Brett Favre donned a red baseball cap and laughed about how far he has come as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. One moment captures his memory. It happened in his second season with the Packers as he watched game film with backup quarterback Ty Detmer in 1993.
|Brett Favre won the last of his three NFL MVP awards in 1997.|
The conversation, according to Favre, went something like this:
Favre: "Hey, Ty, what are they (coaches) talking about when they say 'nickel.' "
Detmer: "You are joking, right?"
Favre: "No, man, I always hear people say nickel is in ... nickel out."
Detmer: "To make it simple, Brett, nickel means they take out a linebacker and bring in a DB."
Favre: "That's it? Who cares? It's still 11 people."
Detmer: "That's why you're going to make it. You don't worry about those little things, do you?"
There was some incredible truth and consequences to the mind-set of a young Favre. The truth was he has such a golden arm that he never felt the need to overload himself on the mental stuff. The consequences were that he was going to drive his coach, Mike Holmgren, a little nuts and throw his fair share of interceptions.
But, oh, what a payoff. Favre delivered two Super Bowl appearances, one championship, and became a three-time league MVP. The funny thing is, it seems like such a long time ago, and, by league years, it is -- Favre won his last MVP in '97.
Five years later, he has endured two coaching changes, a battle with substance abuse, a few injuries and an unspoken perception that maybe his candle was burning out.
The only candles burning recently were on Favre's birthday cake a week ago Wednesday, when he turned 32. He celebrated it in far different fashion than the wild stallion of those "prime" years; it has now been two years since he had a drop of alcohol, according to Favre. The center of his life is wife Deanna and two daughters, Brittany and Breleigh. It appears he has settled into being a family man. He is no longer the party animal whose lifestyle concerned so many who liked him.
"I am one of those guys that has learned from his mistakes, and I have bettered myself on and off the field," said Favre. "I'm not perfect by any stretch. We have all been down this road where you try and tell younger people (how to behave), and I was always constantly told to watch myself. Then you get to be 30 years old, and you don't want to do those things anymore. You want to tell some other young buck not to do those things, but some guys just learn the hard way."
In fact, when you sit across from Brett Favre today and compare him to Brett Favre of yesterday, you notice a change. He looks like a man. He talks like a man.
"Oh, yeah, I notice that," said Packers safety LeRoy Butler. "You know, I see a change just in watching him do commercials around here. We have the same car dealership. Early on, the commercials ... were just him. It was young Brett, unshaven, looking a little scraggly. ... Just Brett and his golden arm. Not really looking all that happy.
"Now, in these commercials, the girls are in there. It's his family. He's actually smiling. He's all shaved up, got a nice haircut. When you have a family and you care about them, and you have a player of that magnitude, you have to carry yourself a certain way. That's what he does now, and he really enjoys it."
Still, it's difficult to imagine Favre enjoying himself any more than he does on a football field. His one-for-the-books performance against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens last Sunday was a reminder that a 32-year-old Brett Favre is still a premier player.
That's the thing about Favre. You almost short the guy if you call him just a quarterback. If anything, he is a true football player.
Favre won accolades from the Ravens, who are usually reluctant to give them. Many have called it his finest single-game performance. Favre still clings to a '96 season playoff victory over the 49ers and Steve Young, and the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.
Ron Wolf, the retired Packers general manager who traded a No. 1 pick to Atlanta for Favre before the '92 season, won't call Sunday's 24-of-37 passing outing against Baltimore as the best he has seen from No. 4.
"I had the great pleasure of watching him for nine years, and I feel like I've seen a lot of those games," said Wolf.
In fact, Wolf cites an interesting game as his favorite Favre memory. It came in Week 3 of the '92 season against the 2-0 Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers fell behind 23-10 when quarterback Don Majkowski was injured. Holmgren sent in Favre to finish the game. Oh, did he finish.
"He took us for two long touchdown drives and threw a late, late touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor to win the game 24-23," said Wolf. "It raised the hair on the back of your neck. I knew then."
Favre started the next week against the 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers. He won that game, too. He has started every game since -- 146 in the regular season. In Green Bay, he is a living legend.
Just as he is not the same man, he really is not the same quarterback of those early years. The arm may be the same, but not the quarterback.
"I feel like I am a smarter player," said Favre. "I still make mistakes, but I feel I approach the game a little differently than in years past. I have always watched film, but there were times that I didn't know what I was looking at.
||At some point, somebody else will be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, and it doesn't hurt my feelings. Mike Sherman doesn't know when that day will be, Brett Favre doesn't know, the fans don't know. I am not worried about it. If it's tomorrow, so be it. ”
||— Brett Favre
"Really, when I look at myself, I like to think I am a good father, a good husband, a good teammate and a great student of the game -- much more than five years ago."
Remember, five years ago he was winning his third MVP award. Now the Packers are 4-1 as they approach a key NFC Central division game against the Minnesota Vikings, and Favre has people believing that he could deliver what they might have dismissed -- another MVP. But better yet, another Super Bowl. An MVP award without the ring will not be as rewarding for Favre.
"Ah, MVP ... I thought I would get a car or something and all I got was a little trophy and a pat on the back," Favre said, smiling. "I had never dreamed of an MVP. That was gravy, icing on the cake. I was just lucky to play with great football players and great coaches and a system that allowed me to be a good player.
"It's just a lot of fun to go to a Super Bowl. The MVP doesn't last long. Really, the lure of this game for any professional football team is the Super Bowl."
Would he appreciate it more at 32 than he did at 26 or 27?
"Honestly, I really appreciated going when I did back-to-back," he said. "I really understood how hard it was to get there. Even though it happened fairly early in my career, I soaked it all in."
Favre signed an eight-year, $100-million deal before the season, but he said "realistically, it's a three-year deal." He talks openly of watching great quarterbacks like Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Steve Young, John Elway and Troy Aikman leave the game, and knows his number is on the horizon.
Coach Mike Sherman also told the franchise's shareholders in the offseason that the team would begin looking for Favre's eventual replacement. After watching Favre this year, you wonder, why bother?
"At some point, somebody else will be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, and it doesn't hurt my feelings," said Favre. "Mike Sherman doesn't know when that day will be, Brett Favre doesn't know, the fans don't know. I am not worried about it. If it's tomorrow, so be it. I got a tractor, a farm, I got golf clubs, a family. ... Man, I can't complain about my career and what I have accomplished individually and as a team. When it's time, it's time."
It's not time yet. Aren't we glad?