Skip to comments.THROUGH IT ALL - In good times and bad, Favre shows up on game day
Posted on 09/10/2005 10:06:22 AM PDT by Lando Lincoln
He's human, really. And that's hard to remember.
This is Brett Favre. Gunslinger. Competitor. Fighter. Champion.
Favre has started an NFL record 225 straight games at quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Heading into the 14th year of The Streak, Favre drives on as the records, his coaches, the opponents and his teammates fall by the wayside.
He walks gingerly on feet that ache and an ankle that's killing him. His head has at least one gray hair for every one of the 379 sacks.
This is Brett Favre. Survivor.
The kid transplanted from Mississippi's Rotten Bayou into Vince Lombardi's shadow has bared his soul from the beginning. And it's not just the injuries, the losses and the victories.
He's feared for his wife's health in front of us, mourned the death of his father before all of us, watched helplessly with us as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, his home.
He won a Super Bowl then lost the next one. He kicked one addiction, then another. All along the way, he's pulled up a chair and shared his tales, making so many feel like they can relate, somehow, to a rich, elite athlete who comes from the deep, rural South.
This is Brett Favre, an old friend.
In the 13 years before Favre, the Packers had one season above .500. In the 13 years since, the Packers have never had a losing season.
This is also Brett Favre. Savior.
But he's human, and he's made mistakes. He's endured hardships. To overlook that diminishes his perseverance.
It's not the end, but it's getting close. Sometimes the 35-year-old Favre doesn't resemble the cannon-armed kid. He's wise now, gracious and grateful.
And the person he's become may be more impressive than the player.
There have been numerous close calls that could have - maybe should have - ended The Streak.
To rank or rate them would be ridiculous. So they are presented here only for the sake of organization: injuries that should have been insurmountable; tragedies that left Favre in despair; and personal mistakes that only he could control and ultimately correct.
But know this first.
The NFL-record starting streak at quarterback began Sept. 27, 1992, but it really began Oct. 10, 1969, when Bonita Favre went into labor with her second child on a Friday, and Coach Irvin Favre went on to coach a high school football game later that night.
The Favres don't miss football games and Irvin would teach Brett more than the love of the game. He would pass on two strong traits: pride and stubbornness.
Brett had perfect attendance in 10 of his 12 years in school. Even when he had mononucleosis the month before his sophomore year of high school, and it kept him from football all year, he didn't miss an hour in the classroom, not the son of two teachers.
Today, three injuries stand out to Favre, injuries that brought him the closest to the bench and a certain end to The Streak: a broken thumb midway through 2003; the elbow injury in 2000 that caused him to miss most of the exhibition season; and the sprained ankle in 1995.
"When I broke my thumb, I felt fine," Favre said. "The problem was, how can I throw? We tried to throw a little bit that day of the Minnesota game, and it was OK, but it's different when guys start chasing you and it's different because we're playing in Minnesota and I haven't had too many good games there."
In 2000, Favre hated missing exhibition season games and said throwing in the opener against the New York Jets that year was "like throwing darts at a pub; that's all I could do."
Against Chicago, Favre played on an ankle that should have been propped up on a sofa for two weeks. Coach Mike Holmgren let Favre make the call on that one, and Favre played one of the best games of his career.
Emotionally, Favre has had more than his share of heartbreak in the last two years. Taking a game off to cope and regroup would have been acceptable, yet he never did.
Near the end of 2003, after his father, Irvin, died of a heart attack, he played, as he knew his father would have wanted him to. But who would have ever expected that Favre would play his greatest game ever at Oakland, throwing for 399 yards, four touchdowns and a near-perfect quarterback rating?
Then midway through 2004, just a week after Favre's brother-in-law died in an all-terrain-vehicle accident, his wife, Deanna, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Tough enough to catch passes from Favre when they were kids, she was wiped out by her chemotherapy treatments.
Favre was so distraught that he seriously contemplated retirement at the end of last season. It wasn't until Deanna's successful treatment that Favre decided to come back for 2005.
Hoping the bad news was behind him for a while, Favre looked forward to just playing and enjoying this season.
Hurricane Katrina has already ruined that.
