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Fitting Favre into history

With a landmark record about to fall this weekend, and I'm talking about Dan Marino's mark for career touchdown passes, we'll designate our leadoff hitter as Steve of Germantown, Md., who says, "It seems an appropriate time to ask if you would rank Brett Favre among the 10-best quarterbacks of all time."

I want to be fair about this. I've been repeatedly accused of being anti-Favre, and I think the reason for my grumpiness is the announcers and fans have fallen so much in love with him during his career that they've been blind to his failings, such as the careless interceptions. How many times have I heard, "Well, at least he's having fun out there," as the offense trudges off the field, following still another pick?

But placing him in the pantheon of the all-timers, well, I'm going to have to think it through; and why not right now? To me, his most remarkable record is never having missed a contest since he became a starter in the fourth game of the 1992 season. That's 16 years worth! Strictly on a skill level, I can't think of any other Hall of Fame quarterback who had a stronger arm, with the possible exception of Terry Bradshaw, who was a national schoolboy record holder in the javelin. Emotionally, Favre is a wild stallion who, at best, in the Super Bowl seasons, inspired all those around him ... at worst, drove his coaches crazy.

He's the kind of player who needed a periodic restraining order ... hey, why am I past-tensing him? Who needs -- present -- a periodic restraining order, and let's face it, coaches have been afraid of him. Mike Holmgren wasn't. Maybe Mike McCarthy, the current edition, isn't, since I keep reading how he's telling him to choke it off and play it safe. Now, how does he compare with the all-timers?

John Unitas and Joe Montana, my twin No. 1s? Both better than him. Otto Graham, my No. 3? Ditto. How about the moderns, Steve Young, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Marino? Hmmm, more careful from an interception standpoint, Aikman and Young, higher-percentage passers, all except Aikman higher in yards per completion -- which is a very telling stat in my book. Victories? Super Bowls? Uh uh, I don't count those in. They're team stats, not QB stats.

How about the old timers, Luckman and Sammy Baugh, for instance? No, I can't do it ... Sid Luckman, who played a full game on defense vs. Brett Favre? No, forget it. I forgot Norm Van Brocklin and Bradshaw and Y.A. Tittle, and the ultra moderns, such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and ... OK, I'm cutting it off right here. That record of 16 years without missing a game does it for me ... Favre goes into my top 10, all time, probably around eight or nine, when I get it all worked out. OK?

Progressing in regimental fashion, we'll stay with the quarterback questions for a while. Rick of Boulder, Colo., thinks one of the most overrated statistics for QBs is fourth-quarter comebacks, a big hoo-ha out there in Elway country; but Rick feels that maybe it was some earlier screwups that can put a team in a comeback mode to begin with. Yep, I sure agree with that; in fact, I think trying to isolate any one stat (except Favre's durability) is a mistake. My least favorite stat is passer-rating points, a system keyed almost entirely to completion percentage. Step right up, dinkers, and collect your reward.

From Brandon of Austin: Rex Grossman gets benched. But no one ever calls for Drew Brees, with numbers that are almost as bad, to get the hook. How come? Three reasons -- 1) Brees is better, 2) Brees has done it and Grossman hasn't and 3) Exactly who would you go with if you benched Brees .... Jamie Martin with eight starts out of 13 years in the league? Free-agent rookie Tyler Palko?

Let's stay with the Saints. From Myshall, Carlow, Ireland, comes Padriac, a fan of the Saints, namely Paul, Peter, Vincent and Sebastian ... OK, ha ha, a fan of the New Orleans variety who wants to know what's wrong, actually? The secondary has been exposed. So has the offensive line. That's two big areas of need, and if they make the mistake of trying to fit Reggie Bush into Deuce McAllister's role of heavy-duty back, that'll be three areas. But I can't believe they'll do that, not with Aaron Stecker simply thirsting for action. Thanks for what you wrote about my work, mate.

