When the call went Green Bay's way, at least one visitor from Minnesota was ecstatic--Gunnar Frerotte, the seven-year-old son of Vikings backup quarterback Gus Frerotte. Clad in his prized number 4 Packers jersey, Gunnar declared before the game that even if his father were to start for the Vikings, he would still be rooting for Favre. "Clearly, I've done a hell of a job raising him," joked Gus, who shouldn't feel overly dissed. After all, Favre still skips across the field with a little boy's enthusiasm, and with whispers of his possible retirement perpetually in the air--he's noncommittal on the subject--each of his Sundays at play should be appreciated. So should the pranks of this first-ballot Hall of Famer who, last Thursday, left a bagged deer hide in the locker of cornerback Al Harris. "Al didn't know what the hell it was; he threw it halfway across the locker room," says Sharper.
Football, Favre acknowledges, is his sanctuary in times of distress. And so Favre's pain is a Packers fan's gain. Just as he played one of the finest games of his career in a Monday night victory over Oakland last December less than 48 hours after his father's death, Favre has been brilliant since learning of Deanna's illness. On Sunday, beginning with a 50-yard scoring strike that third-year wideout Javon Walker, an emerging star, snatched away from Minnesota cornerback Brian Williams on the game's eighth play from scrimmage, Favre was in complete command (20 of 29, 236 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions). At times it seemed like 1996 again, with Todd Rundgren's Bang the Drum All Day blaring as various players took turns doing the Lambeau Leap.
As in those glory days, the Pack is blessed with a balanced attack. Some of the credit goes to Sherman, who took over play-calling duties when offensive coordinator Tom Rossley underwent an angioplasty before the Detroit game; Green Bay has averaged 35.3 points in the four games since. And some goes to the fabulous linemen who opened holes for Ahman Green (21 carries, 145 yards) and kept Favre from being sacked. The linemen are brave, too. "We all have dinner together every Thursday, and we've been going to this sushi place in Appleton ever since we started our streak," says left guard Mike Wahle, one of the league's most underrated players. "It's the only sushi place around, and come to think of it, it isn't very crowded."
Call them Hamachiheads, though it's tough to imagine many Packers fans showing up with raw-fish replica headgear. The 70,671 zanies at Lambeau on Sunday were treated to one of the season's best matchups, despite the absence of Minnesota's star wideout, Randy Moss, who missed the second game of his seven-year career with a strained right hamstring. Favre, who made his 198th consecutive start, was impressed by Culpepper's refusal to throw up his hands and yell, "No Moss!"
"Hey, I'm a huge Randy Moss fan," Favre said, "but Daunte has gotten better with him being out. Now he doesn't just kill you with his arms and his legs; he's killing you with his head, too."
In the end, though, Favre, as he so often does, fired the fatal shot. On second-and10 from the Green Bay 46 with 1:05 remaining, the Packers came out with an empty backfield, got the two-deep zone they were seeking and sent Walker in motion to the left side, where he joined fellow wideouts Ferguson and Donald Driver. The logical target was Driver, who ran a streak down the middle of the field, but when has Favre ever been burdened by percentages? Counting on the element of surprise, he lofted a pass along the right sideline toward backup running back Tony Fisher, who made a leaping catch for a 25-yard gain. Three plays later Longwell drilled the game-winner, and Favre looked to a luxury box behind the Packers' bench and waved to Deanna and their daughters, Brittany, 15, and Breleigh, 5.
Brett says doctors expect Deanna, who is scheduled to start chemotherapy later this month, to make a full recovery. Her illness has forced the quarterback to keep his own ailments in perspective--he played on Sunday with a sinus infection, for which he'd been taking antibiotics for several days, and he'd been kept awake for much of the previous night by nasal congestion and neck pain.
"The bottom line is I am old," says Favre, still devoid of pretense after all these years and MVPs. "I'm slower, heavier and more broken down"--he raised and flexed his right arm--"but this...."
Favre didn't finish the sentence, but he didn't have to. The boyish grin said it all.