On Aug. 29-31, Favre's home in Hattiesburg became a refuge for 50 family members and friends from the most devastating storm of all time, more deadly than Camille in 1969, which also smashed into the Gulf Coast.
Flood waters saturated Favre's childhood home in Kiln, just 5 miles from the coastline, where his mother, brothers, grandmother, aunts, other extended family members and lifelong friends all reside. Some were left with just the clothes they had on when the wall of the eye and the storm surge hit.
Worse still, Favre couldn't get down there to help, and his loved ones couldn't get out. He remained in Green Bay, preparing for an exhibition game on almost no sleep with the building anxiety of watching TV news.
"I have been through my ups and downs. To try to focus in those situations is very difficult," Favre said. "I'm trying my best.
"I've found myself a couple times saying, 'Why me?' Or, 'Why of all places . . . ? As quickly as that thought pops in my head - and it probably pops in my head more than I'd like it to - I try to remind myself of the things to be thankful for, which there are a lot."
Then, Favre sprained his ankle in the final exhibition game at Tennessee.
People who marvel at Brett Favre's ability to withstand the personal upheaval and still play football have forgotten what happened a decade ago.
Nothing comes close to the seasons of 1996 and then 1999 in terms of obstacles that could have derailed The Streak.
While Favre was the biggest star in the NFL, winning three straight MVP awards and going to two Super Bowls, he also had two problems: He abused painkillers and alcohol.
In 1995, Favre won his first NFL Most Valuable Player award. He was magical even as he withstood a flurry of injuries. Taking the prescription medicine Vicodin at first for the pain, Favre began abusing the drug and then became addicted.
After he suffered a terrifying seizure that made him realize he needed help, Favre agreed to check into the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., for 45 days. It was the summer of 1996 and he has called it the most difficult period in his football career.
"I stopped taking painkillers," Favre said. "I kept drinking, which was stupid."
When he returned to Green Bay and began training camp, he said many memorable things in a news conference. Among them, the famous "Super Bowl or Bust" proclamation.
And then, after challenging anyone to bet against his full comeback from drug rehabilitation, Favre denied any problem with drinking and fought the ban placed on him by the NFL.
What happened next usually only happens to fictitious characters in movies. After Favre beat the drug addiction, he went on to lead the Packers to a 13-3 record, a Super Bowl championship and his second straight MVP award.
Soon after that, he decided to quit drinking, too, and has abstained from alcohol for seven years now.
"I've never been completely diagnosed as an alcoholic. I consider myself one," Favre said.
"When I drank, I drank to get drunk. There were times I had two beers, but that was because the other 10 were not available. I knew I drank for a reason. It wasn't the social aspect of it. If I was going to have a beer, I was going to have 30 or however many I could drink.
"That's an alcoholic. As I spent enough time in rehab, even though I was in for different reasons, I was listening, and I'm like, that's me. Even though I didn't want to say it, I fit that.
"That's being honest with myself, which took me a long time to do. And until I stopped, I was not honest with myself."
Favre stopped before the 1999 season, which was also the year Holmgren was gone and Favre played all season with an injured thumb that ruined his year.
That was also the year when he had considerable pressure on him as he neared the NFL starting streak record, which was held at the time by Ron Jaworski at 116 games.
"I am so thankful now I don't drink," Favre said. "There was so much I wasted back then. At least I was strong enough to overcome it. If I thought there was one person who could never stop drinking, it was me. I mean, that is what I grew up around . . . . It's what everyone did.
"So I had to make huge lifestyle changes. Once I did, I found out I was not near as social as I thought I was. Was not near as much fun. Once I got over that, I was fine."
Today Favre does worry about the long-term effects the painkillers and alcohol may have on him.
"What's done is done," Favre said. "The biggest thing is that I stopped and was still able to have a normal life. Was still able to play football. I have kids. Turned my life around.
"I'm so thankful. Of all the negatives that have happened in my career, it's how you overcome them. I didn't do it alone, but I'm still here today and am as proud of the fact that I have turned my life around in so many different ways.
"More so than starting 225 games, that's an amazing feat. Because after that's done, you still have to live a life and what type of life you live is most important."
Despite Katrina and the sprained ankle, Favre is ready to start Game 226 of The Streak today at Detroit. When it will end, he has no idea.
