As he faces life at 30, Brett Favre shows signs of slowing
down--but only when he's off the field

The last pass that Brett Favre threw in his 20s made grown men
cry. Minutes after the Packers' madcap quarterback threw a
23-yard scoring dart to wideout Corey Bradford on fourth-and-one
with 12 seconds left to beat the Vikings on Sept. 26, he met
coach Ray Rhodes near the door of Green Bay's locker room. The
two wept. "You gotta stop doing this to me!" Rhodes said,
hugging Favre after his quarterback's second last-minute,
game-winning touchdown pass at Lambeau Field in 15 days. "You're
gonna give me a heart attack."

The winning play--a reckless one, some would say, because Favre
could have dumped the ball off near the sideline, gotten the
first down and gathered his exhausted wits--was called with a
hand signal at the line. Afterward Minnesota players wondered
why Favre would risk it all instead of going for the first down
and living to fight a last battle. But why turn a magician into
a mechanic?

Favre turns 30 on Sunday, but he won't have much time to
celebrate: The Bucs bring the NFL's best defense to Lambeau for
a Sunday-night game. Few signs point to Favre's being any less a
player in his 30s, but last week's bye came at an opportune time
for the only three-time MVP in the history of the league. In the
trainers' room on Sept. 29, Favre lay on a padded table, looking
pale. An electric stimulator was strapped to his right thumb,
and one knuckle was swollen to twice its size from three freak
hits in the first three games. Also, he was fighting the flu for
the fourth day.

Many of the great quarterbacks have raised their already lofty
status after turning 30. Following back surgery, Joe Montana won
league MVPs at 33 and 34. John Elway was the Super Bowl MVP at
38. "Thirty's just a number," Favre says. "I don't know if I
can, but I'm sure as hell going to try to take my game to a
higher level. If anything, I move better because I've paid
attention to my conditioning. My arm feels as good as ever. I'm
much smarter. My first three or four years, I got by slinging
it. Now my study of the game is showing. Those two-minute drills
aren't luck."

The drive, and particularly the final play, against the Vikings
was of the caliber that made Elway legend. "I was tired," Favre
recalls, "as tired as I'd ever been on the field. I started
getting sick before the game with this flu, I was dehydrated,
and we were losing. We hadn't done anything all day. We didn't
get the first down the play before, the clock's running, and
we're all just walking to the line. I say, 'Line up!'
Everybody's asking for the formation, the play, and I say, 'Just
line up!' So the wideouts line up, three on one side, one on the
other. My mouth is so dry I'm spitting cotton balls. I give
everybody the signal"--Favre puts his index and middle finger
together on each hand and wiggles them--"which means go or quick
stop, depending on the coverage. If the receivers get bumped,
they go. If they're given room, they stop. It looks like we've
got bump-and-run.

"I don't remember saying a word, but the ball's in my hands," he
continues. "Later, [center] Frankie [Winters] told me that
[Vikings tackle] John Randle called the snap, trying to confuse
us. Then I'm thinking, I don't know if my guys know the
situation--if I throw short and they don't know to get
out-of-bounds, the game's over. The coverage is bump-and-run,
and I say to myself, Somebody's got to win his battle. I look to
the right, at [wideout] Bill Schroeder, pump right to keep the
safety there, then turn back. Sure enough, Corey was free. I
threw it as hard as I could. Corey got under it. Amazing. We
don't really call a play, Minnesota calls our snap count, we win.

"I'm running around like a wild man, then I come over to the
sideline, bang my head against the bench when I lay down, and
John Gray, our doctor, takes my pulse. My heart rate's 210. He
says, 'Lucky you don't have heart problems. You'd be dead.'"

Favre sits up in the trainers' room. "Man, I'm getting too old
for this," he says. "Nine years in this league. I feel like a
dog. Feel like I've aged seven years for every one I've played."

His numbers (chart, right) don't impress him. "Stats are fun to
look at," he says, "but the ones I value the most are ones no
one talks about much--games played, come-from-behind victories."
He has made 112 consecutive starts, four shy of Ron Jaworski's
NFL record. He has engineered 14 fourth-quarter comeback wins.

"I want to make sure, before the end of my career, that I can
look back and say I was the best quarterback I could be," he
says. "I don't want to turn 37 and say, 'O.K., now I'm as smart
as I can be,' and my body won't hold up. So I've changed, both
as a player and as a person. The Friday night before [the opener
against the Raiders], I'm over here watching film at 10:30 with
my brother Scott. I turn to him and say, 'Can you believe we're
sitting here, 10:30, Friday night?' Used to be I was out
partying. But I had no desire to be anywhere else."

