Favre tackles new reality on the fly
CLEVELAND -- As he walked down the tunnel in Cleveland Browns Stadium Thursday evening, seconds before meeting his new team, Brett Favre looked beat. Could you blame him? Twenty hours earlier, he'd made a life-altering decision, welcoming a trade to the New York Jets. Ten hours earlier, he'd boarded a plane in southern Mississippi with his new general manager, Mike Tannenbaum, for New Jersey. Four hours earlier, he'd taken a helicopter tour of the Jets' new practice facility and suburban New Jersey. And now, after a one-hour flight to Cleveland -- in khaki shorts and gray T-shirt, the whites of his eyes pink from fatigue -- Favre paused a few steps from the entrance to his new life.
"I'm worn out,'' he said. "Just worn out.''
Then Favre went in and met his new boss, Eric Mangini and his new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer. ("This is a really, really good day,'' Mangini had said to someone at the stadium earlier.) And Favre emerged a few minutes later to try to explain one of the strangest chapters of his fable of a life, and where he stands now, and what kind of chance he has, at 38, to lead a 4-12 team to the promised land in what might be his only five months of employment with his new team.
Did you notice, watching at home, how Favre opened a vein a few times and gave you a peek into the inner Favre? Like when he said:
"I'm a little bit out of shape compared to all the other guys.''
"I've always wanted to be a Packer. I think I always will be a Packer.''
"I'm not a traitor. Never will be. It's a business, and that's the way it works. I gave everything I possibly could give when I was there [in Green Bay] ... I think we're probably both at fault. A lot of things happened this offseason. A lot of shocking things.''
"I was never not interested in the Jets. I think my interest, at first, was to stay in [the NFC North]. Maybe that's a little bit of my vindictive nature, or competitive nature, or whatever. I think, in the end, that was probably the wrong motive."
"I haven't faced anything like this. I don't know anyone in this locker room. And to a certain degree, I really don't know what I'm getting into.''
"That team [in Green Bay] will be good with or without me.''
And when the inquisition was over, reality kicked in. Favre, running on adrenaline, took a laminated offensive play-call sheet for the night's game against Cleveland and stood on the Jets' sideline, trying to make sense of the first brand-new offense he's had to learn since his trade to the Packers in 1992. A player with experience in both offenses, recently retired Trent Dilfer, said he didn't think learning the offense would be as big a problem for Favre as feeling like he'd just got run over by a truck.
"The only thing that would concern me,'' Dilfer said earlier in the day, "is that Brett is going to go to New York tired and weary because of the strain of the last couple of weeks. And he's going to have to work hard to make sure he knows the offense for the first game, and there's going to be the media onslaught. I'd worry a little about fatigue if I were the Jets.''
Said Favre: "You have to dive into it ... We're up against the clock.''
That began shortly after 7:30 tonight, when backup quarterback Brett Ratliff stood next to Favre on the Jets sideline and began to explain a few of the calls. They were joined by rookie draft choice Erik Ainge from Tennessee, and later by the only player on the team Favre knew well, former Packer tight end Bubba Franks, now a Jet.
After a 62-minute lightning and rain delay, Favre played catch on the sideline with a Jets aide while the team loosened up. Back judge Scott Helverson of the Tony Corrente officiating crew came to the New York sideline and gave Favre a warm handshake.
But largely, Favre tried to stay out of the way. Football is a tribal game, and it is not easy to walk into a new team, slap a few backs, and expect to be accepted. That takes time. At one point late in the first quarter, Favre stood for a full two minutes shoulder to shoulder on the sidelines with fringe players David Ball, a wideout, and Marques Murrell, a linebacker. They said nothing to Favre. He said nothing to them.
A minute later, Favre approached a huddle near the Jets bench, with starter (for now) Kellen Clemens explaining a concept to some of the skill players as two assistants listened and talked, as well. Favre leaned in, but no one said anything to him, and Clemens went on as if he wasn't there. (When Clemens left the game, he then spent time talking and gesturing with Favre on the sidelines.) No doubt, though, it will take time for Favre to get to know his mates -- and for them to accept him. But that's not anything unusual. It would happen with any player new to a team after two weeks of training camp, even if that player is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Favre's ally for much of the first half was Ainge. It looked like he was asking questions about the offense, and Ainge was answering them in depth. It was likely Favre, on the plane back to New York Thursday, would begin his crash-course in learning Schottenheimer's offense. His first real game is exactly a month away, Sept. 7 at Miami, and it would be hard enough to learn a new offense feeling refreshed and in top shape. Favre is neither. Now comes the hard part.