Will he decide?
Will an injury?
Or maybe time?
There are reminders everywhere that time is passing by more quickly.
The Packers' first-round draft pick and anointed heir apparent is 21-year-old old Aaron Rodgers. He is 5 years older than Favre's older daughter, Brittany.
In the locker room, there aren't many players left from the old regime. One, Edgar Bennett, is an assistant coach.
"When Mike Holmgren left, I hated that he left; he was a great coach and meant a great deal to my career," said Favre. "I had already lost Mooch (Steve Mariucci). I had lost Andy Reid.
"I lost Frank Winters a couple years ago, and Chewy (Mark Chmura). Reggie White. All these guys were not only great friends but great teammates. We had something in common. Even Doug Pedersen, we had been here together before the Super Bowl. Lost a Super Bowl. The whole evolution."
Favre's record starting quarterback streak is somewhat of a widely accepted assumption. The Packers cannot confirm whether Favre's streak is the longest in team history, much less in the NFL among quarterbacks, because not all records from other teams are as complete to include such details.
And now, the game ball Jaworski gave Favre for the record 117th start that sits in his home in Hattiesburg seems ancient history anyway.
"I remember when Ron gave me that ball, I was too naïve to know any different at the time," Favre said. "I had no clue I would be talking about this at 225 games. Hopefully there's 60 more, I don't know. As amazing as it has been, I haven't spent a whole lot of time dwelling on it."
Technically, Favre's starting streak is 205 regular-season games. Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning already has 112, from 1998-2004, only second to Jaworski, who had 116 from 1977-'84.
Favre is certain The Streak will be broken eventually.
"I'm sure they will," Favre said. "I know it seems like an unreachable record, but if you'd have asked me 10 years ago if I'd reach 225, I would have said I just hope I make it through today."
great, great post. Leader, indeed: the "anti-victim."
Favre and the Green Bay fans are the reason I started enjoying football again. The players don't give up because the fans don't give up. 12:30 AM, cold as hell in overtime, even if Green Bay is losing the stands are still packed with loyal fans. 62,942 fans showing up for a scrimmage game is the type of support that you can't disappoint. Brett Favre is the only sports figure I admire and respect.
Amazing. Just when I think the Journal-Sentinel is a completely worthless piece of fishwrap and a waste of innocent trees, they print something like this. Is it just me, or does anyone else think the only decent writing left in the local daily newspaper is that which you find on the sports pages?
A Great Book! I couldn't put it down until I finished.
GO PACK GO!!!!!!!
One of my brothers is a Bear fan, my other brother was a rabid Packer fan - I'm a girl and a Cowboy fan with a soft spot for both of my brothers' teams.
But when the Bears and Packers play, I find myself spontaneously cheering for the Pack. Just love them.
I hope I'm not the only one who has noticed how really good Favre is in commercials? Remember the one where he's walking with his wife and always wants to give advice to situations he sees in the street?
My point is - wouldn't it be great if he could go on to have a movie career? We need an actor that plays a convincing hero SO bad!
Class is class and Bret is class.
Favre and the Green Bay fans are the reason I started enjoying football again.
He's been the perfect fit for them. Yes, they are some of the best fans around.
Favre already stated that he would like to play for another 2-3 years. That means he'll break the all-time record set by that one Vikings player in the 70s, I can't remember his name but I know he played for the Vikings.
Raised on grit - Favre was toughened by brothers, dad Every legend has a beginning, and the legend of Brett Favre began right here, in the backwoods of southern Mississippi, on 52 1/2 acres of pine trees and meadows tucked between Mill Creek and the Rotten Bayou.
|Brett Favre: The making of a legend|
| Continuing each Sunday through the NFL season, the Journal Sentinel Sports section will chronicle the life of Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. The series will follow his journey from boyhood to high school to college, his years with the Atlanta Falcons, and then his ascendance with the Packers into the premier quarterback in the National Football League.
Ravaged two weeks ago by Hurricane Katrina, the Favre homestead was, in the 1970s and '80s, the ideal place for three rough-and-tumble sons of a high school football coach to play their games.
Scott, Brett and Jeff Favre, inseparable by blood and isolated by geography, could fish and swim in the bayou, hunt in the woods and play football and baseball on makeshift fields between barns and outbuildings.
