Two nights before Super Bowl XXXII, Brett Favre was on top of the world. The San Diego weather would be perfect and the Qualcomm Stadium track fast, and he felt great—unlike last year, when he had dry heaves and nerve-racked nights leading up to the game. Relaxed and mischievous at dinner last Friday, he chanced the sliced ostrich in port-wine sauce and the tenderloin of Texas antelope. "I can just hear the announcers on Sunday," Favre said. " ' Favre's a little under the weather today. Must be antelope poisoning.' "
Or maybe, as Packers coach Mike Holmgren said hours later, "Brett's a human being." When it was over, when Favre had finished dissecting his C+ game in Green Bay's stunning loss to Denver, he limped out of the interview tent, a turf toe on his right foot killing him. "I'm going to bed," he said in a hoarse voice. "I'm doing nothing tonight but sleeping."
Just then, Broncos free safety Steve Atwater walked by, and the two warriors embraced. "You're a true champion," Atwater whispered.
Sometimes true champions have days like Favre had. It was an O.K. day—25 completions in 42 attempts, for 256 yards—foot not the kind of clutch performance we've come to expect from the first man to win three straight league MVP awards. He did find wideout Antonio Freeman twice for touchdowns, and he lobbed a perfect rainbow over strong safety Tyrone Braxton to tight end Mark Chmura in the corner of the end zone for a third scoring strike. But he forced a pass into heavy coverage for an easy interception by Braxton in the first quarter and threw another in the third quarter that should have been picked off but was dropped by Atwater. In the second half the Packers were an uncharacteristic 0 for 7 on third down. While the main reasons the Packers lost were the brilliance of Terrell Davis, the disappearance of Green Bay defensive stars Reggie White (one tackle) and Gilbert Brown (embarrassing exhaustion), and the Denver offensive line's ability to neutralize LeRoy Butler (most of whose tackles were made in the secondary), Favre wasn't himself on Sunday.
"We didn't have it today," Favre said. "I overthrew [ Freeman] by a hair down the sideline and just missed the pass to Robert Brooks on the last drive. Sometimes you make the plays, and sometimes you don't. We scored three touchdowns, and it should have been enough. It wasn't."
Fact is, the Broncos were ready for whatever Favre threw at them. "Two days after the AFC Championship Game," cornerback Ray Crockett said, "Tyrone Braxton and I watched hours of Favre from the last half of this season. We saw how many chances he takes. He's succeeded on most of those chances the last few years and gained tremendous confidence. By being a risk-taker, he's become the greatest quarterback in the game. But what made him great got him in trouble against us."