THERE ARE only so
many quiet moments in the life of a quarterback—an active quarterback—when the
heart isn't pounding and the feet aren't moving and the mind isn't juggling X's
and O's in the face of an all-out blitz. The night before taking the field for
the first time with the New York Jets, Brett Favre sat in his room at the
Westin Fort Lauderdale writing down formations from a playbook that he still
hadn't mastered. After scrawling a play, Favre repeated the call over and over
again, a soliloquy on the eve of his return to the National Football League. �
When Favre arrived at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday morning and walked onto the
field for warmups, his new teammates and coaches approached him in small
clusters, wondering why he was so quiet.
trying to conserve energy," the 38-year-old Favre told them, and the
explanation seemed sufficient, especially once he began to race around the
field, leading New York to a 20--14 victory. After that, any memory of his
brief retirement gave way to the image of a quarterback reborn.
gingerly across the visitors' locker room when the game was over, first to an
interview area and then to the showers. He dressed slowly, slung a computer bag
over his shoulder and grabbed two small boxes of pizza before heading to the
team buses, which by then were surrounded by hundreds of fans.
At the edge of
the tunnel, however, Favre decided to buy some extra time. He took a seat on a
golf cart and, as several of his family members formed a makeshift offensive
line, scarfed down his pizza and recharged his batteries. After 15 minutes he
stood up, leaned over to his wife, Deanna, and kissed her goodbye. When he
resumed his walk toward the buses, the fans erupted in cheers for Favre's
successful start—a soundtrack that has been a part of his life for nearly two
competition," Tony Sparano, the first-year Dolphins coach, was saying last
week about the motivation that drives NFL players to squeeze every snap out of
their bodies, and why teams are eager to open their doors to anyone who can
help them win—from running backs Warrick Dunn in Tampa Bay and Julius Jones in
Seattle to cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones in Dallas. The Dolphins' roster is
filled with men claiming third, fourth and even fifth chances. Executive vice
president Bill Parcells molds a new team while evidence of his previous work is
visible in both conferences, in New York and New England and Dallas. Parcells
has been on the job in Miami for only nine months, but Jets coach Eric Mangini
can already see his influence up and down the Dolphins' roster.
that stands out, and this is typical of Bill's fingerprints on any team he's
been with, is that it is a physical team, a big team and a tough team,"
says Mangini, who was a defensive assistant under Parcells with the Jets in the
'90s. "That's very consistent."
Among the new
parts is quarterback Chad Pennington, trying to find a home for his
twice-surgically-repaired right shoulder, and running back Ricky Williams, who
at age 31 is attempting to salvage a spotty career. Each of them, in his own
way, embodies renewal—and provides a happier counterweight to the grim image of
league MVP Tom Brady hobbling off the field in New England on Sunday, his
season lost to a knee injury. If baseball's Opening Day represents freshness
and the onset of spring, in the NFL, it's battered parts assembled for a
punishing five-month slog to the Super Bowl. The league's creed is stark and
utilitarian: If you have talent you can play, regardless of your past.
that creed better than Williams, who rushed for 3,225 yards over the 2002 and
'03 seasons before he failed drug tests and abruptly retired in '04. After
traveling to Australia, India and northern California, where he studied the
Indian medical system called Ayurveda, Williams returned to Miami in '05, only
to violate the league's drug policy the following year. He spent the '06 season
with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
reinstated him last year. Six carries into his '07 comeback, he tore a pectoral
muscle that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Now, starting and sharing
carries with Ronnie Brown, Williams reflects on his younger self—a person he
has come to see as emotionally unprepared for the rigors of the NFL.
"There is no
way to have experience and wisdom unless you go through things," Williams
says. "I know it's easy to say that everything happens for a reason, but
you can't really embrace that until you've gone down to a lower plane and you
climb back up to the upper plane. I have a contract extension [through 2009],
and things are going well. I think I had to go through what I went through to
have this appreciation."
Even if some fans
pin Miami's recent struggles on Williams's long absences, he believes he can be
part of the solution. "One of the things I'm learning about myself and the
reason I love playing this game is that I'm good at it," says Williams.
"Part of it is the relationship I've developed with Bill Parcells and the
coaching staff. They are very big on details. I've never been coached on
details the way I am now. I think the success I had before was all talent and