2007 Sportsman of the Year (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday December 4, 2007 12:05AM; Updated: Tuesday December 4, 2007 8:37AM
If Favre is weary, it's only because he has given so much of himself to Green Bay through the years. "He means everything to these people," says Donald Driver, who's in his ninth season catching Favre's passes. "He's not only our leader -- he's the symbol of the franchise, of the whole town. There's a generation of fans in Green Bay who don't know this team ever existed without Brett."
When Favre decided to return for the 2007 season, even die-hard Cheeseheads must have been hoping only that he would not tarnish his legacy. What no one expected was that Favre would reinvent himself yet again, enjoying one of his best years at age 38 while cajoling a talented but callow team to a stunning 10-2 record. Along the way he passed two significant milestones for quarterbacks, overtaking Dan Marino atop the alltime list in touchdown passes (436 at week's end) and victories by a starter (157). He trails Marino by 449 in passing yards, another mark that should soon fall.
But one record above all others speaks to what Favre is made of: his Ripkenesque streak of consecutive starts at quarterback, which stands at 249 -- more than five seasons ahead of the next player on the list, Peyton Manning. During last week's 37-27 loss at Dallas, Favre was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, when on the same play he separated his left shoulder and took a helmet to his right elbow, causing numbness in two fingers on his throwing hand. Afterward, to no one's surprise, Favre said he expected he would not miss a game. He has rarely been flawless (after all, he leads the NFL in lifetime interceptions, with 283), but he's always shown up. Through pills and booze, through cancer and car crashes and heart attacks, he has played on. Once reckless on and off the field, Favre has matured before our eyes while never losing his boyish love for the game.
It is for his perseverance and his passion that SI honors Favre with the 54th Sportsman of the Year award. But there is more to his story than on-field heroics. On game day the whole of Green Bay may live and die on Favre's rocket right arm, but his greatest legacy lies in how many people he has touched between Sundays.
The intensity of Favre's relationship with the Packers faithful goes far beyond mere longevity. He arrived in Green Bay in 1992 through a trade with the Atlanta Falcons, and in the third game of the season came off the bench to lead a madcap comeback against the Cincinnati Bengals, throwing the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left. He has refused to leave the starting lineup ever since, harnessing his hair-on-fire style to win an unprecedented three MVP awards (1995, '96, '97) and lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl triumph following the 1996 season.
But the success was leavened by personal setbacks and heartache. In 1996 the NFL sent him to rehab to kick an addiction to the painkiller Vicodin. Two months later Scott was involved in a car crash that killed his passenger, Mark Haverty, Brett's close childhood friend. Scott pleaded guilty to felony DUI and served a year of house arrest. Brett's own heavy drinking drove Deanna to consult divorce lawyers before Favre checked himself into rehab in 1999.
After Favre quit drinking, he settled into the comfortable second act of his career, during which life was quieter and his teams were good but not quite good enough. The drama, however, was far from over. In December 2003 Favre lost his father, Irvin, who suffered a heart attack at age 58. The day after Big Irv died, Favre summoned the defining performance of his career, passing for 399 yards and four touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders, and riveting a Monday Night Football audience. Grown men around Green Bay still tear up when recalling that game.