Late last week, as he prepared for the season opener, Packers quarterback Brett Favre added a new twist to his preparation. Along with watching hours of film on Tampa Bay's defensive fronts, Favre, last year's NFL MVP, also turned on the Weather Channel each morning to keep an eye on several tropical-storm fronts. The tendencies of the Buccaneers' new coach, Tony Dungy, worried him a little, but what Favre was really fretting over were the actions of Edouard, Fran and Gustav.
"I've been watching every day, making sure no hurricanes were gonna stop the game in Tampa," said Favre last Friday. "I saw one moving that way, and I just thought, Aw, man, here's one more thing trying to stop my season from starting."
It turns out no act of nature, and certainly not the pitiful Buccaneers, could stop Favre from getting back on track after an off-season that included a six-week stay at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kans., to treat his addiction to the prescription painkiller Vicodin. The storms proved no threat, but Favre and tight end Keith Jackson blasted the Tampa area with a hurricane of their own, connecting on three touchdown passes as Green Bay handed Tampa Bay its worst home-opening loss in its 21-season history, 34-3.
Favre used eight receivers and completed 20 of 27 passes for 247 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. And the way he beamed on the field, throwing crushing lead blocks and diving for first downs, you could tell this was one cheesehead happy to be back under center.
"Sunday was a day I thought would never get here," Favre said. "After everything I've been through, the one place of tranquillity left for me is the field. Unfortunately, [the game] only lasts three hours and then it's back to reality."
At times, that reality can be too much for Favre to take. The NFL substance-abuse program he voluntarily entered last spring requires him to undergo up to 10 tests per month for drugs and alcohol. "When the counselors I saw used terms [for me] like alcoholic and drug addict, that kind of pissed me off," says Favre. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Mentally, Favre may still be coming to grips with his addiction but physically he has never been better. At 215 pounds—10 lighter than last year—Favre looked sharp rolling out against the Bucs' defensive line. And having only three weeks to prepare after returning from Menninger has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A classic over-trainer, Favre has required only three preseason ice treatments on his arm this year as compared with more than 50 at last year's camp. The zip in his arm was most noticeable with 49 seconds left in the first half on Sunday when he lofted a pretty 51-yard pass to Jackson, who stomped into the end zone to make the score 24-3 at the break. "I want to win the Super Bowl, and right now guys are walking around feeling like we can't be beat," said Favre.
The Packers' defense was improved up the gut during the off-season with the addition of free-agent tackle Santana Dotson from the Buccaneers and safety Eugene Robinson, who was acquired in a trade from Seattle. On Sunday that unit forced two fumbles and grabbed four interceptions while holding Tampa Bay to 59 yards rushing—all to the delight of the more than 10,000 Packer Backers who rocked Houlihan's Stadium. "It was like a home game out there," said Packers wideout Robert Brooks. "We are America's team now."
Pretty soon, though, the Bucs may not be Tampa's team. On Tuesday, Hillsborough County residents were to vote on a half-cent sales-tax increase that would generate funds for, among other things, the new football stadium needed to keep the Bucs from leaving town. But, really, who would actually want this team? This will be the Bucs' 14th straight losing season. Still, the vote was expected to be so close that both pro-and antistadium camps believed that even a decent showing against Green Bay would push the referendum through.
Favre, of course, may have vetoed that. And as he walked to the sideline after leaving the game early in the fourth quarter, he winked at Packers tight end Mark Chmura, then pounded his friend on the shoulder pads. "I'm back," he said with a smile so wide it seemed to connect his sideburns. "I'm all the way back."