When it comes to Brett Favre’s legendary career, which will be capped off by his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, I’m sure I missed out by only covering him up close during his final four seasons, which included his last season with the Packers and stints with the Jets (yuck) and Vikings (gross).
But man, what a four years. Only Brett Lorenzo Favre could turn the end of a career into a Greek tragedy. It had it all: greatness, immortality, triumph, gut-wrenching losses, despair, divorce, division, betrayal, Brad Childress doubling as a chauffeur, and injury.
It’s no secret that Favre didn’t change in the locker room with the rest of the Packers players. He instead had a room right off it among the equipment staff. Sometime near the final preseason game in 2007, Favre walked across the locker room and, as the new guy at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I figured it was a good time to introduce myself.
Favre didn’t say much. A pleasant, “Nice to meet you,” was the extent of our conversation. But I’m glad I took that opportunity because it was the only time I saw him in the media portion of the locker room until the week of the NFC Championship Game.
Favre did perform his duty by appearing at the podium in the auditorium every week and, boy, could he talk and talk and talk. It wasn’t unusual for Favre to spend about 25 minutes answering four questions. But he usually gave good, if winding, answers. His recall was uncanny. Reporters became well versed in deciphering Favre-speak for various digs at teammates and coaches. They were subtle, but you could find them—he was skilled at deflecting blame.
The truth was, for at least that season, Favre was usually right. He was spectacular in 2007, throwing for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns against 15 interceptions (seven came in the final five games, when the Packers had all but locked up a playoff bye) as he finally bought into Mike McCarthy’s attempts to reign the old gunslinger in. If it wasn’t for Tom Brady’s ridiculous season, Favre might have won a fourth MVP at the age of 38, and 10 years after his last.
For a reporter that had covered the Dolphins—and their seven starting quarterbacks—the previous three seasons, watching Favre at that point in his career was a revelation. Favre was a maestro. He actually knew what the defense was going to do before the ball was snapped, and he picked them apart. Once, Favre told Greg Jennings to be ready for a pass in the second opening. Favre knew the linebackers would move a certain way, which meant that Jennings would go from being covered to uncovered if he stayed on his route. Of course it happened exactly the way Favre told Jennings.
The highlight of that 2007 season was watching Favre hit Jennings on a touchdown at the Metrodome to break Dan Marino’s record for career touchdown passes. Even Vikings fans had to show admiration for the man who caused them so much pain.
For most of the season, I had little doubt Favre would return for a 17th season with the Packers. He was playing great, the coaches and front office wanted him back and he wasn’t beaten down. He was fresh because the game, after a regime change and rebuilding period, had become easy again. The Packers were young and talented, so why walk away?
The first doubts I had came the week of the NFC Championship Game. Favre no longer looked like he had discovered the fountain of youth. He appeared tired. Worn out.
Then, of course, the overtime interception to Corey Webster happened and the Giants went on to the Super Bowl. That changed everything. The Packers didn’t beg Favre to return like previous coaching staffs and front offices had. So he decided to call it a career. Sitting in that upstairs hall in the Lambeau Field Atrium, everyone noticed two things: 1) The icy awkwardness between Deanna Favre, McCarthy and G.M. Ted Thompson. 2) Favre truly appeared to be done.
Of course he wasn’t, which set off the Summer of Favre, which included but was not limited to: monitoring appearances on David Letterman and Greta Van Susteren (we were through the looking glass, people), watching his workouts with the Oak Grove High School team, stalking team president Mark Murphy at the Green Bay airport as he boarded a private flight to make Favre an offer to stay retired, the team hiring former White House spokesman Ari Fleisher to help the team deal with the crisis, Favre flying into Green Bay as the annual intrasquad scrimmage was being played, Favre exiting Lambeau for two days with seemingly another ESPN personality in tow, Aaron Rodgers getting flicked off by “fans” and fans chanting “We want Brett!” during Packers practices.
Favre was eventually traded to the Jets, and I was there in Miami to see his debut in kelly-green against the Dolphins (Favre's reaction: "What are you doing here?"). It was the same old Favre in a 20-14 victory. He didn’t show any ill feelings about not being with the Packers, but the same couldn’t be said for Deanna, who bit her lip and only said nice things about Packers fans. I witnessed both his games at Lambeau in a Vikings uniform, a sight that turned the stomach of any sports fan and broke the hearts of his remaining faithful. And I saw him get knocked from a game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, which was a foreshadowing.
Favre in the twilight: what a long, strange trip it was. He can’t change his mind about enshrinement, right?