(Photo from Journal Sentinel)
On December 18, 1994, the Green Bay Packers possessed the ball on the opponents’ 9-yard line with seconds left, down by three to the visiting Atlanta Falcons. It was the second to the last game in the season, and a must-win for the Packers to keep their play-off hopes alive. Green Bay was out of timeouts, so if the ball carrier were tackled inbounds on the next play, the game would end along with any chance for the postseason.
“Whatever you do, don’t scramble,” said Head Coach Mike Holmgren to his quarterback, instructing that the ball be thrown away if the play is not there.
The young quarterback named Brett Favre saw nobody open. Does he throw the ball out of bounds, allowing time for a field goal to tie the game at 17?
Nope, not Favre. He scrambles right, just getting by defensive end Chuck Smith to make a dramatic dive to the goal line. The bold play wins the game and sends the Packers on way to the playoffs.
This kind of fearlessly competitive play defines Favre’s entire career. He was a classic gunslinger, always relying on his heart and raw physical talents more than anything else. This Saturday, he will return to Lambeau Field in Green Bay to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame, as well as have his #4 retired.
The three-time MVP spent 20 seasons in the NFL, 16 for the Packers. He accumulated massive numbers of awards, achievements, and accolades during his time. He set the NFL record for nearly every passing category, and helped lead the Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI.
And as he’s proven time and time again over the years, it wasn’t the X’s and O’s that came first, but his sheer confidence in his abilities. He even admitted that he still had not known what a nickelback was, three years into being in the league.
He recalled asking then-backup QB Ty Detmer what a nickel was.
Detmer: “You are joking, right?”
Favre: “No, man, I always hear people say nickel is in … nickel out.”
Detmer: “To make it simple, Brett, nickel means they take out a linebacker and bring in a DB.”
Favre: “That’s it? Who cares?”
Much of Favre’s success came from his fearlessness, his arm strength, and his pinpoint accuracy. Former Packers QB coach Steve Mariucci recalled a 1995 game between the Packers and Bengals in which Favre hurled a touchdown pass that should have never been completed. With the ball at the Bengals 12-yard line, Favre threw a bullet caught by wide receiver Mark Ingram in the endzone. There were three defenders between Favre and the receiver.
“It was impossible. He threw it so hard,” said Mariucci about the play. “No way he should’ve thrown it. It should’ve been intercepted by all kinds of guys.”
Of course, there were interceptions. Lots of them. He set the NFL record for several passing categories such as yards (71838), completions (6300), and touchdown passes (508, though Peyton Manning broke this record last year). His most impressive record was probably the most consecutive starts by a player (297). But he also holds the record for most interceptions (336).
It comes with the aggressive play style. Along with the many bold shots that have in wins come the throws that sometimes seal defeat. The mentality that brought us the ‘how did he do that’ moments also sometimes brought us the ‘why did he do that’ moments.
We all remember the pass to Donald Driver in overtime of the 2008 NFC Championship Game that was picked off to set up the New York Giants’ game-winning field goal. There was also the 2003 interception that sealed a playoff win for the Philadelphia Eagles. The list can go on. But it is not nearly as long as the list of games won with the help of Favre’s boldness. And don’t bother beginning to compare it to the list of magical moments the Green Bay faithful and the football world watched over the years.
Favre, who began his illustrious career as a 3rd string quarterback with the Falcons before being traded to the Packers for a first round draft pick, won the more games than any other starting quarterback (186). He’s led 45 game-winning drives, including 30 fourth quarter comebacks. There is an abundance of magical moments. There’s the Antonio Freeman touchdown over the Minnesota Vikings. There’s the shovel pass to Donald Lee in the snow against Seattle. There’s the emotional Monday Night Football domination in Oakland the night after his father, Irv Favre, died of a heart attack in 2003.
Favre was succeeded in Green Bay by Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the game right now. Rodgers competes in a league that now has all but faded out the gunslinging passer. Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning all rely not only on their physical strengths but on the strategy and game plan, reducing risks wherever they can. And in their cases, they’ve put up probably some of the most efficient quarterback work you might ever see. A quarterback today throws an interception to end his team’s game, and he gets booed out of town with media calling for his job. But when Favre did it, his fans forgivingly said, ‘you live by the sword, you die by the sword.’ That’s what came with the Ol’ Gunslinger. He was their boy.
In today’s NFL, what names come to mind when you hear ‘gunslinger’? Jay Cutler? (Yikes) Tony Romo? Not the elite class. The gunslinger is a dying breed of quarterback.
In 2008, the Packers and Favre went through a messy divorce. Green Bay was ready to see what Rodgers could do after spending three seasons behind Favre. Favre, after unretiring, wanted to play and requested his release so he could go play for the rival Vikings. The Packers traded him to the Jets and after one season, Favre made his way to the Vikings for the final two seasons of his career. They have since mended their relationship as both parties are excited for Saturday’s ceremonies.
Fave told Rob Demovsky of ESPN that he was not planning to write a script for his speech.
“I figured I’d wing it sort of like I played,” said Favre.
True Favre fashion. Never stuck to a gameplan before. He’s not starting now.