Monday, June 15, 2009

Separating Legend From Truth (Part II)

Ron Wolf selected Mark Brunell with the 5th round pick of the 1994 draft. While there was never a quarterback controversy, there definitely was a small but vocal minority of Packer fans that began to argue that Favre was more trouble than he was worth and that Brunell should be given a shot. There were also unconfirmed whispers that some within the organization agreed.

With a top 5 defense, the argument went, there was no need for a flashy playmaking (and error prone) quarterback. What the Packers needed was a steady, dependable quarterback in the mold of Troy Aikman. Someone to get the ball to Sterling Sharpe.

After a tough loss at Philadelphia, Holmgren summoned Favre into his office to deliver two messages. First, he told Favre that he was going to start pulling him out of games if Favre continued to lose his composure. As Holmgren told it: "I had not done that before. I was not going to put up with it. I had to figure out some way to get him not to do more crazy stuff."

Second, Holmgren gave Favre the ultimate vote of confidence: he told Favre not to worry about losing his starting job to Mark Brunell. Holmgren, as Wolf had already done, gambled his entire career on Favre: "We're either going to go to the mountaintop together or we're going to the trash heap together. From now on, we're joined at the hip, you and me."

Favre responded by finishing the 1994 season with 33 TDs against only 14 Ints. The next season he would win the first of his three MVP awards.

In his prime, Favre was an amazing playmaker, but he was also a smart quarterback who made excellent decisions on the field. That is not to say that he never took chances. He did. But he by and large took smart chances and he knew when to throw the ball away.

Later in his career, when Favre became a caricature of a "gunslinger"---throwing ridiculous interceptions---fans would argue that Favre "had always played that way." Favre himself would one day argue (when leading the league in INTs) that: "My style of play hasn't changed any. I've always played this way."

This is another aspect of the Favre Legend that is utter bullshit. In his prime, Favre was a smart player. Holmgren, through stubborn insistence, made sure of it.

Favre's dark side also reemerged during this period as the news broke that Favre had checked himself into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. For some reason that I cannot quite explain, I was actually surprised by this story at the time. I don't think I was alone. It doesn't make sense in retrospect, everyone knew of Favre's hard partying lifestyle just a few years earlier. It was completely predictable that he would end up where he ended up. But it didn't seem that way at the time.

Favre emerged from rehab, more popular than ever, and didn't miss a beat on the field. Leading the team to back-to-back Super Bowls.

In 1998, with Holmgren a lame-duck coach, Favre began to get sloppy with the football once again. The team went 11-5, but the Vikings had clearly passed Packers. After the Packers lost a tough playoff game on the road to the Niners, Holmgren split.

Rhodes came in with the philosophy that Holmgren reined Favre in too much. Rhodes vowed to "turn Favre loose."

Favre began the 1999 season in extraordinary fashion. He broke his thumb against Oakland, but still managed to overcome a 10 point fourth quarter deficit, scoring the game winning touchdown on a pass to Jeff Thomason with only 11 seconds left on the clock. After a disappointing loss to the Lions, Favre put together what this blogger believes to be the signature game of his entire career. I can't possibly put it better than Bob McGinn:

It was quite simply a classic football game, one of the most marvelous ever played in the 43-year history of Lambeau Field.

Fittingly, possibly the greatest Green Bay Packers player ever to grace the historic venue took it upon himself to provide his team with the sweetness of victory.

Brett Favre's 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Corey Bradford gave the Packers their 23-20 decision Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings before 59,868 enthralled spectators and millions more who watched the late-afternoon thriller on national television.
1999 started with two improbable last second wins in three games. It looked like Favre was unaffected by Holmgren's depature (and maybe even a bit better without Holmgren). However, battling the thumb injury Favre struggled through a mediocre season and the Packers went 8-8.

I believe that the Minnesota game was the apex of Favre's career. Favre intermittently put together some good seasons and occassionally rekindled the magic of his time at the top. Maybe I read too much into it, but Favre never quite seemed the same after the Minnesota game. Something was missing.

For one thing, opponents stopped being intimidated by Favre. Eric Brown of the Broncos even publicly taunted Favre in the media the week before the Packers visited Denver. Favre responded by going 7 of 23 for 120 yards and 3 INTs and the Packers were thrashed 31-10. The Favre-mystique was gone for good.

Too be continued...
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In Part III, I cover the Sherman years, Favre playing the character of Favre, and Favre's infatuation with retirement talk.


4 comments:

  1. Hey DDD...I've often used the Rhodes year, and that particular Oakland game, as the sea change for Brett Favre's attitude. You missed one very, very important point when reviewing that Oakland game.

    After the game, Ray Rhodes THANKED Brett Favre for winning the game for him. Both in the locker room in front of the team, and in his press conference. The coach THANKED the player for winning the game for HIM.

    From that point on, I had no problem with Rhodes being outed as HC. I wished like crazy that Andy Reid had been hired that year instead of Rhodes, because I have little doubt Reid would have taken the smarter disciplinary approach with Favre as Holmgren had done and McCarthy tried to do.

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  2. CharlesMartinGradulatesJune 16, 2009 at 9:58 AM

    I do consider myself a Packer fan and a realist. That said -

    Sal Paolantonio wrote a book called "The Paolantonio Report: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches and Moments in NFL History"

    Guess who one of the chapters is about?

    There is an excerpt here:
    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=paolantonio_sal&id=3281535

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