"We didn't grow up in a subdivision or a populated area, where you have neighbors right next to you," said Jeff Favre, the youngest brother and the third of Irvin and Bonita's four children. "We couldn't call buddies and meet up in a park or field and in 15 minutes you've got some game. That was not available to us, so we played with each other."
They were always throwing something, those Favre boys. Rocks, potatoes, balls made from rolled-up wads of duct tape, whatever else was handy. They were always competing, too, their spirited games sometimes ending with one brother wrestling in the mud with another.
"There wasn't no sissies around here," said David Peterson, a cousin whom the Favres treated like a fourth brother. "We used to go in that old barn and everybody would hide and we'd throw rocks at each other and see if we could knock each other out. I tell you what, I don't know how Aunt Bonita and them made it with us. Whew! We was wild.
"It's probably a good thing we didn't live in the city because we would have tore things up."
In the evenings, they'd come tumbling into the modest ranch house, dirty and bleeding from this cut or that scrape, laughing and bragging and needling each other about home runs and touchdowns and game-saving tackles.
Bonita invariably had a pot of something going on the stove.
"God, did they eat," she said. "You put it there, buddy, they ate it."
They were good athletes, too; strong, raw-boned boys who always threw harder, swung harder, tackled harder and played harder than the other kids in Pee Wee football and Little League baseball.
"We were always better than everybody else," said Scott Favre, not so much bragging as stating a fact.
Born to play
Brett, the middle son, weighed 9 pounds 15 ounces when he was born on Oct. 10, 1969.
"The doctor said he was ready for a hamburger," Bonita said.
He was preordained by genetics to grow into a strapping 6-foot-2, 230-pound man. He was nurtured in an environment of intense competition with his brothers and extended family members. He soaked up the lessons taught by his late father, a widely admired and hard-nosed coach.
But could anyone around Kiln, the one-stoplight town nearby, have predicted that Brett Favre would one day rank among the greatest quarterbacks in National Football League history?
Could anyone have predicted that he would be a three-time league MVP who would lead the Green Bay Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI?
Could anyone have predicted that he would rack up 225 consecutive starts, an NFL record for quarterbacks that he will extend today, when he takes the field against the Detroit Lions to begin his 15th professional season?
"No way," said Rocky Gaudin, who coached Brett from the fifth grade on and was an assistant coach under Irv at Hancock North Central High School. "I told him when he came through that he was the best quarterback we ever had at that time as far as being a competitor and a good leader.
"But he was not necessarily the best quarterback we'd had in terms of his accuracy. Even though we didn't throw much, he was pretty erratic."
Not even his brothers pegged him as a future NFL quarterback, let alone a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
"It wasn't that early that I could sit here and say, 'He's going to be a professional football player,' " said Scott Favre, who was regarded by some as the better quarterback prospect of the two.
The truth was, Brett probably was a better high school baseball player than he was a football player. He started for Hancock North Central as an eighth-grader and earned five varsity letters.
"When he was in the eighth grade, he was probably the second-best player on the team behind me," Scott Favre said. "I was a junior at the time."
Once, in an American Legion baseball game, Favre doubled in his first at-bat, homered in his second and came to the plate a third time with the bases loaded. The manager called for an intentional walk.
"They threw three pitches outside," said Mike Ross, the home-plate umpire that day. "Before the fourth pitch, Brett turned to me and said, 'Do you think I'm going to let them walk me?' I said, 'You don't have much choice.'
"They threw the fourth pitch outside and he reached out and hit it for a ground-rule double over the right-field fence."
In football, Brett was big and strong and loved the physical part of the game. He might have made an outstanding high school linebacker or safety but rarely got the chance to show what he could do on that side of the ball.
That's because all three Favre boys were quarterbacks at Hancock, not so much because they were indispensable athletes (though that was largely true) but because Irvin knew he could depend on them to show up for practice.
"Back then, there were days you'd have 18 or 20 kids to practice with," Gaudin said. "If one of them missing is your quarterback, you can't hardly do much. So Scott was a quarterback when he came through and it was obvious Brett was going to be a quarterback.
