By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Favreologist
Brett Favre played and played ... and played. He seemed as eternal as the mountains in a sport where careers are typically as brief and insignificant as a sand castle.
You know the numbers.
He played 17 years in the NFL, a premier starter nearly wire to wire in a league that chews up and spits out world-class talent as if it were Skoal or sunflower seeds.
He played 253 straight games, starting all of them (275 including playoffs), an unbreakable iron man in a sport where ribs, legs, arms and even necks snap like dried twigs in a campground fireplace.
He played the day after his dad died, to the standing ovation of a notoriously vicious Oakland fandom, and then turned in a magical performance that he personally attributed to divine intervention and that still brings tears to eyes of the most emotionless CHFF troll.
He played in 22 postseason games, seemingly a constant figure in January, a month most players, if they're lucky, see only a couple of times in their careers.
He played as well as any quarterback ever for a three-year period in the mid-1990s (1995-97), when he became the first performer to win three straight NFL MVP awards. His average season during this period looked like this:
- 329 for 542 (60.7%), 4,060 yards, 7.49 YPA, 37 TD, 14 INT, 95.9 rating
He played long enough and well enough to set every passing record known to man: attempts (8,758), completions (5,377), yards (61,655), touchdowns (442) ... hell, even interceptions (288).
The four-year swan song
It was a remarkable career by any measure, one that will that cause old men years from now to turn to their grandchildren and tell them about the time they saw Brett Favre play and play ... and play.
Unfortunately, in recent years, at least before 2007, it became hard to celebrate the great Favre. He became a victim of his indecision off the field ("will he or won't he retire?" followed him each of the past four seasons); some poor decisions on the field (20 picks per year over his last five seasons); and a victim of relentless, unyielding, crushing overexposure from the worldwide leader in sports hyperbole.
Each of the past four seasons, it treated every Favre sighting as if it might be our last – his last game at Lambeau, his last game on Monday night, his last game in the playoffs, his last game, period – according each appearance the pomp and circumstance of a papal or presidential funeral.
No player in history had more swan songs. Remember this one from November 2004
, when one reporter waxed ineptly about Favre's "great strides as a human being"?
That was four years ago, on "Brett Favre Day" in Wisconsin, as fans and "pundits" considered whether the 2004 campaign would be his last.
But it wasn't. Favre continued to play and play ... and play.
As he grew older and his skills naturally declined, the hype – which, of course, he had no control over – only grew stronger. The hype grew in inverse proportion to his performances. It created an anti-Favre backlash among football fans, and here among the Cold, Hard Football Facts. Even devoted Packers and Favre fans began to wish for him to end the song and dance and hang up the cleats. The four-year-long Favre farewell tour became the sports-broadcasting equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. After a while, you just had to tune out the cries.
Yet to his credit, Favre continued to play and play ... and play.
A season for the ages
Against the wishes of many, he returned again in 2007, a season during which he celebrated his 38th birthday. He also celebrated what might have been his greatest season in what was already a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. When you consider his age, it may have been the most remarkable season a quarterback has ever produced. Certainly, it was one of the most unexpected individual turnarounds the football world has ever witnessed.
Favre in 2007 set personal records in completion percentage (66.5) and yards per attempt (7.8). He topped 4,000 passing yards (4,155) for just the fifth time in his career. And he crafted a 95.7 passer rating – the third highest mark of his career and the best since his MVP seasons of 1995 and 1996. Favre in 2007 drank from the fountain of football youth, once again the 27-year-old phenom at the peak of his powers.
More importantly – and at the end it's all about winning – he led his Packers, the youngest team in the league, to an utterly unexpected 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC title game.
He played 18 games in a brutal, borderline inhumane sport, at an age when most men are happy to play 18 holes of golf.
A career in perspective
The frequency with which he played grows more remarkable when you compare the numbers to other greats of the game.
Favre's 17 seasons? Joe Namath spent 13 years in the NFL, and just seven as a full-time starter. Troy Aikman had enough after 12 years. Joe Montana also played to age 38, but spent two fewer seasons in the league and, believe it or not, started a full 16 games just twice. Favre started a full 16 games for 15 straight seasons.
Favre's 253 straight starts? Montana's entire career lasted 192 games, of which he started 164. Johnny Unitas played 18 years and to age 40, exceeding Favre on both counts. But his entire career included just 211 games and 186 starts. The legendary George Blanda played until age 48. But he started just 109 games at quarterback.
Favre's 22 postseason games? That's more than legends such as Staubach and Bradshaw (19 each), the same number as Elway, and just one fewer than Montana.
Favre's record passing numbers? Aikman was a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 32,942 passing yards, little more than half of Favre's 61,655. Montana, widely considered the greatest quarterback ever, passed for 273 TDs, 169 fewer than Favre. Hall of Famer Dan Fouts played 15 NFL seasons and led one of the great passing attacks in league history. He completed 3,297 passes, more than 2,000 completions shy of Favre's 5,377.
These are the greatest passers the game has ever seen. And in almost every category they fall woefully shy of Favre's production and his appearances on NFL football fields.
The magic of Favre
Of course, Favre did not always play perfectly. His "gunslinger" reputation certainly cost him more than a few games. Look no further than the 2007 NFC championship game, when his last pass as a pro fell into the hands of a defender and immediately led to his team's overtime defeat.
But the magic of Favre was not that he always played perfectly. Who does? The magic of Favre was that he played and played ... and played. He played against the odds. He played against father time. He played through injuries that might have broken lesser men (look no further than Green Bay's November showdown at Dallas, when he was knocked from the game, for one of the few times in his career, with a bruised elbow and separated shoulder, but quickly rebounded to play the following week). He played as long and as often and as consistently and as well as any player in history, as good at age 38 as he was at age 28.
And, let's not forget how remarkable it was that he played and played ... and played. Favre was not some can't-miss prospect. Sure, he was a high draft pick (second round, No. 33 overall). But he came out of a small school, Southern Miss. And his career began unremarkably, with two token appearances as a rookie for the Falcons. The team was only too happy to dump him after that season, shipping him off to Green Bay.
Quite frankly, there was a good chance Favre might have never played again.
Yet everyday since 1992 there was one constant in the NFL: Brett Favre would charge out of the tunnel, dappled by the Midwestern sun or speckled by the lakefront snows, while leading the sport's premier franchise into the pitched battles of pro football.
Thanks for playing, Brett.