Sunday, June 14, 2009

Separating Legend From Truth (Part I)

I enjoyed reading Chris Lempesis's controversial 12 Greatest Packers series at OBD. Chris settles on Favre as the "Greatest Packer of All Time."

Think about where this franchise was before Favre took over starting quarterback duties. We had a coach and general manager we knew nothing about, a quarterback (Don Majikowski) who was good but not really good enough to do anything special and….well, Sterling Sharpe. That was about it.

Then Favre came in for an injured Majikowski. He changed the culture of the franchise. The Packers went from believing they were going to lose to thinking they could win. Yes, White put them over the top, but Favre was responsible for getting the ball rolling.

This, word-for-word, is the Favre Legend. The Favre Legend has been written and re-told so many times that the Legend has become the Truth. Anyone who disputes the Favre Legend is just a delusional spoilsport who is bitter about Favre's conduct over the last year.

Nevertheless, the Legend is in large part bullshit. Not total bullshit, but a lot of hyperbole intermingled with fact. My aim is to put Favre in context: he was a very good but deeply flawed player.

First things first. Favre did not "save" the Packers. I'm really sick of this myth, and wish people would stop repeating it. If anything, the Packers saved Brett Favre. Favre was an important piece of the puzzle. But he was only a piece. The Packers still would have still been successful in the 1990s and would have won the Super Bowl in the 1996 season if Mark Brunell (who was a Pro Bowler with Jacksonville at the time) were under center. On the other hand, no other team would have shown Favre the type of patience that the Packers did under Wolf and Holmgren. If not for those two men, I truly believe that rather than being headed to the Hall of Fame, Favre would be long forgotten by now.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The story began on February 11, 1992, when newly hired Ron Wolf traded away a first-round pick for some former second round draft pick with character issues. It was an eyebrow raising move (imagine some team giving the Packers a first round pick for Brian Brohm this offseason). Nevertheless, Wolf saw Favre as a talented and tough quarterback, miscast in Jerry Glandville's run-and-gun offense.

About a month before training camp, Favre made his first headlines as a Green Bay Packer. "Brent" Favre, along with Deanna (Tynes at the time), Jeff Favre and Esra Tuaolo were arrested after a drunken disturbance at a bar.

The details were a bit fuzzy. According to Favre, he and Deanna got in a drunken shouting match, some other guy came to Deanna's aid, words were exchanged and then a third guy sucker punched him. Then, according to Favre, the cops made him leave the bar, but after 20 minutes he returned and started shouting at Deanna and got himself arrested. Oddly, that was Favre's side of the story (I think a WTF is in order).

According to the bartender, Favre provoked the fight with some guy who he thought was giving Deanna too much attention. Favre was arrested for yelling at the cops. "He just kept running his mouth, saying he was going to get the other guy."

(Tuaolo by all accounts was just bystandin'.)

No matter which story you believe, it was definitely not the start that Wolf was hoping for. It was our first glimpse into Favre's dark side. On one hand, many of us have done stupid things when drunk. On the other hand, most of us don't get into fights, shout at cops, and get arrested.

The next part of the story is well-known. Favre took over for Majkowski in the third game, led the Packers to a 9-7 record, and made the Pro Bowl. He finished the season with 18 TDs, 13 Ints, and 3227 yards. A very good, promising season.

From my recollections, Packers fans were extremely optimistic about Favre, but I woudn't say that they were instantly over-the-moon about Favre.

A little context is in order. Just three years earlier Majkowski had his breakout season: 10 wins, 27 TDs, 20 Ints, 4318 yards. Majkowski came in second to Joe Montana in the MVP voting that season.

In other words, Packers fans had been down that road before very recently. They knew to be wary of a single good season.

And I'm sure that many Packer fans were thinking "here we go again" after Favre's second season when he had 19TDs against a league leading 24 Ints. His quarterback rating was 72.2. To put that number in context, Kordell Stewert's career QB rating in Pittsburgh was 72.3. Although Packer fans were still cautiously optimistic (if a bit suspicious) about Favre, his numbers and erratic play were not exactly awe-inspiring.

The romanticised notion that Favre ushered in a brand new culture when he arrived is a nice idea. It's just not true.

To be continued. . .

In Part II I cover Holmgren's pivotal "sit down" with Favre and Favre's MVP years.

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