"Irvin got flak about that. People said, 'He's the head coach. He's just making his kids the quarterbacks.' He'd talk to me about it and say, 'You know, the reason I do this is because I know they're going to be at practice. They ain't got no choice.' There was a lot of logic to that."
Big Irv, as he was known, was a good athlete himself, a former star baseball player at the University of Southern Mississippi. As a coach, he was no-nonsense, a man whose authority was unquestioned. He told Bonita, in no uncertain terms, that if one of their sons was ever hurt, she'd better not run down on his gull-dang football field.
"I always thought he was straight out of the Marines," said Stevie Haas, who owns the Broke Spoke bar in Kiln and knew the Favres because Haas' parents owned a grocery store. "He reminded me of a drill sergeant. He had that deep voice and wore a flat-top (hair cut)."
Haas went out for football at Hancock. He lasted just one day.
"It was 95 degrees and we ran and ran and ran," he said. "I asked Irv if we were going to run less the next day. He said, 'We'll probably run more.' That was all I needed to hear.
"I didn't show up for practice the next day and he came looking for me in my parents' store. I was stocking shelves and he came back there yelling, 'Candy! Where's Candy?' "
Said Jeff Favre: "Dad was hard on everybody. Old school. He'd run a lot of people off the team. He didn't put up with much (expletive), that's for sure."
Big Irv's toughness was legendary and undoubtedly rubbed off on his impressionable sons.
"Irv was up on the roof one day doing some stuff at the house," said Clark Henegan, one of Brett's best friends. "He fell off the roof and landed on his head on the concrete. He got up, dazed, blood running down his face, and wouldn't go to the hospital. I saw it happen myself.
"Brett thinks when you get hurt, put some ice on it, you'll be all right. That was Irv's patented move right there. Broken leg? Put some ice on it, you'll be all right. Get back out there."
In the early 1970s, just after he took over the football program at Hancock North Central, Big Irv attended a coaching clinic conducted by Alabama legend Paul "Bear" Bryant. He came back to Hancock and installed Bryant's version of the wishbone offense.
Like the Bear, Big Irv did not believe in throwing the football unless it was absolutely necessary. Though his sons had exceptional arms, he wasn't going to change his offense just to accommodate them.
"People always say, 'Man, y'all could throw. Why didn't you throw the ball?' " Scott Favre said. "Dad wasn't going to do it. He believed in his offense and he wasn't going to showcase his sons."
Brett, in fact, rarely attempted more than five passes in a high school game. After Irv begged his alma mater to take a look at his son, Southern Miss dispatched offensive line coach Mark McHale, who sat in the stands as Brett led his team to victory but threw only a handful of passes.
When McHale told Irv he couldn't recommend that Southern Miss sign Brett as a quarterback based on what he had seen, Irv asked him to come back the next week, promising to open up the offense.
"So McHale went the next week, and Brett threw it six or seven times," said Regiel Napier, the former sports information director at Southern Miss. "To Irv, that was airing it out."
Once, during Brett's senior year, Scott returned from college to watch a game and was standing on the sideline. Hancock North Central was ahead by two or three touchdowns, and Scott told Brett he was going to try to talk their father into letting him throw the ball.
"I eased over to Dad: 'Hey, Dad, why don't you let Brett throw it a little bit?' " Scott said with a chuckle. "He turned and looked at me and said, 'Who's coaching this damned team? Get your ass up in the stands with your mom.' I looked over at Brett and said, 'I think you're on your own, buddy.' "
When Brett did get a chance to show off his arm - mostly in pick-up games at home or on the baseball diamond - he left onlookers shaking their heads in amazement.
While pitching in a Little League game once, he hit a batter in the helmet with a blazing fastball, knocking the boy down. The next batter got halfway to home plate, dropped his bat and started sobbing.
"There were kids who wouldn't bat against him," said Bonita Favre. "They'd start crying because he threw so hard and, I mean, he may hit you."
Later, as the starting third baseman as an eighth-grader at Hancock North Central, Brett cleanly fielded a sharp grounder and proceeded to overthrow the first baseman by five feet. The ball sailed over the dugout, flew through an open window on the opposing team's bus and pin-balled around the interior.
