Sunday, June 21, 2009

Separating Legend From Truth (Part IV)

Ted Thompson (who was the assistant director of pro personnel when Wolf originally traded for Favre) took over as GM on January 14, 2005. According to Favre it was a rocky relationship from the start. Favre would recount the story of his first quarrel with Ted Thompson:

The season is over. I'm weighing my decision. Ted called me. You know, this is right - - right after the season. I said, Ted, you got to re-sign my linemen. As a quarterback, that's important to you. I said, you know, You got to -- at least one of them. OK, I'll do that.

So when I decided to come back, the following day, both guys signed elsewhere.

As it turns out the story is not really true in the literal sense (Favre announced his come back over a week after Wahle and Rivera signed elsewhere). Literal truth aside, the story does show that there was friction between Thompson and Favre almost from day one.

After a three seasons of Favre's retirement talk, selecting Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft was nearly a no brainer. Nevertheless, Favre was not happy about it. In his frustration, Favre broke character for the first time. When asked whether he was an "mentor" to Rodgers he responded that mentoring Rodgers was "not in his contract."

Think about that, Brett Favre---a walking almanac of sports cliches about putting the team above individuals---was now talking about the literal requirements of his contract. (This is the same man who would one day proclaim in his retirement announcement that "it was never about me, it was about everyone else.")

This statement was so out of character for Favre at the time that it was easy for fans to rationalize the comments away. Clearly Favre did not actually mean what he said.

Favre ambled through perhaps his worst season ever as a pro, and at the end of the year Sherman got the hook. This, according to Favre, led to his second run in with Thompson when Thompson did not bring Favre's close friend, Steve Mariuchi, in for an interview.

That offseason, Favre cranked up the media rhetoric questioning Thompson's management. Favre waited until the middle of April before announcing his return, and lectured that the team needed to make a "Reggie White-type" free agent pick-up. He also wondered aloud what the Packers would do if he kept dragging his feet on making a decision: "what will they do, cut me?"

Favre also publicly stated that he "would probably be more surprised" to see his team go 12-4 than to see his team go 4-12.

He was on a roll, and amazingly few people criticized him for these obnoxious comments.

After the Randy Moss trade fell through during the 2007 offseason Favre reportedly demanded to be traded. He would later issue the classic "nondenial-denial":"I never wanted to be traded and I don’t want to be traded. I want to be in Green Bay. I want to finish my career as a Packer.”

Note, he doesn't say that he didn't demand to be traded, only that he really didn't "want to be traded." (We'd see the nondenial-denial again when Favre would state that the comeback talks are "all rumors." Sure, but are the rumors true?)

Seeing Favre's power battles with Thompson makes one wonder how much of a pain in the ass Favre had been to Sherman behind the scenes. It's difficult to believe that Favre only started making his demands when Thompson took over. For example, how much did Farve influence the decisions in 2002 to trade for Terry Glenn and spend both the first round pick and second round pick to draft Javon Walker? How many of the cap-crippling moves that Sherman made were done to placate his star quarterback who was threatening to retire or quietly demanding to be traded if things didn't go his way?

That is part of the story that we will never know. Sherman is too decent a guy to publicly reveal any of the details. I cannot support much of the Sherman tenure, but I do appreciate that he probably had a much more difficult job than anyone realized at the time.

When McCarthy came to town he vowed to bring the offense back to the line of scrimmage and emphasize the short passing game. According to the Favre Legend, Favre was a good downfield passer. In truth, he was never very accurate with the deep ball.

Favre's strength was in throwing 20-25 yard lasers, and McCarthy's offense would play to Favre's strengths. It would also have the secondary benefit of eliminating a lot of temptation for Favre to do something stupid.

In short, McCarthy offered Favre an opportunity for a late-career resurgence, and it really looked like it was going to happen. After a modest improvement in 2006, Favre posted the highest completion percentage of his career in 2007 and his highest QB rating since his MVP years.

More importantly, the Packers earned a first round bye in the playoffs and would eventually host the Giants for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Everything was in place, almost as if it had been scripted by a Hollywood screenwriter: Favre's Redemption.

Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way.

Still, it certainly appeared that Favre would have another shot with the Packers in 2008. It was unimaginable that Favre would retire after being so close to the Super Bowl. After all, one of his concerns during the last couple offseasons was that he wasn't sure if the Packers were a Super Bowl caliber team.

Instead, with the Super Bowl within reach, Favre got cold feet. The pressure was just too great: "To go to the Super Bowl and lose would be almost worse than anything else. Anything less than a Super Bowl would have been unsuccessful."

So he retired on March 8, 2008.

Obviously a lot has transpired since then. I've decided not to get into that because I don't think I have anything useful to say and if this series has not already devolved into ranting, it certainly would if I continued.

Favre is a figure that will be debated for as long as Packer fans debate things. He has gone from being the most beloved Packer of modern times to being one of the most divisive Packers of all time.

On the field he was a good---and for a string of four to five seasons, great---quarterback. He will always be remembered for his grit and toughness. His streak is truly amazing. Still, he should have been better, especially in the clutch. He had the tools to be better.


  1. You won't answer my emails. You won't come on our show. So I'll just leave a lousy comment and say this series should be printed in every 'NFL Preview' section this upcoming Fall. Outstanding stuff.

  2. Thanks a lot for this great look at Favre. I thought that this passage from part III summed up part of what has been unsaid about Brett:

    "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 lead 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."

    Granted, in some of those games with Sherman especially Sherman's last season, the other players were not that good. I would like to see his overall percentage not just during Sherman's tenure. Could run those numbers?

    While the overall winning percentage when Favre played is the other half of the story, I think your point about where he is during the clutch says a lot.