Brett Favre's legacy not perfect, but fun nonetheless
GREEN BAY—He snuck in and snuck out. Half the crowd didn't even know Ted Thompson was here. From the back, the Green Bay Packers general manager listened to Brett Favre via conference call.
The scene at this “Hall of Fame”—a garage of a room under construction—was the Favre/Packers relationship personified.
Wires hung. Dust collected. Communication was blurry.
Was it the Cold War of a Hall-of-Fame banquet dinner in 2008, the one where Favre introduced Frank Winters and never met eyes with Thompson two tables away? No. But healing this relationship has taken years. And Monday's immaculate reconciliation shouldn't have been perfect.
Nothing about Favre's career in Green Bay was perfect.
He threw a game-winning touchdown in his first game…. and a numbing interception in his last.
He penned a Shakespearean 399-yard, four-touchdown masterpiece hours after his father died…. and three weeks later gift-wrapped a Pop Warner, lollypop of a pick at Philadelphia that ended Green Bay's season.
He won three MVPs and one Super Bowl in resuscitating a dazed-and-confused franchise…. yet still managed to alienate the millions of fans he re-energized.
His story is remarkable, intoxicating, imperfect. So 40 years from now, when someone gazes upon the No. 4 immortalized at Lambeau Field, what's the very first thought that crosses their mind?
Steve Mariucci—Favre's first quarterbacks coach—ducks his head, closes his eyes and pauses for 10 seconds.
“They're going to say,” Mariucci said, “ 'That guy right there played every game, hurt or not hurt. He was reliable. He was tough as nails. He was fun to watch. He played the game because he loved the game. And that's how they'll want their kids, whatever their game is, to play. Like Favre.”
Toughness. The 321 consecutive starts. The certifiably insane threshold of pain that drove him through a shoulder separation, severely sprained ankle, sprained thumb, sprained LCL, broken thumb, (God knows how many) concussions, a torn biceps and the 525 sacks.
Favre attacked his profession with tornado abandon, the same abandon that rocked northeast Wisconsin the summer of 2008.
He would play, and play one way. That's the legacy.
“He wasn't going to miss time,” said Ty Detmer, one Favre back-up. “He didn't want anybody else to have his spot. He didn't want to share it with anybody, so he was going to be in there no matter what.”
The world first realized this in 1995. Off a loss at Minnesota, his team was reeling at 5-5. Favre missed the whole week of practice with a severely sprained ankle—and Detmer was out with torn ligaments in his thumb.
So with his foot wrapped inside a shoe that was two sizes too big, Favre went 25 of 33 for 336 yards with five touchdowns and no picks. The Packers won nine of their next 10 games, reached the NFC Championship game and then two straight Super Bowls.
“I remember his ankle was swollen like this,” said Mariucci, pretending to hold a watermelon. “He was supposed to miss the game. The regular guy would not have played that game. Probably would have missed a month.”
So, “no question,” Detmer says. With Favre, the streak is everlasting. Something about hardship calmed Favre down. A cement block for a foot kept him in the pocket. Personal demons—be it addiction, a family death, etc.—had a way of dialing him in.
And Favre played in the last true era that didn't protect quarterbacks.
“Back then, it was anything goes,” Detmer said. “You'd get hit up under the chin with a helmet and driven down into the turf and guys going low. That streak really means something.
“Ignorance is bliss. Brett wasn't the sharpest guy I've ever seen with a football. That might have helped him with some of the stuff he was going through because he didn't know any better. He played with a linebacker mentality.”
The 2014 quarterback is biomedically engineered. Every dropback is a science, from the snap to the drop to the weight transfer to the release. Any microscopic flaw, hitch is eliminated. And this Mike McCarthy-esque approach trickles down to high school football. Detmer sees it. He coaches at a private school at Austin, Texas, and trains quarterbacks of all ages.
In his teaching, Detmer implements Favre-simulators. In many drills, he has quarterbacks scramble and throw off-balance.
In a game, he says, nothing is perfect. Hell breaks loose. And Favre thrived in the flames.
Rewind to Favre's momentous, first-ever three-interception disaster. He was dreadful in a 27-7 loss to the Giants in 1992. So on Monday morning, for the first time all season, Mike Holmgren decided to watch film with the QBs.
Again, and again, Holmgren hit pause, repeated the play call and asked Favre what was on his mind. Each time, Favre would say, “Well—”
“Everybody in the room knew he had no idea why he was looking where he was looking—Brett included,” Detmer said. “And finally, Brett was like, “Well ... I don't know.' Holmgren just about halfway through turned the film off and walked away.”
He didn't know what a nickel defense was—Detmer explained it. He didn't know what a “1” or “3” technique was on the defensive line. But Favre found a way to, as Detmer puts, “gunsling it in for a win.”
Whereas Steve Young was overly “nervous,” Mariucci says Favre was truly loose. Carefree.
Maybe fans should understand 2008. That summer was an extension of the man. This is the same player who suffered a concussion against the Giants in 2004, sat out two plays—two—and then threw a fourth-and-5 touchdown.
Ride off quietly into a bay sunset? Please. After a five-year thaw, the Packers can celebrate Favre for who he is.
Said Mariucci, “When he goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it'll be that way too—it'll be 'this guy played more games in a row than anybody here.'”
Last July, Detmer got a call from Favre. The old MVP was about to take over as offensive coordinator at Oak Grove (Mississippi) High School and needed advice.
“Here's what I'm thinking,” Favre told Detmer. “Four or five runs. Four or five play-actions off of those. Some sprint-outs.”
“That's pretty good,” Detmer said. “When do you start?”
“Tomorrow,” Favre replied. To which, Detmer nearly burst out laughing like he did that day in the film room.
“Well,” he told him, “you might want to get some of that on paper and get a playbook put together.”
No, nothing has changed. Favre coaches like he plays. “Just wingin' it,” Detmer calls it. Just wingin' it led to a high school state championship that fall. And just wingin' it worked out pretty well in Green Bay, too.