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INSIDE THE NFL

Signature Game

In a vintage performance Brett Favre led the Packers over the Panthers

By Peter King

Posted: Wed September 30, 1998
 
Sports Illustrated With 11 minutes to play and his team clinging to a 30-23 lead over the Panthers at Ericsson Stadium on Sunday, 28-year-old Packers quarterback Brett Favre stepped under center, feeling as if he were 58. It was third-and-one at the Carolina 33. It was his 73rd snap on a day when the field thermometer hit 104°. What hurt most? "My feet," Favre said later. "Felt like they were burning off." Both shoulders ached, and his ribs were feeling the cumulative effect of a trio of hits the Panthers had laid on him.

  Mayes beat Davis
Green Bay took the lead when Mayes beat Davis for one of his three TD catches.    (Jim Gund)
The play called for Favre to roll right and throw to one of the three receivers who had flooded that side of the field. At practice earlier in the week, Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren had reminded Favre not to pull up, because when he had stopped while running the same play two weeks earlier, he had been leveled by the Bucs defense.

What did Favre do this time? He stopped, of course. None of his three options were open, but out of the corner of his eye he saw wideout Derrick Mayes, whose responsibility was to occupy a cover guy on the left side of the field. Mayes was creeping toward the middle. "Brett knows he's not supposed to throw back across the field," center Frank Winters says, "but he's looking over, and I think, Oh, s—-, here we go again. All of a sudden the ball's whizzing by my face."

The ball went right to Mayes, who juked linebacker Mike Barrow and was gone, 33 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown in Green Bay's 37-30 victory. "If you're a receiver for Brett Favre," Mayes said afterward, "you better be ready on every play."

The Carolina game, Favre's 101st as a pro, was a signature game. Though he had thrown as many touchdown passes on two other occasions and only twice had thrown for more yards in a game, the numbers—27 completions in 45 attempts, 388 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions, two sacks, eight knockdowns—tell only part of the story. Twice he acted impetuously and threw interceptions that resulted in touchdowns for the Panthers, but both times he wasted little time in driving his team for a go-ahead score.

"Just another day at the office," Favre said in a near whisper, taking a long time to put on his socks and tennis shoes 30 minutes after the game. "God, I'm still sweating bullets."

Slowly, he sipped from a bottle of Gatorade and sampled a slice of pepperoni pizza. "I'll never forget this day," he said. "How fun was this? I loved it. I mean, where else would you rather be than playing this game on a day like today, with great players like [Carolina linebacker] Kevin Greene chasing you and fighting back like that? Just awesome."

Favre couldn't stop talking about one play. Trailing 10-6 early in the second quarter, partly because of an interception Favre threw on his first play from scrimmage, the Packers faced a third-and-five from the Carolina 21. In the huddle Favre told his teammates, "Don't jump. I'm going to try to draw them offside. And wideouts, finish your routes." Sure enough, Barrow took the bait, Winters snapped the ball, flags flew, free play. Favre dropped five steps, avoided a Greene rush from the outside and threw awkwardly off his back foot. The ball spiraled 32 yards, just beyond the fingertips of cornerback Eric Davis and into Mayes's hands in the back right corner of the end zone.

"Three or four years ago, I make a dumb play and maybe I go in the tank," Favre said. "Or I come out and go for the gusto right away to make up for it. Now I think I'm playing much better at the start of a year than I ever have. Like today, I threw an interception, then came back and made a nice throw to [fullback] William Henderson. I hear [quarterback coach] Andy Reid say to me into my helmet, 'I guess that's why they pay you the big bucks.'"

Issue date: October 5, 1998

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