UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

What could have been

A few of us were standing around Brett Favre's locker on the Friday before the Giants' playoff game, and he was telling stories of what it was like playing for his father at Hancock North Central High in Kiln, Miss.

"Last play of the game against Long Beach," he said. "One of those hot days ... everyone cramping up. I ran a draw to the left side. Missed the handoff, so I kept it and scored. My dad yelled at me, 'What the hell are you doing? Get in the back of the truck.'

"No dates after the game ... nothing. I went home with my dad."

Seems like he's been around forever. Seems he was always the Green Bay angle heading into the season. Brett Favre says he'll play this season, wait a minute, he might not, yes he will. Whew, that was close. Now that that's out of the way, how about cutting down on the interceptions this year?

The Packers have compiled a list of quarterbacks who started at least one game since Favre settled in as their QB 16 years ago. Going into last season, there were 202 of them. Dave Brown and Stoney Case bloomed briefly in the Arizona desert, Bernie Kosar wowed 'em in Cleveland, Joe Montana looked weird, quarterbacking the Chiefs in the playoffs ... and so on. Favre saw them all come and go. The Bears, for instance, went through 21 QBs while the Packers hung in with just one.

The Green Bay press book doesn't leave anything to conjecture.

"A certain first ballot Hall of Famer," is the way the 28-page section on Favre begins, and woe to the Hall of Fame selector who someday would dare neglect the Packers' greatest quarterback in history. In history? Whoa, there. How about Bart Starr? And then you had Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell, the great passers of the single-wing era, and Johnny Blood, wow, he must have been some back, and ...

Hold on. The old-timers were, well, great old-timers. And Favre never had a cast around him like Starr did. No one had the gun Favre did. Nope, not even the old-timers with that fat football could bring it the way he could. And there never has been a more durable QB in history.

We don't even know how bad some of his injuries were. He didn't exactly carry a sign around, announcing them. He lined up 275 straight times, counting playoffs, since he first was anointed starter in 1992, and we can only guess how close he came to missing some of those outings. And this was and is during the era in which quarterbacks are wrapped in cellophane.

You can make up almost any adjective you want to describe his greatness, and there will be some truth in it, but here's the thing that always killed me about Favre. He could have been greater. Ron Wolf knew it. The Packers' GM knew he was onto an all-time score when he worked the deals that brought Favre over from Atlanta. He was close.

Mike Holmgren knew it. The coach who once sat up nights with Montana, going over the game plan, had Favre for the first seven years of his career. And if you place any value on the passer ratings, you could note Favre's numbers climbed into the 90s, and stayed there for four straight years, stretching from 90.7 to a dazzling 99.5 during Holmgren's last four years with him.

It couldn't have been easy. The coach had a wild stallion on his hands, ever restless, always looking for the big strike, the big gamble. How do you coach caution while you're telling the guy to go out and win it for you in the last minute? It was the coach's dilemma.

Holmgren knew how to handle greatness. He had worked with Montana, who could get into streaks of almost surreal accuracy, plus he had outstanding athletic ability to fall back on. But Favre had the gun Montana never had ... plus the gunslinger's mentality. Play it safe? Coaches' talk. Throw a pick? Well, let's go out and get seven back, then we're even, right?

The surprising thing was that Favre's ratings stayed high, despite his occasional looseness with the ball. That was how hot he could get. Remember the night in Oakland, when it was iffy whether he'd play, following his father's death? Four TD passes and 399 yards in the air was the legacy he left out there. But there were downers, too, and it only hurt Favre that the knights of the TV screen always were ready to make excuses for him.

His fourth quarter and overtime meltdown against the Giants last season, which put a sad end to a remarkably classy season? Never mind ... the redemption of the Giants' field-goal kicker was the angle. The goofy, looping interception that cost the Pack the Eagles' game in OT in the divisionals in 2004? Oh, let's put it on the defense for allowing McNabb his fourth-and-26 completion in regulation.

Always ready to make excuses, always braying about "what a good time he's having," that was the continual barrage from TV. Maybe a few frowns, a stern reprimand or two, might have toned down the wild maverick a little, but gosh, he sure is having fun out there. And that's what the game is all about, isn't it? Fun, boys acting like men and so forth.

This past season was a strange one. It seemed Mike McCarthy's continual harping about how Favre had to protect the ball finally kicked in because his completion-to-interception ratio was close to the highest of his 17-year career, and his percentage of passes completed was the highest. And the team was winning. It fell apart in the last two periods of the Giants game, but what the hell, it had been a hell of a ride.

How will history evaluate him? Capable of almost anything on the field. Heroic. Indestructible. Maddening at times, but great to root for. With only this low key aftermath.

Could have been greater.

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.