Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My Favre Tribute

The first time I heard that Brett Favre was playing for the Green Bay Packers, I cried. I was a huuuge Don Majkowski fan and all I knew was that he was out with a severe ankle injury. This was a few years before the internet took over my life, so I had no clue who the hell this Fav-ray guy was. Where was Tomczak? Where was Anthony Dilweg. Or Blair Kiel? For some reason, the legendary game against the Bengals was on the radio in Detroit. So I listened as Favre led the Packers to a come-from-behind win including a 92 yard drive in the last 1:07. I went nuts when he hit Taylor for that famous touchdown. And spent the rest of the day with a migraine. Funny what you remember...I couldn't tell you what I had for dinner last night, but I know I had a migraine sixteen years ago.

The next week, they played the 3-0 Steelers and Brett Favre made his first career start. I don't know why, but I taped NFL Primetime that night. Over the years, I can't even say how many times I watched the clip of that game. It's finally up on Youtube, and even though I hadn't seen that video in about a decade, I could recite almost every word Berman said, the first time I watched it. The best part is how he says that Majik's injury is of the 2-4 week variety and that they're not sure there's a QB controversy just yet.

Favre took the Packers to a 9-7 record that season, losing the division on the last day of the season and missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker with Washington.

The next year, my dad was on a business trip to San Antonio. He would always bring home gifts for my brother and me. Usually they were just little trinkets from the area or whatever. Cool stuff that kids love. This time, I opened my eyes and he was holding a Brett Favre jersey. I believe he just stumbled across it in the airport. That was one of the best surprises of my life. I'm wearing that jersey right now (luckily it was a size 42 so it still fits to this day...I'm short), and I couldn't help but tear up a little when I pulled it out of the closet today. I've had this jersey since I was 10 or 11 years old. For years, I wore it every single game day (and I'd wear it to school on Monday if they'd win). It's pretty ghetto, looking at it now. Screen printed, five stripes on the sleeves (not the three they currently have), and block letters spelling out the name on the back. But I still love it.

That year, the Packers played the Lions for the division championship the last week of the season. The winner would host the loser the next week in the playoffs. We went to the game and the Lions won. The next week, we were in Ann Arbor for my brother's forensics tournament. Driving back, we were listening on the radio as George Teague ran a pick back 101 yards for a score. We got home for the final moments of the game. I honestly don't remember if I saw the touchdown to Sharpe--part of me feels that game was blacked out in Detroit and that any memories I have of it came from seeing the clip so many times--but regardless, I knew something magical had just happened--even if it wasn't Majikal as I would've hoped, just a year and a half ago.

It's been a helluva ride. I remember Favre getting knocked out with a sprained ankle against the Vikings and coming back to throw 5 TD passes the next week. I was at Laser Quest in Madison Heights (the one on John R), wearing my Favre jersey, of course, when I found that one out.

There was the game against the Steelers where Yancey Thigpen dropped a sure touchdown pass that would've given the divison title to the Lions. Favre came back from a vicious Greg Lloyd hit that had him coughing up blood to throw a big touchdown pass in that one.

The 1996 season was just amazing. I didn't get to see a ton of Packers games early in Favre's tenure, but the schedule worked out just right that I caught something like 16 of their 19 games that year. And that was really about as good as football can be played. That team was nuts. Favre was on pace to break Marino's single season TD record until Brooks, Freeman and Chmura went down in consecutive weeks. Brooks--another favorite of mine (hence the 87 in my screen name...pretty obvious where the 4 comes from)--was lost with a severe knee injury against the 49ers. Don Beebe responded that night and the Packers pulled out a win in one of the best games I've ever seen.

I can't exactly say what my reaction was when Favre threw that touchdown pass to Rison on the second offensive play of Super Bowl XXXI, but I'm pretty sure it was something along the same lines as Favre's celebration. I'll never forget that night--or getting home from school as fast as I could to catch their parade on TV.

There have been plenty of other great moments, but none even close to what happened that night in Oakland after his father's death. We were out at The Arena watching that one and it was obvious from the start that that was a special night. Watching pass after pass miraculously fall into the arms of Javon Walker and Wesley Walls would have to make even the most atheistic person on the planet question their beliefs for just a moment. 300+ and 4 TDs in the first half alone.

He was seemingly Superman. Even though he started 253 straight games, that doesn't mean that he didn't have injuries. At least 2 or 3 times I thought for sure that he was done for the season (His leg injury against Washington a few years back, Dallas this year) but every Sunday, there he was. Coming out to play again, and most of the time doing it extremely well.

Living in Wisconsin for this season has been just amazing. No one saw this team coming and they rolled to a 14-4 record and damn near landed in the Super Bowl. It was a real treat to see all these major milestones fall, especially in the midst of a winning season. More than the wins or the stats, this season was validation that he was still a great quarterback in this league. And after all the crap people in the media said about him the two previous years, that alone made this season special for me. Right, Sal Paolantonio? Douche.

People can debate for years about who is the best QB of all time. In my opinion, it just depends on your criteria. If it's championships, then obviously you have to look at the Montanas, Bradys, Starrs and Bradshaws. If it's a combination of numbers and wins, then Favre and Elway have to be right there. If you view championships as more of a team thing, then Marino is in the mix. For changing the game--or if you're old--then maybe a guy like Graham or Unitas.

