the team to the NFC Championship Game.

2010: The Bears, with Rodgers playing brilliantly in the playoffs, go on to win Super Bowl XLV.

Nov. 26, 2015: The Bears retire Favre’s No. 4 and put him in their ring of honor during a halftime ceremony at Soldier Field. During a touching tribute, Jim McMahon joins Favre on the field and the heroes are given a prolonged standing ovation.

Meanwhile, in Green Bay, another long winter has announced its arrival.