SI Vault
December 10, 2007
The Packers' iron man is, at 38, enjoying one of his finest NFL seasons. His passing is more precise, his leadership more evident than ever, but his greatest attribute is the devotion he inspires in those he touches—and his dedication to making their lives better
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December 10, 2007

Brett Favre: Sportsman Of The Year

The Packers' iron man is, at 38, enjoying one of his finest NFL seasons. His passing is more precise, his leadership more evident than ever, but his greatest attribute is the devotion he inspires in those he touches—and his dedication to making their lives better

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THE FAVRE household is about as casual as they come, but there is one immutable rule. "We don't talk about retirement," says Deanna. "Ever. This whole town is obsessed about what Brett is going to do, so at home it's off-limits because he needs to get away from it."

There is no doubt that Favre has plenty left physically to keep playing, a point driven home during the Panthers game, when he was six years younger than the other starting quarterback, Vinny Testaverde. Ask Packers receiver Donald Driver if Favre has lost anything off his fastball, and Driver says with a laugh, "My fingers can answer that. There's times after practice they tingle a little bit. Guy hasn't lost a thing, except maybe a little hair."

At this point in his career Favre is used to the aches and pains. "Mentally, it's much more demanding," he says. "Now I dwell on the negative a lot more. I'm thrilled to death we're winning, but with each game I feel more pressure to play better, to keep it going. Next play's got to be better, next game's got to be better. The better you play, the higher the expectations become, not only of yourself, but what others expect. It can flat wear you out."

Even as Favre has brought so much joy to Green Bay this year, he has been in the familiar position of playing with a heavy heart. The Favres suffered another personal loss this summer when Deanna's stepfather, Rocky Byrd, died of a heart attack at age 56 while the Packers were in training camp. Rocky had helped to fill the void left by Big Irv's death. This year, for the first time in his career, Favre did not return to Mississippi during the Packers' bye week, choosing to stay alone in Green Bay. "It would have been his first time home since Rocky passed away," says Deanna, "and I don't think he wanted to face that."

Family matters were in the backdrop as Favre considered retirement in the past two off-seasons. In recent years he and Deanna have been separated from older daughter Brittany during the football season. From first through eighth grade she attended school in Green Bay in the fall, then finished the school year in Hattiesburg. Upon reaching high school, however, Brittany insisted she be allowed to stay in Mississippi year-round. She lived with Deanna's sister's family, seeing her father in the fall mostly when she traveled to Green Bay for Packers home games. Brittany is now a college freshman, but eight-year-old Breleigh is following the old routine, splitting time between schools in different states. "It hasn't been easy on the girls," Favre says, "which is not something the public ever factors in."

Favre also longs to spend more time at his 465-acre spread in Hattiesburg, where in the off-season he works the land, including his dozen deer plots. Then there are the two thriving charitable organizations to look after, his Fourward Foundation and the Deanna Favre Hope Foundation. The latter was founded in 2005 to raise breast-cancer awareness and provide assistance for those battling the disease. Deanna has since become a sought-after public speaker, commanding as much as $45,000 for a corporate engagement, all of the money going to the foundation. The pink Packers hats ubiquitous in Green Bay are another revenue stream. The foundation annually gives out dozens of grants for uninsured or underinsured women battling breast cancer.

As the Favres prepare for life after football, the people of Green Bay are also girding themselves for the inevitable. There is a funny feeling in the air around Lambeau this year: Every unexpected win is accompanied by a collective dread that it has inched Favre closer to retirement. Deanna doesn't exactly refute the notion. "He needed to go out like this," she says. "He deserved a year like this. I'm not saying he will or won't [retire after the season], and I don't know what I'd say if he asked me, but he's the kind of competitor who has to go out a winner. That's who he is."

Favre refuses to look beyond this week's game versus Oakland, but he does say, "Sure, I would love to go out with a trip to the Super Bowl, but it doesn't have to end that way. Had I left last year, or even the year before, it's been a great career. I'm content with it." Favre suddenly grows animated, leaning forward in his chair. "I don't know how it's going to end, but I do know this: Throwing a touchdown pass for the Green Bay Packers is pretty neat. I've thrown a ton, and every one of them was a helluva lot of fun."

ASK PEOPLE around Green Bay for their favorite Favre memory, and you'll get countless anecdotes but rarely any hesitation. So many elite athletes captivate with their otherworldly physical gifts, but the common theme among the Favre highlights is the human element.

Jennifer Walentowski, Anna's mother: "In the Super Bowl against the Patriots, Brett threw a beautiful touchdown in the very beginning of the game, and he was so excited, he started running around the field. He had taken off his helmet, and he had both arms in the air, and there was such genuine joy on his face, such realness. Gosh, I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it."

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