Nevertheless, in February 1992, new Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf dealt a first-round pick to the Falcons for Favre. As the New York Jets' director of player personnel the previous season, Wolf had been so intrigued by Favre that he wanted the Jets to draft him, but the Falcons selected him with the pick immediately ahead of New York's. Holmgren, whom Wolf had hired away from the 49ers a month before the trade, was interested in acquiring Favre, as well. "I really didn't know his reputation, but I do remember that when I'd scouted him while I was with San Francisco, I wrote in my report: 'This guy is blue-collar,' " says Holmgren. "I figured he was a throwback with a personality. And personalities as a rule don't scare me, as long as they're responsible and willing to meet me halfway."
But would Favre? He viewed Holmgren's sophisticated offense as some sort of hieroglyphics. "In the first year or so I don't think anybody on our team knew exactly what we were doing," says Favre. "I'll give you an example. We'd call Red Right, 22 Z In. I didn't care what the defense did, I was going to the Z [the flanker], and if he was covered, boom, I was gone. I was running, trying to make something happen."
It was just such a broken play that thrust Favre into the limelight. In the third game of the 1992 season, against the Cincinnati Bengals, he replaced the injured Don Majkowski and, with 13 seconds left, fired a game-winning, 35-yard touchdown pass to wideout Kitrick Taylor. "What people don't remember about that day is I should have had six or seven interceptions," says Favre. "I was all over the place." But he was also electric, and he has started every Packers game since. He finished that first season in Green Bay as a 64% passer who threw 18 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions. But in '93 he regressed, accounting for 30 of the Pack's 34 turnovers, including 24 interceptions.
"I struggled and I struggled for a long time." Favre says. "But think about it: I got thrown into the toughest offense in the game as a starter at 22. Every other guy who's played it sat for a year or two and learned. Joe Montana sat behind Steve DeBerg. Steve Young sat behind Joe. Steve Bono sat behind both of them. Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell sat behind me. That's why it was frustrating when people would get on me."
Throughout the 1993 season and during the first seven games of the '94 schedule. Favre was the target of Holmgren's incessant, irksome ragging. "Let the system work for you!" was one of Holmgren's nicer suggestions.
"He deserved it, believe me." Holmgren says. "He would say things to me like, 'Hey, we're 9-7, and we made the playoffs. That's a pretty good year.' And I'd say, 'You want to be 9-7 your whole life? Not me. We want to win the Super Bowl here." We had a test of wills. He's a knuckle-head. His way was simply not going to be good enough. And I don't care what his father says. If I'd treated him any differently, with more sympathy, I'd have been cheating him."
Holmgren's vote of confidence after the 1994 game in Minnesota changed Favre's perspective, but his confidence still seemed shaken. "I remember Brett so clearly in my office after the decision was made," Mariucci said last week, a day after the 49ers shockingly named him their coach. "I told him. 'You've got two choices: You can go in the tank and feel sorry for yourself. Or you can buckle down, shake it off and be the best quarterback in football the rest of the season.' "
Upon hearing that, Favre replied, "The second half of the season is going to be like no other." He lived up to that promise. He threw only seven interceptions in the final nine games, led the Packers to the playoffs for the second consecutive season and turned his career around.
By 1995 Holmgren was listening to Favre more and more in the Saturday-morning game-plan sessions, a practice that carried over to the '96 season. On the day before a game, Holmgren, his three quarterbacks and quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg discuss what will work best against that week's opponent. Holmgren asks everyone to submit, in order, their 15 favorite plays. Later, he retires to his hotel room to script Green Bay's early game plan. Holmgren hands out the First 15, as he labels the sheet, at the team meeting on the eve of the game. He'll ask Favre if he likes the order. "These are really good," Favre told Holmgren before the NFC Championship Game against the Panthers two weeks ago. And he wrote Holmgren's final words to him that night on the bottom of the sheet: "Relax. Play smart."
In the early going against Carolina, Favre forced a pass on a slant route to wideout Don Beebe. Linebacker Sam Mills intercepted, setting up the touchdown that gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead. "Why'd you make that throw?" Holmgren snarled as Favre came off the field.