Is Favre the best ever? I don't know. He won a Super Bowl, should've won SB MVP (as much as I love Desmond, Favre was the MVP in that game), won 3 straight MVPs, played very well in another, and set every passing record in the books despite never playing with a player on offense that will go to the Hall of Fame. Another ring would have really solidified it in my mind (especially if it came this year) but the truth is that the Packers organization really let him down through the prime of his career. Once Holmgren's ego took him elsewhere, they had the Ray Rhodes debacle, and screwed things up more by making Mike Sherman GM once Wolf stepped down. Sherman was a pretty good coach but he had some terrible drafts and didn't make very good decisions about free agents. I can only wonder what would've happened had Holmgren stayed--or had Ted Thompson been able to take over the team a few years earlier.

Favre is absolutely in the conversation, and beyond that you could get a different answer from everyone you ask. I think he was the best, but I also acknowledge that I'm biased, and that there are a few guys you could make a damn strong case for. He's one of them.

He gets a bad rap for his interceptions. Some were idiotic, no doubt (the one in OT against the Giants was not one of them). But a good number were when the team was trailing and he was just trying to make a play. He didn't care about that stat. He wanted to win. He played recklessly at times, but in addition to causing some picks, it was what made him great (and so fun to watch). He was successful much more often than not. And despite being the interception king, his Int % isn't so different from Elway (maybe .12%) or Marino (.26% or so). Even Manning (who is thought of as one of the best at taking care of the ball) would only average maybe 2.5 fewer picks a season at his Int % and Favre's average number of passes.

For my money, I had more fun watching him than I've ever had watching another athlete. He was one of the most likable athletes on the planet and played with a joy that few others have shown. He won more games than any QB in history. He won a ring and took a pretty average group on offense to great heights. From 1995-1997 he won MVP each year and played the quarterback position about as well as it can be played, without a game-changer around him. And every time the Packers had the ball, I felt that something special could happen. In the later stages of his career I learned to savor every second, because you never know when an athlete of his caliber will come around again. Let alone one who you're lucky enough to have play on your team. I've downloaded every win from the past couple of seasons because I know that years from now, I'm going to want to have those tapes.

I'm absolutely crushed that he retired. I really thought that he would stay around for another year or two with the talent level of the current team. Maybe it's denial, but I wouldn't be overly shocked if July rolled around and he decided that he wanted to come back and play. Even though I think Rodgers will do a good job, I'd be absolutely thrilled if he did have a change of heart. I'm not ready for life without Favre in a Packers jersey, especially when he's still as good as he is.

I understand the reasons for him leaving. I just feel sorry for myself--and the other Packer fans out there--that we won't be able to enjoy watching him play any longer. Every game was a treat, even if he pissed us off sometimes. I knew this day was coming--truth be told, I thought for sure it was coming after the 2006 season (I shelled out a ton of money to be at the last home game that season). It doesn't make it any easier to accept that it's here, though. It's been 16 amazing years, and we're truly lucky to have had him for that long. But it still breaks my heart that it won't become 17.

The other reason that I'm bummed out is that this is just another sign that I'm getting older. I was ten years old when he started his first game. He's played every game from the time I was in fifth grade. I'm almost four years out of college now. I've grown up watching him, and I'm not ready for someone else to be under center. I'm still not used to seeing a "C" on Nick Lidstrom's jersey. Now I have to accept that Brett Favre is retired? Somehow it doesn't even seem fair.

The thing that really got me when watching some of the tributes on ESPN the last couple days was seeing a clip of Favre throwing Driver up over his shoulders and then carry him off the field. It's stuff like that that I'm really going to miss. The touchdown celebrations, yelling "PUT ER IN THE OLD VICE", tackling teammates in the endzone until Holmgren made him stop, the lamest Lambeau Leap of all-time. I really can't believe it's over.

If this truly is goodbye, thanks for everything, Brett. I'll still love the Packers, I'll still love football, but it's never going to be quite the same for me. And you better believe that five years from now I'm going to be in Canton, Ohio.

But I'm still holding out hope, even just a little bit, that he'll have a change of heart and I can put this off for another year. Not that it'll be any easier then.

The excellent blogs Behind the Jersey (it makes me happy when I read stuff like this from opposing fans), Cheesehead TV, and Green Bay, Booze, and Broads have all chimed in on this as well.

Brett Favre retired. Those words hurt even just to type.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't have said it better myself.



Anonymous said...

Stay strong, Timmy. I love seeing Elway's name mentioned in the same sentence as Favre; that's a great compliment. I remember those days when you wore the ghetto Favre jersey to school in Mrs. Facello's (sp?) class. I don't think I really thought the guy would be in the league even after we graduated college. Nice piece, one worthy of the Scarlett Letter.


Anonymous said...

Fucking Laser Quest. Amazing. Stopped allowing people to wear hats in fear of gang activity at a place for kids' birthday parties.

I was at both of those back-to-back Lions/Packers games you mentioned. Still remember that Sharpe TD vividly. Nothing else from either of those games...but definitely remember that.