Tuesday, March 4, 2008
The Legend That is Brett Favre
The records Brett Favre takes with him into retirement include: touchdown passes (442), passing yards (61,655), attempts (8,758), completions (5,377) wins by a starting quarterback (160), consecutive starts by a quarterback (253, 275 if you include the playoff games) and most MVP awards (3).
Still, those numbers are woefully inadequate in measuring the man. His accomplishments as a quarterback might be quantifiable, but his virtues are not. There's a reason Brett Favre is regarded as a kind of national treasure, that the affection directed his way violates all demographic suppositions, cutting across all the usual divides of race, class, sex and geography. The American People, a much-abused term, can agree on the subject of Favre's overriding virtue: He defied time.
He stayed young doing a job that renders men prematurely old and broken. Until the very end, even his flaws remained those of a young man. At 38, there were still moments when he had the judgment of a 22-year-old, which is to say, an unreasonably bullheaded belief in himself. Consider his final pass, an errant one thrown on January 20 in sub-zero temperatures at Lambeau Field in overtime of the NFC Championship Game.
Earlier that day, Favre had victimized Giants cornerback Corey Webster for a 90-yard touchdown. But now it was the quarterback's turn to play the sucker, as Webster recognized the veteran committing a rookie mistake, telegraphing his pass down the sideline. The cornerback waited forever on that interception. "It felt like a century until that ball arrived," said Webster.
Well, perhaps not a literal century, but certainly, a long time coming. Even in defeat, Favre had an ability to slow the clock. Corey Webster was 10 years old when Favre made his first start for the Green Bay Packers. That was September 27, 1992, also an election year. An upstart governor from Arkansas was running against George Bush the Elder. South Africa was still under white rule. The cell phone was an oddity. The internet was, for most people, still a secret.
No game ages men as mercilessly as professional football, which systematically inflicts orthopedic and neurological ruin on its most dedicated performers. Quarterbacks, whose success depends on an ability to take the blindside hit, are the most vulnerable. Again, it's worth repeating the words of Joe Namath, who on the eve of Super Bowl III declared: "The name of the game is 'kill the quarterback."
So it was. So it shall ever be. Game plans are devoted to the quarterback's destruction. But across all those years, Favre proved indestructible. Or something like it. His consecutive game streak is to be regarded as a singular accomplishment, even more extraordinary than Cal Ripken's.
Ripken was never body slammed by Reggie White. You may recall the play, back in '92. Favre was making only his seventh start when White crunched him into the turf, a deliberate attempt to remove him from the game.
"That's his job," said Favre, who suffered a separated shoulder on the play.
In the interest of symmetry, recall Favre's more recently separated shoulder just this past season. It was Week 13 against the Cowboys. In between those two shoulder injuries, he survived more concussions than he'd care to admit (a half dozen by the time he was 27), five surgeries, turf toe, an arthritic condition in his hip, bone chips in his left ankle and fractured vertebrae. In college, he had 30 inches of intestine removed after a car wreck. He also played through emotional trauma — the death of his father and the diagnosis of his wife, Deanna, with breast cancer (now in apparent remission).
All that, and he still played like a kid. So remember Corey Webster's interception if you must, but nor should you forget a play from the previous week. It was third and eight. The Packers were playing the Seahwawks in the divisional playoffs. Favre had been flushed from the pocket and stumbled. Still, he managed to keep his footing, and more than that, his composure. For most quarterbacks, these would be desperate moments. But for Favre, even at 38, they were full of possibility. As he fell, he flipped the ball to his tight end for a first down.
And when was the last time you saw something like that?
When you were a kid.
Story from Mark Kriegel of Foxsports.com