By Steve Keating
GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (Reuters) - To understand what the National Football League and the beloved Packers mean to the residents of Green Bay you need only ask for directions.
Chances are that sooner or later you will find yourself on Lombardi Ave or Holmgren Way, or might swing by Brett Favre Pass or find yourself on the newly paved Aaron Rodgers Avenue.
In Green Bay, all roads eventually lead to Lambeau Field but on Sunday, many of the city's nearly 104,000 residents did not know which way to turn.
Favre was back in town and the famed quarterback who never missed a start during 16 record-smashing seasons in Packers green and gold, returned for the first time wearing Minnesota Vikings purple and walked away with a 38-26 win.
For some in this tight-knit Midwestern town, where many are shareholders in the NFL's only community-owned team, Favre's signing with the despised Vikings in August for $25 million was a slap in the face bordering on high treason.
For others, the 40-year-old Favre's return represented a chance to thank the future Hall of Famer, who led the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, winning it all in 1997.
Many, like Bob Schaaf, who gave up a weekend elk hunting to take his wife and two sons to a game that attracted worldwide interest, did not know how to react.
"It just doesn't seem right but what can you do," Schaaf said as he eyed two men stroll past wearing Vikings jerseys with Favre's name and number on the back.
"I mean, anybody but the Vikings, going to the Vikings it just borders on war.
"We won't cheer him, we won't boo him. We'll do nothing.
"We like to watch him play and when he retires and goes in the Hall of Fame we'll cheer him but not the Vikings."
For many Packers fans, Favre's departure was like watching their parents get a divorce, a split that was as messy and as public as any Hollywood breakup.
A generation of Cheeseheads, as Packers fans are known, grew up idolizing Favre, who arrived in Green Bay in 1992 and blossomed into one of the NFL's all-time greats, winning three most valuable player awards while re-writing the record books.
But it was Favre's boyish love for the game, his gun-slinging heroics and remarkable durability that forged a special bond with not only Green Bay but with the entire state of Wisconsin.
Green Bay grieved with Favre after his father's death in 2003, then marveled when he took to the field the next night and tossed four touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders.
They anguished with him during his wife's battle with breast cancer and stood by him through his addiction to pain killers.
There was no forgiveness in evidence on Sunday, however, as Favre was lustily jeered by a regular season record crowd of 71,213 Lambeau from the moment he stepped off the team bus until he exited the field.
Facing his former team for the first time since parting ways with the Packers two years ago, time had done little to heal the wounds.
"I had mixed emotions coming in because I know how special these (Packers) fans are," Favre admitted to reporters. "It was loud and that is what makes Green Bay such a special place.
"I want to lead this Vikings team to the Super Bowl but I also know what Packers fans, who make this organization so special and unique will never change.
"How could you not miss that."
After announcing his retirement 2007, Favre had a change of heart but the Packers had already moved on, putting their faith in the hands of understudy Aaron Rodgers.
The split sparked a long-running soap opera that saw Favre spend last season with the New York Jets before agreeing to a two-year $25 million deal in August with the Vikings.
It also triggered angst and debate among the "Packers Nation," which stretches well beyond Green Bay city boundaries with loyal supporters and seasons ticket holders scattered around the world.
The Green Bay Press Gazette, which usually averages 35,000 hits on its website (www.greenbaypressgazette.com) was getting 750,000 views a day as anxious Packers fans followed the feud.
That the small market Packers continue to thrive is success story unique to professional sport.
Sunday's game, which attracted media from as far away as Japan, marked the 281st consecutive sell-out at Lambeau field, which has nearly as many seats as Green Bay does residents.
The Packers are the epicenter of Green Bay life, weddings and funerals planned around game days.
A ticket to watch the Packers is rated by at least one ticketing agency as the most coveted in all of sport.
When children are born in Wisconsin it is not uncommon for parents the next day to place their newborns on the Packers waiting list for tickets, which now stands at over 70,000.
Once worshipped by Packers fans, Favre's legacy in Green Bay is far from certain, although his Hall of Fame credentials are undisputed.
Prior to Sunday's kickoff, some Packers fans burned replicas of his top-selling green and gold Green Bay jersey while entrepreneurs cashed in on the occasion, hawking T-shirts with "Traitor 4-Ever" and "Once a Hero, Now a Zero" scrawled on them.
One Green Bay sports bar even staged a "Funeral-4-Favre" attended by 500 people, complete with hearses, pall bearers and a mannequin of Favre lying in a casket in his number four Vikings jersey.
(Editing by John O'Brien)