Last Friday, two days before the Packers played the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC wild-card game at Lambeau Field, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre dropped back to throw a pass in practice. The receiver, Bill Schroeder, ran 20 yards downfield. Just before Schroeder broke to the sideline, Favre's rocket of a right arm launched a spiral so hard and so tight that it looked like a laser beam. As Schroeder took his first step to the sideline with a cornerback in tight coverage, he shot his hands in front of him, and the sound of the ball meeting his gloves was like that of a Tyson right hitting a heavy bag. Later Schroeder went up to Favre and asked, "Would you say this is the best you've ever thrown the ball?"
Favre, 32, considered the question that night, over a mountainous dinner of buffalo wings, fried chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and key lime pie at the Green Bay restaurant that bears his name. He has thrown nearly 6,000 passes in 11 NFL seasons. A year ago he missed most of training camp with tendinitis in his right elbow, yet now he throws like Randy Johnson every day in practice, even when he's feeling his years. Last Thursday his shoulder ached, and he worried that he might be coming down with a sore arm. Still, on Friday he was flinging the ball around, making his wideouts wish they wore catchers' mitts.
"Ain't nobody who can outthrow me," he says. "That's not bragging. It's the truth. I throw every pass like I'm in a game, because there ain't but one way to throw it. That's why I am what I am today, and these receivers gotta get used to it. That's how you play winning football."
That's also why the Packers are still alive, looking forward to a matchup with the NFC's almighty and top-seeded Rams this Sunday in St. Louis. In Green Bay's 25-15 win over the 49ers, Favre completed 22 of 29 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. He was at his best when the game was on the line. With 10:57 to play, the score tied at 15 and Green Bay facing third-and-eight from its 26, wideout Donald Driver ran a 14-yard seam route up the right side. Favre was a little high with one of his fastballs, and Driver leaped to make a tough catch, which led to Ryan Longwell's 45-yard field goal.
Then, after cornerback Ty Williams's interception stopped the 49ers as they were driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, Favre delivered a pair of critical third-down completions. On the first he rifled the ball to wideout Antonio Freeman on a crossing route that went for 37 yards. On the second he found his first two options covered, scrambled to his right and lashed a line drive into Driver's gut for the first down. On the next play Ahman Green clinched the win with a nine-yard touchdown run.
The rejuvenated arm and a change in lifestyle are good reasons that Favre is playing as well as he did from 1995 through '97, when he won a record three straight league MVP awards. That should concern the Rams, even with all their weapons. For nothing in the NFL is more dangerous than Favre's fastball. Just look at Schroeder's glove, which Favre split open in practice last week. Or Driver's broken middle finger on his left hand with the pin in it. Or—well, let Freeman, who's been catching Favre's passes for seven years, explain. "Look at my hands," he said after Sunday's game, holding up fingers that looked swollen, curved or distended at the knuckles. "Brett's sprained or dislocated seven of these fingers over the years. He only knows one way to throw."
"This week I had that aching feeling in my shoulder, but it went away," Favre says. "What keeps some people out days or weeks might keep me out for a day."
What's helped Favre, too, is that he's taking better care of himself off tire field. Early in his career a typical football day would be capped by a late night out with teammates. "I'd feel like crap the next day," he says. "I see other people I know living hard, the way I did, and I can't believe what I used to be."
Now a typical day in Favre's life, he says, would be like his Wednesday of last week. "I took [12-year-old daughter] Brittany into the breakfast the Packers serve for the players, and then I drove her to school. I came back for meetings, and I went home for lunch. Two or three days a week, I go home to eat lunch with [two-year-old daughter] Breleigh and [wife] Deanna. Then it was back for practice. That night I watched TV—The Discovery Channel or TLC or Animal Planet—and read to Breleigh. Then, like Deanna and I always do, we watched World's Wildest Police Videos. Great show."
Breleigh has changed everything. "Life is so much better, I can't believe it," Favre says. "She's got me wrapped around her little finger. I love it. We lose to Tennessee a few weeks ago, and I walk in the door that night and she says, 'You played a good game, Daddy. You've got a good team.' "