In the spring of '96 Favre spent about six weeks in a drug
rehabilitation center for addiction to the painkiller Vicodin;
as part of his after-care program, he was told to stop drinking.
He later successfully petitioned the league to have the ban
lifted, and he admits now he was drinking fairly heavily last
season. Mike Holmgren, Green Bay's coach at the time, was on him
about little mistakes, which Holmgren now says could probably be
traced to Favre's behavior. "I'll always be concerned for
Brett," says Holmgren, Seattle's coach and general manager. "I
pray for the guy all the time."

During the off-season Favre's wife, Deanna, became so fed up with
his behavior that she spoke to an attorney about a divorce. Brett
straightened up. "Life's so much better without alcohol," he
says. "Deanna said, 'I want you to be around. I want you to be a
role model for the kids [Brittany, 10, and newborn Breleigh].'
Everyone says I should have urges, but I haven't. The guys say
they're going out, and I say I don't want to go. I really mean
that. But I'm not naive enough to think I'll never drink again. I
don't plan to. I hope this continues, for the sake of my life, my
family and this football team."

Steve Young's Plight

Lost in the hubbub sweeping the Bay Area--should Steve Young
retire following his fourth concussion since the start of the
'96 season?--is the fact that the 49ers never should have put
him in this predicament. Of the 26 first- and second-round
choices San Francisco has made in the last 12 drafts, only one
has been an offensive lineman: Jeremy Newberry of Cal, who was
taken in the second round in '98.

In the 68 regular-season games since San Francisco last won the
Super Bowl, the coaching staff has used 19 starting lineups from
tackle to tackle. Over the years the Niners have promised Young
they would improve the line, but in their 24-22 win over the
Titans on Sunday, they started a front wall consisting of
Newberry, who began the season at right tackle, started one game
at right guard and was back at right tackle on Sunday; right
guard Derrick Deese, an undrafted veteran free agent; center
Chris Dalman, a sixth-round pick in '93; journeyman left guard
Ray Brown, who entered the league as an eighth-round pick in
'86; and left tackle Dave Fiore, another undrafted veteran free
agent. The 49ers have long trusted line coach Bobb McKittrick to
make chicken salad out of chicken feathers, but he's battling
cancer and isn't coaching full time.

No lineup stability. No coaching guru. No chemistry. That all
adds up to big trouble for Young, 37, who sat out the game
against Tennessee on doctor's orders.

Bart Oates is one of the 16 players who have started on the San
Francisco line since that last Super Bowl. He also anchored a
smallish Giants line that started the same six players--including
solid blocking tight end Mark Bavaro--for 32 consecutive games in
1985 and '86, culminating in a win in Super Bowl XXI. "There's no
question that of all the position groups in the game, the
offensive line is where chemistry is most important," says Oates.
"With the Giants, we weren't the most physical guys, but we had
success because we had played together so long. In San Francisco,
you see the little things going wrong--penalties, mistakes picking
up blitzes. Those things wouldn't happen with a line that had
played together awhile."

Arizona's Horrific Start

After shocking Dallas 20-7 in the first round of last season's
playoffs, Arizona looked to be a team on the rise. Then came
what Cardinals general manager Bob Ferguson calls "the
off-season of our discontent." Arizona was beset by free-agent
losses, contract disputes that led to lengthy holdouts, and
nonfootball-related injuries. "Last year was great," cornerback
Aeneas Williams said after a 35-7 loss to Dallas on Sunday that
dropped the Cardinals to 1-3. "But I can't stress this enough:
That was a totally different team. This team needs to figure out
how to turn things around before this ship sinks."

The area of the team hit the hardest in the off-season was the
offensive line. Left tackle Lomas Brown, 36, the team's best
blocker and a much needed leader on an offense with just two
players older than 28, left for the Browns in free agency. His
projected replacement, 6'6", 322-pound first-round draft pick
L.J. Shelton, didn't sign until Sept. 14 and is at least a month
away from starting. Former NFL Europe player Matt Joyce has been
holding down the left tackle spot.

The Cardinals may have been able to patch together a serviceable
line even without Shelton, but during training camp two other
linemen, Lester Holmes and Ernest Dye, were hurt when Holmes
rolled Dye's Mercedes on the way to a team meeting. The starter
at right guard, Holmes suffered a severe laceration on his
forehead, causing him to miss most of training camp. Dye, a
former No. 1 pick who was trying to revive his career with the
Cardinals, nearly lost his right arm in the accident.

