Thursday, June 18, 2009

Separating Legend From Truth (Part III)

By the time Mike Sherman took over, the Favre Legend was already written. Indeed, as early as January of 1998 Favre was declared the second greatest Packer player ever, behind only Don Hutson.

Think about that for a second.

Six seasons into his career with the Packers, pundits were willing to put him above seventeen hall of famers. Doesn't that seem a bit premature? It did to me at the time.

Of course I did not seriously doubt at the time that Favre would "get there" by the time his career was finished. And I think these Favre "rankings" were really predicated on a (not unreasonable at the time) assumption that Favre's career would continue on a steady trajectory. Nevertheless, the Favre Legend was founded on what would turn out to be a false assumption. Favre would not continue to dominate the league as he had done.

However, once the Favre Legend was written nobody went back to ask whether it was written too soon. (That is until relatively recently.)

So by the time Sherman took over, Favre seemed content to rest on his laurels. Sherman did not exercise any type of authority over him and the Favre Legend was already written. There was literally nothing to hold him accountable.

It's too bad. Favre could have been so much more. He could have been the greatest Packer of all time. He had a real chance at being the greatest QB of all time. He had all the tools. He simply lacked the drive and discipline. He was content playing the character Brett Favre, the wild gunslinger. (Am I the only one who would cringe when he would describe himself as a gunslinger?)

And he loved the spotlight. From his phoney rivalry with Warren Sapp to his shameful lay down for Strahan he loved sideshow drama. The media ate it up.

In fact, after Favre took a dive for Strahan, half the media defended him, the other half praised him.

These are the same people who kept the Favre Legend alive when Favre's play really didn't warrant it. Sure Favre put up some decent stats in intermittent years, but when the Packers needed him most, he folded up like a lawn chair.

The greats---like Joe Montana---like Bart Starr---played their greatest games when their teams needed them most. Favre did the opposite.

Everyone is aware of Favre's failings in the playoffs, but it did not stop there. During Sherman's tenure as coach in a total of 26 games Favre had the ball in his hand with 5 minutes or less in the fourth quarter and the opportunity to tie or go ahead. Favre led the Packers to victory in only 11 of those games. In the other fifteen, Favre threw 11 interceptions, committed one fumble, and ended one game with an illegal forward pass.

Favre was more likely to self-destruct than lead the Packers to victory. In truth, Favre was only "great" when the team had the lead. When he was asked to bring the team back, he would collapse under the pressure. How many times did we see Favre turn a 10 point Packer deficit into a 20 point Packer deficit? (I don't know, and after tabulating all of the comeback tries I just don't feel like looking it up right now, but it sure felt like it happened too often.)

But the Favre Legend kept on going. In every single game that the Packers trailed, one announcer always would say "But, you know, with Favre under center the Packers always have a chance." (I actually did look this one up.)

True. Just not a good chance.

Off the field, Favre played the character of Brett Favre. He was the team-first, rascally locker room prankster, that as we would later learn became increasingly distant from his team mates. He was a Packer for life who wouldn't dream of ever playing for another team: "If in two years, say, they want to trade me, I'd probably walk away. Retire."

After re-signing in 2001 he would repeat: "I do want to be a Packer for life . . . . I couldn't even envision myself playing with another team . . . . Don't want to. If that was to ever come up, I probably would just retire."

Favre loved to talk about retirement. Begining in 2002, Favre began his yearly ritual of wondering whether he was going to retire at the end of the season:"I don't want to play much longer. It may be two years. It may be this year. Whatever."

So how will Favre spend his retirement? "I'll be down in Hattiesburg. You'll never find me. You know the HBO 'Where are They Now?' segments on Inside the NFL? They'll do one on me, but they'll have to get Robert Stack, like on Unsolved Mysteries. I'll disappear."

To be concluded. . .



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