And thanks to you, as well, Dan of Sammamish, Wash., who likens Bush to Rocket Ismail, a fantastic college player who never did much in the NFL. Ismail remains a mystery to me. He was the greatest collegiate kick returner I ever saw. Led the AFC in his rookie year with the Raiders then kind of flattened out. I remember thinking he shouldn't be messing around at wideout. Let him do what he does best. I liked Bush better as a receiver than as a runner last year. Now I don't know what he is.

Question No. 2. Is the Cowboys' Marion Barber another Robert Newhouse? No. Newhouse was a chunky-legged little banger. He was the featured runner only once in his 12 years with the club, and in that, he has something in common with Barber. Style-wise, Barber is different. He's a two-gap runner with great instincts and competitive fire, a powerhouse, going for the first down. Why he plays behind Julius Jones, a guy he's infinitely better than, I'll never know.

Let's whip overland to San Diego, whose Chargers provoked a question from my E-mailer of the Week, Garth Stewart, who comes from, well, from Seattle. A rather innocuous query, but it's clothed in ancient history, which I love, thus, on this self-serving basis, a cherished award is rather frivolously given. "I continue to ask this question as relentlessly as the elder Cato calling for the destruction of Carthage. Did San Diego fire the wrong man? The wheels are coming off the bus." If history truly repeats, Civis Stewart, then you shouldn't be too anxious to get rid of Norv Turner. Carthage was destroyed, as Cato urged, but three years after he died at age 85. Do you really want to wait that long? By the way, I don't fire coaches here on SI.com. Call it feather-footing, but it's one game I refuse to play.

Closer to the action, Chris of La Mesa, Calif., wants my "overall opinion of Philip Rivers and the Chargers." What I wrote in my rankings column still holds. They seem like a one-man team, Antonio Gates, whose circus catches kept bailing out an erratic Rivers. The Packers crowded the box to stop LaDainian Tomlinson and collected Rivers in the same box. He could have won the Green Bay game with one play, late in the contest, when the Chargers were protecting a four-point lead with two-and-a-half minutes left. Third and three on his own 28. A first down gets the Pack out of time outs, and one more play runs into the two-minute warning. Another play and the clock runs way down, and another first down and the game's over. What does Rivers do on third-and-three? Overthrows Vincent Jackson on a sideline pattern, and that's a big guy to overthrow, 6-foot-5, 241 pounds. On TV, Phil Simms makes this goofy pronouncement: "He played it smart." Huh?

Punter Mike Scifres, and here's an area you won't see discussed that much ... anyway, punter Mike Scifres, one of my favorites last season because he was usually good for a five-second, high hanger, in the clutch, lets go with a 3.69 weenie that nets 29 yards and the Pack is set up. The great firm of Merriman and Phillips, which has been quiet all day, and their lassitude this season has been still another problem, remains dormant. Green Bay scores its TD, Rivers still has enough time, but he throws three straight misfires -- the third one a pick that comes back to the San Diego two, and it's all over. The worst thing was that the great handicapper, Z, had San Diego as his lock of the week. You ask me about Philip Rivers? Phooey, I say!

On to less strenuous topics. John of Atlanta doesn't much care for the last minute timeout that nullified game-winning field goals two weeks in a row. He asks about a proposed rule that says that if there's a stoppage in play, then no timeout can be called after the play clock winds down to 10 seconds. Well, the league told me that timeouts were called well in advance, but the whistles weren't heard because of the noise, so the ball was snapped and the ball kicked anyway. I'm not so sure. Didn't look like that to me. Yeah, I'll go for that 10-second rule. That last-minute sneaky timeout, which the league claims doesn't really exist, frankly stinks.

My column, The Meaning of the Game, drew some positive responses and one negative. First eat your spinach, then you'll get dessert. Nostalgia is overrated says Joe D. of Lynnfield, Mass. Do I really want to go back to the good old days of racism, sexism and toryism (OK, the last one is mine)? "The world isn't better of worse, just different. Football today is not football of yesterday. So what? It is what it is."