The breakdown of the line has been felt throughout the
Cardinals' offense, which has been outscored 52-0 in the first
quarter. Arizona is averaging 78.5 rushing yards per game (24th
in the league), and the passing game is out of sync because
quarterback Jake Plummer is constantly running for his life. (He
has been sacked nine times.) The Cardinals miss fullback Larry
Centers, the franchise's alltime leading receiver, who was
waived in June after he refused to take a pay cut, and Plummer
has been playing hurt. He sprained his right thumb in the
preseason, which helps explain why he has thrown a league-high
12 interceptions.

Even the receivers have disappointed, primarily because of the
effects of extended holdouts. Franchise player Rob Moore didn't
sign until Aug. 30 and then in the third game suffered a
strained right hamstring that figures to sideline him at least
another week. Rookie David Boston, the eighth pick in the draft,
missed the start of training camp, finally signing on Aug. 4; he
has caught only seven passes and looks confused at times. On
Sunday, Plummer's first pass bounced off the shoulder pads of
rookie wideout Andy McCullough and into the arms of Dallas free
safety George Teague, who returned the ball 32 yards for a

So much for building on last year's playoff win--the first for
the Cardinals in 51 years. "We have built on last year, it just
hasn't shown up on the field," says Ferguson. "We aren't
handling things too well right now. If we don't turn this
around, maybe I don't deserve to be here."

Listening to Ferguson, you can tell that the Cardinals'
off-season of discontent has turned into a regular season of
disappointment. --David Fleming


The Steelers' offense is a shambles, with quarterback Kordell
Stewart looking worse than he did last season, bouncing throws
in front of receivers if he's not overthrowing them. Twice
during a 17-3 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, Pittsburgh didn't
call running back Jerome Bettis's number on fourth-and-one,
opting to leave the ball in the hands of Stewart, who failed to
convert. "Probably the most crucial assignment I have is keeping
the confidence of all our players, but especially Kordell," says
offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride....

The success of the Patriots, the league's only 4-0 team, can be
traced to the health of wideout Terry Glenn, who leads the
league with 32 receptions. New England is 27-11 when he plays,
7-7 when he doesn't....

The Eagles' offense hasn't scored a touchdown in its last 46
possessions. An even more staggering statistic: Philadelphia has
netted 59 passing yards on 56 second-half pass attempts....

Bears second-year running back Curtis Enis on the return of
Saints coach Mike Ditka to Chicago: "I don't know what he did
here that was so spectacular."

The End Zone

With Steve Young sidelined by a concussion, 49ers coach Steve
Mariucci considered using punter Chad Stanley as his emergency
third quarterback on Sunday. But in rating Stanley's passing
arm, Mariucci quipped, "I wouldn't let him throw a paper on my

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Favre's heart rate soared after he engineered his second last-minute rally in three games. COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Plummer's under siege behind a suspect line, but that doesn't explain away his 12 interceptions.

Holding His Own

If Brett Favre, who turns 30 on Sunday, is as good after that
milestone birthday as he was in the 116 games he played in his
20s, he'll have had one of the best careers of any quarterback
in NFL history. Here's how Favre's numbers, in mid-career,
compare with those of three sure Hall of Fame
signal-callers--Troy Aikman, John Elway and Dan Marino--when
each of them hit the big three-oh.


Favre, Packers 2,390 3,884 61.5 27,728 218 122 88.7
Marino, Dolphins 2,511 4,234 59.3 31,830 245 137 88.6
Aikman, Cowboys 1,932 3,068 63.0 21,966 109 93 83.6
Elway, Broncos 1,665 3,070 54.2 21,195 120 114 73.6

the buzz

1. DOING RIGHT BY RANDY So this is what can happen if you walk
into the boss's office and stomp your feet. Neglected wideout
Randy Moss did just that six days before the Vikings' game
against the Bucs, and the coaches promptly designed a game plan
that put him on center stage. With touchdown catches of 61 and
27 yards in the first nine minutes, Moss spurred Minnesota to a
21-14 win.

2. RAMBOS For the first time since 1995, when they won their
opening four games, the Rams are 3-0, having outscored the
opposition 100-27. Quarterback Kurt Warner, the pride of
Johnston (pop. 4,702), Iowa, not to mention Arena Football, is a
69% passer who in Sunday's 38-10 win over the Bengals became the
only player in NFL history to throw at least three touchdown
passes in each of his first three starts.

3. THE PAUL BROWN BOWL He founded the Browns in 1946. He founded
the Bengals in 1967. But Paul Brown, who died in 1991, would
shudder if he had to attend this Sunday's meeting between those
two teams. Both franchises are 0-4 with hope only for the first
pick in the 2000 draft. To watch them is to watch the worst two
teams in the game.

Eagle (-2)
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Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)