"I looked at Brett and said, 'What the hell was that?' " said Scott, who was pitching. "He said, 'Hell, I caught the ball.' I said, 'Yeah, but you think maybe you could get the throw to first base?' He said, 'I'm working on that.' "
Though Brett rarely got the chance to show off his arm during football games, there was no question he was blessed with one-in-a-billion talent.
One of his elementary school teachers, Billy Ray Dedeaux, recalled Brett throwing 50-yard passes in the fifth grade.
"He could chuck it," Dedeaux said. "The kids who caught the ball from him said it was like a bullet."
Favre sat out his sophomore football season with mononucleosis. He begged Bonita to take him to the doctor every Friday for blood screenings; every Friday the doctor told him he wasn't ready to play. (To this day, Bonita said, Brett refuses to drink out of another person's glass, believing he caught mono by sharing water bottles at football practice.)
That fall, Brett took out his frustration by throwing passes to the junior varsity players.
Chad Favre, a cousin, recalled being on the receiving end of those passes, which usually resulted in two rows of tiny bruises on his chest - marks left by the eyelets of the shoulder pad laces.
"Me and a couple of other guys were playing with one of those little junior varsity footballs once," Chad said. "Brett came out and said, 'Go deep, go deep.' I'm running, I'm running, I'm running. He was in one end zone and when I finally caught the ball and staggered a couple steps, I was in the other end zone. So he threw that ball about 90 yards. He just had a cannon."
An unwavering confidence in his arm strength has enabled Favre to make throws few other quarterbacks would even attempt. It also has gotten him into trouble on occasion, when he has forced the ball into coverage.
"When we used to play, somebody might break loose 50 yards down there, wide open, and somebody else might come across the middle with a guy all over him," Peterson said. "Where do you think Brett is going to throw? He's going to throw to that guy who's got 16 inches between him (and the defender). He's still like that, you know?"
Signs of things to come
But a strong arm and a stubborn streak will not get you 225 consecutive starts in the NFL. Favre displayed other traits as a youth that would serve him well throughout his career.
First and foremost: his ultra-competitiveness.
"He's always been that way," Peterson said. "It don't matter if he's playing ping-pong or throwing marbles. He wants to win."
Once, Favre talked Peterson into entering a Punt, Pass & Kick contest with him. When Peterson won a trophy, Favre could barely contain his anger.
"He was so mad," Peterson said. "He was fired up."
After the high school football season ended, Gaudin supervised once-a-week touch football games in the winter. He picked one team, Favre picked another, and they'd go at it.
"You'd have thought we were playing for the Super Bowl," Gaudin said. "It was just touch football but we were getting after it. Drizzling, rain, cold, it didn't matter. Me and Brett would get in arguments if my team beat his or his beat mine.
"That was the No. 1 thing: his competitiveness."
Favre also was dedicated in the off-season. During a time when high school athletes rarely trained for a sport year-round, he lifted weights three or four days a week. Friends remember him throwing the ball alone, over and over, or enlisting Deanna Tynes, then his girlfriend and now his wife, to catch passes.
"Brett would throw the ball so hard, Irvin would come out and fuss at him," Bonita Favre said. "Deanna wouldn't let on. She was going to catch 'em."
Years later, Bonita can scarcely believe what her son has achieved on the football field. She attended a Packers pre-season game last month and shared a luxury box with the mother of a soldier who had been killed in Iraq.
The subject turned to heroes.
"The mother said, 'They call your son a hero, and my son is a hero,' " Bonita said. "I said, 'I know, but I just can't see it that way.' She said, 'I looked it up in the dictionary and a hero is an ordinary person doing an extraordinary job.' So I guess that's true."
Favre returns regularly to his hometown, never putting on airs or bragging about his exploits in the NFL. He still enjoys throwing the ball around with his brothers and took great delight a few weeks ago in spraining one of Peterson's fingers with a bullet pass.
Haas, wiping down the bar at the Broke Spoke just days before Hurricane Katrina smashed through Hancock County, paused to reflect on the local legend.
"Brett ain't changed none," Haas said. "He seems like the same what I can remember from high school. He was just Brett then and he's just Brett now."
Me too, Lando. Me too...
Why, thank you.:-)
Another great article. Thanks, Lando.:)
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