That Time of Year Again: Favre on the Mind as Kickoff Nears

It’s August, which means I’m thinking of football season, and I’m thinking of Brett Favre. What follows is yet another ode to our green-clad hero. (O.K. I think about Favre all year, but using August in the intro gives me an excuse for writing about him again.)

I am a lucky man. When I became aware of sports, Michael Jordan was ascending the throne. My formative years as a basketball fan were spent watching a player who was fundamentally perfect, had an uncanny ability to perform in the clutch, and who competed with an unmatched ferocity.

By the time I was 14, in 1992, I was aware of what I was watching. I knew the rules and knew the patterns of the game. And, as if delivered by fate, a certain number four would arrive at precisely this moment.

I’ve watched every game Favre has ever played for the Green Bay Packers, something I’m not so much proud of, but appreciative of. How lucky am I? How lucky are we all?

By the grace of Ron Wolf, we fans of what was this pathetic little team in this tiny, non-descript corner of the world, had one of the greatest and most iconic football players of our time fall into our laps.

I think of the old guys who tell me “You should have seen Jim Brown” or Bart Starr, or Deacon Jones. The guys who say “I never missed a game Johnny U was in.” We now have our own, a guy I can one day tell a young fan, “Boy, you should’ve seen Brett Favre.”

I could struggle for words. Try to describe his unorthodoxy. I could rattle off a stream of unreal statistics. I could talk about how he saved a team and gave pride to an entire state.

Think about that for a moment – how many more good days did people have in the last decade and a half because of our man Favre? No fan is more dependent on his team than the Packer fan, and no team has been more reliant on one man than the Packers on Favre. Even those who aren’t fans of football, aren’t fans of the Packers, smile when the subject turns to Favre. There is something eminently likable about him.

My grandmother, not a sports fan, kept his poster on her wall – framed. She called him “my boyfriend” and perked up and smiled every time he was on TV. She said goodnight to the poster every night as she walked into her bedroom. She was in her 80s.

Gene Wojciechowski wrote of him after last year’s season finale, when it appeared he was done, that he never made excuses, never laid blame at another’s feet, never sugar-coated his performance.

The vaunted heroes of today might throw their linemen under the bus after a big loss (Peyton Manning) but not Favre. The Packers may not have given him much to play with in the twilight of his career, and you’d have to be blind not to see the resignation in the worn, tired lines of his face the last two years, but he will compete with whoever the Packers gave him to go to war with.

Obviously, young Favre was not the kid on the sandlot who cried when the teams were unevenly stacked against him.

The USA Today recently produced a list of the top 25 NFL players since the launch of the newspaper in 1982. They ranked Favre 14th. Obviously, there is a rampant drug problem in the USA Today Sports Department.

Let me see, the man who won more MVP awards than any player in the last 25 years (more than any, ever, actually) ranked behind the likes of Ronnie Lott, Anthony Munoz, and Barry Sanders. Sure, they were great players, but ranking them above Favre is laughable.

While I don’t agree, I can certainly see how one could make the argument for Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Reggie White, Walter Payton, and (grudgingly) Tom Brady to be rated above Favre. But the placement of Lawrence Taylor and Emmit Smith at positions four and seven is a slap in the face to Favre, his fans, and I’ll throw my grandmother in there too (she would shake her head and wave her hand in disgust!).

But the biggest insult of all comes in the form of three quarterbacks ranked higher than our esteemed number four – Dan Marino, Manning, and the man racing for the title of most overrated player ever, John Elway.

First, let’s take Manning. An incredible player yes, a stat monster certainly, but I’m not ready to place him over Favre just yet. Though his stats are mind-boggling, the fact that he’d have to play another six full, healthy seasons at his current level before he’d be within striking distance of Favre’s career marks only serves to put Favre’s greatness in better perspective. Consider that Tom Brady has only been a starter for six full seasons and you realize how long that is.

Yes, Manning is finally a champion. Well, if you want to give him credit for winning the lamest Super Bowl in recent memory in a game the Chicago Bears might have won if only Mike Tomczak would have been available to come off the bench for Rex Grossman.

Now for Marino. Quick work here. Certainly great, but never a champion and his claim to fame has always been his iron-clad hold on the record books. But alas, that hold will be wrenched loose early this season by none other than Favre, who has also won more games and titles than Marino.

Finally, we move on to Elway, who is placed in such high regard by so many only because he performed at such a pathetic level in his first three cracks at a title that people wanted him to win a title out of pity. The critical facts on Elway – he trails Favre in every major passing statistic, he registered only two seasons with a passer rating above 90 (Favre has seven), and in no season of his career was he the best quarterback in football, let alone the best player in the league. (He was awarded the Associated Press MVP in 1987, but wasn’t close to the best player that season. That honor goes to either Jerry Rice, who caught an NFL record 22 touchdown passes in 12 games, or Reggie White, who registered 21 sacks in 12 games.)

Favre, meanwhile, was unquestionably the league’s premier player from 1995-1997 and finished second in MVP balloting in 2002 as well.

So by my calculation, the best of arguments could place Favre no lower than sixth in the pantheon of the NFL in the last 25 years. I, of course, would rate him higher, but I don’t think I need to tell you where.

But, I think my grandmother would agree with me.