A MONTH AGO theonly thing New York Jets meant to Brett Favre was a way to get from LaGuardiato his home in Mississippi. The Vikings, that was the team to get seriousabout, as his relations with the Packers turned sour. Running team, runstoppers on defense, one quarterback away from the big banana. No, said thePack. Pick a team farther off, outside the NFC North. ¬∂ Tampa Bay wasmentioned, and yes, the Jets. Don't be ridiculous, Favre's people said. Wedon't want to be anywhere near New York. ¬∂ "At this time, no. No interestin Brett Favre," New York general manager Mike Tannenbaum said inconversation in July. And then he added, "Do you really think he might wantto come here?"
This is an article from the Aug. 18, 2008 issue
The point is,Favre had to go somewhere. And thus the trade—Favre to the Jets for a 2009draft pick, round to be determined—was consummated late in the night on Aug. 6,one day before New York's first preseason game, against the Browns. Thefollowing evening, when Favre held a makeshift press conference in BrownsStadium and said, "I'm here for one reason—to help the Jets win," youcould translate that to, I'm here for one reason—because this is the team thatmade the deal.
Favre's arrivallit up the franchise the way Joe Willie Namath's did more than four decadesago. An announced 10,500 showed up last Saturday at Favre's first workout atHofstra University, the team's training camp on Long Island, up from the usual2,500. In 48 hours, 20,000 Brett Favre number 4 jerseys were sold, at up to$220 a pop.
The cynical amongus see an underlying reason why the Jets created this monumental hoo-ha.Personal seat licenses. Fans buy season tickets, then suddenly have to shellout four or five figures for the right to continue buying them. The licensefees cover the cost of all the extra luxury boxes and other amenities that willgrace the joint Jets-Giants stadium scheduled to open in 2010. Fans of bothfranchises have been screaming about this heist—the Jets, trying to put apleasant face on the issue, even sent out questionnaires to gauge fans'sentiment about the licenses, like polling death-row prisoners on theirpreferred method of execution. Brett Favre is a near-hysterical distraction.The prospect of seeing him play in green-and-white might make it easier forJets fans, at least, to pay the tariff.
The big questionremains—how much can he contribute at the age of 38, turning 39 in October? Howmuch is left? What about the Jets' system, the supporting cast, the chances ofmaking the playoffs, never mind the Super Bowl, which represents the utmost indelusional thinking?
Favre replacesChad Pennington, a savvy, talented quarterback who had trouble coming back fromshoulder and ankle injuries. Cutting Pennington (who signed with thedivision-rival Dolphins) was inevitable once Favre showed up, but it didn't sitwell with all members of the Jets, including Laveranues Coles, the normallytalkative veteran receiver who was so upset after Favre's first practicesession that he went into a shell and bagged all requests for comment.
FAVRE DOESN'Tcome into Jets camp on the wings of triumph. He had one of his best statisticalyears in 2007 and led the Packers to a surprise 13--3 season, but it all cameapart in the NFC Championship Game against the Giants at Lambeau, when hecouldn't buy a first down on his last four series and ended the show with a badinterception in overtime.
In recent yearsthe magnificence of the Favre legend, all those games he pulled out in thefourth quarter, began to be tempered by another image: the daffy interceptionwhen the stakes were highest. He threw four of them in the wild-card loss tothe Vikings to end the 2004 season, and the year before he closed out thedivisional playoff against the Eagles with a strange, looping misfiredinterception in overtime. The postseasons of '02 and '01 ended, respectively,with two picks and a 54.4 rating in a 20-point loss at home to the Falcons in awild-card match and a six-interception horror show against the Rams in thedivisional round.
That's been BrettFavre at the end of the Packers' last five playoff appearances. He's a great,first-ballot Hall of Famer—no question. But to quote Vince Lombardi, "Whatthe hell is going on here?"
"I did abreakdown on all the modern quarterbacks at the end of their careers," saysa pro scout, who requested anonymity. "Most of them get hurt. Young,Aikman, Bradshaw, Kelly. But the most common reason for failure was inabilityto cut down on errors, trying to do too much—in other words, a kind ofarrogance. When John Elway won his first Super Bowl [at 37], his gamestatistics were the kind that could get a guy cut: 12 of 22 for 123 yards andno touchdowns. Everyone called it John Elway's Super Bowl. But it was TerrellDavis's Super Bowl. Elway was smart enough to let him take over the game. Hisego didn't force him to be the star. Not many of these older superstarquarterbacks can do that.
"Take anolder guy like Brett Favre. Let's say he has a 19-game season, countingplayoffs. In eight of those games he'll still have the magic in his arm. Fiveor six others, he'll be good enough to win, if he plays it smart. But therewill be three or four games when he just isn't going to have it. The key thingis for the coach to realize that and try to win it with defense and running,and for the quarterback to go along with it. That's the tough part."
THE QUESTION thatmight define the Jets' season is, How strong are the running game and thedefense? Right now, on paper, they look strong enough to sometimes carry ateam. But does their new quarterback know that? "Favre had some great gameslast year but a few real bad ones, and unfortunately one of them came at theend," the scout says. "I think it's an addiction. A guy gets addictedto what he's accomplished, to what he thinks he's capable of."
Eric Mangini, theJets' coach, is a defensive-minded guy. He's also 15 months younger than Favre.Brett has four years on Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive coordinator. Beforelast Saturday's workout, Mangini drew an analogy between Favre and RodneyHarrison, the 35-year-old Pro Bowl safety whom he coached in New England."Rodney did certain things on instincts," Mangini said. "You don'twant to coach him out of those great instincts. Same thing with Brett. I don'twant to coach him out of his great instincts."
In practice, eachFavre completion registered tremendous cheering from the crowd, each misfire ordrop drew groans. It was a typical first workout for somebody who hadn't throwna serious pass since January. Afterward, Favre admitted that with all thosefans in attendance, he "didn't want to look too bad, so I put a little moreinto it. I'll be sore tomorrow."
The Jets andFavre were scheduled for another 17 full practices, plus three games, beforethe regular-season opener. The Green Bay system in which Favre played for 16years has been called West Coast. No one knows what that actually means, giventhat systems undergo so many modifications. The Jets' system, Mangini says, has"some West Coast principles" but contains elements from other systemstoo. Talk has been that the difference for Favre will be in the terminology,which seems to be something a 38-year-old quarterback can straighten out with acrash course. "Hello in English," Mangini says, "bonsoir in French,buongiorno in Italian."
THERE HAVE beentimes when it seemed as if an old star quarterback were dropped from heaven.But the year or two he spends with the team doesn't project it into the futurevery well. In the '93 season 37-year-old Joe Montana quarterbacked Kansas Cityto two playoff victories before losing in the AFC Championship Game. TheChiefs' pickup of Montana was an all-or-nothing shot—and the last time they wona postseason game.
Then there's theteam that seems to have everything in place for a Super Bowl run except for akeynote quarterback, never mind his age. That would describe one club that wasinterested in Favre but didn't get him. The Vikings.
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