What a tough person. Is there no romance in your soul, sir? No dreams of the snows of yesteryear? Do you really love the hype, the wrestle-o-rama that is today's presentation? You say you don't but you accept it because it's here. So are certain political figures whom I can't accept. So is terrorism. Besides, when I wrote of the past I was careful to point out this was an old-man's vision, misty-eyed but not really clear. Do you wish to strip me of all my memories?

Well, Bill from Clearwater, where the water is truly clear, liked the piece. So did Andy of Baltimore and Alan of Omaha and J. Tyler of Terre Haute, and these are not chaps to mess with. Note to JT -- my favorite thing in Terre Haute is the Eugene V. Debs museum, honoring one of my heroes. My least favorite is the motel where we stayed while covering the Colts' camp. Within a two-block span, on either side, we counted 32 chain restaurants. We chose Outback. Next to the Hardee's and Arby's and McDonald's and Burger King, it seemed like the Four Seasons.

Andy of Baltimore asks if Brian Billick runs one of the most media-friendly operations. Yeah, he's pretty good about access, maybe because he once worked in the 49ers' PR office. Herman Edwards is very good in that department, too. Alan of Omaha feels that all the dirt-digging types, epitomized by YouTube style of journalism are a big reason why the game has turned nasty. I guess so. Maybe it's just the overall crush of journalistic bodies, mine included.

From Alfred G. of Santa Monica -- Fox's No. 1 team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman worked a game that neglected to include starting lineups. A mistake, or something deliberate?

I asked that same question -- to someone on the production team of the show. His answer was that they had ditched them, but were "working on something new." Oh, I see. Why tell people who's on the field? WE ARE THE GAME holler the networks. How about showing the starting lineups, instead of all the Fox announcers in action that day? Freakin' arrogance, I calls it.

Tim of Arlington shoots me this teaser: You're a GM. Pick one but not both, and tell me why. Terrell Owens. Randy Moss. My answer is that I'd pick the one least likely to go into the tank, if the team loses a few. Owens. The other guy might just spend half the game at the concession stand if the team were going badly. Thanks for your kind words and your concern about the book, and your pledge to buy two.

Nice of you to want my book,

Publishers feel that I'm a shnook;

Fantasy football, "now that's got class,"

So I say, stick it up your...

Michael of Salt Lake City feels that a great team in a division elevates the whole level of that division because the other clubs are so intent at trying to beat it; hence the quality of the AFC South. Why wouldn't they want to be better, just to be better and go as far as they can? But I'm not discounting your theory entirely. I think teams' drafts are based on the toughest people they have to play twice. If you're in the same division as Indy, you'd better have some serious cornerbacks. When he was with the Giants, Bill Parcells used to load up on guards. Why? Because all the other teams in the NFC East played a 4-3 and had at least one fine tackle -- Eric Swann in Phoenix, Randy White in Dallas, Dave Butz in Washington, Jerome Brown in Philly.

From Guillaume, le grand auteur de Los Angeles: Arizona switches from a lefty QB to a righty, back and forth they go, so how does this affect the traditional LT-RT designation, with one, supposedly the tap-dancing pass blocker protecting the back side and the other one the pounder on the front side? They just make the best of it, besides the differences aren't as great as you'd think. It would be too upsetting to disturb these guys' comfort zones by having them switch during a game, after working all week on one side. And merci pour votre sentiments.

Ditto to Joel of Longmont, Colo. He wants to know what happens when a first-round draft choice just departs the board, as will take place if New England has to give up theirs. Well, if I worked for the Players Association, I'd say, hey, you can't just remove a man from the work force, but I'm sure that management has made certain there's a provision in the contract for it. As far as the effect on salaries, well, an agent would ask for first-round money if his guy is the 32nd pick, or the first one in the second round; the team negotiator would say, sorry, pal, but he was still taken in round No. 2. And back and forth they'd go, a little give on each side, a little take, and how we do worry about the comings and goings of the millionaires, don't we?

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