This is a different situation for Favre. For the first time in his life he is not an underdog. "I've always had to struggle for what I've got," he says. "I was never recruited for college. Coming from down here, nobody knows who you are. Three days before the signing date I was going to either Pearl River Junior College or Delta State. Southern Miss took me as a defensive back. When I went there as a freshman, I worked out both ways at first. I was the seventh quarterback on the depth chart."
Seventh on the depth chart? He was third by the time his freshman season started. He was playing by the second half of the second game, throwing two touchdown passes to beat Tulane. " Southern Miss was a place where everyone had been rejected by the big schools," he says. "We were the Island of Misfits. We thrived on that. We'd play Alabama, Auburn, and there'd be stories in the papers about how we'd been rejected by them. We'd come out and win the game, and guys would be yelling on the field, 'What's wrong with us now?' It was a great way to play."
As his senior year approached, Favre was known as a fearless kid who could throw the ball. The Southern Miss offense had been redesigned for his talents. He had completed 79 passes for 1,264 yards and 15 touchdowns during his junior season. The pro scouts were interested. He was ready for big things. Then he flipped his Nissan Maxima and almost killed himself during the summer before that senior year.
The accident happened in the Kill, less than a mile from his house. Returning from a July afternoon of sun and, sure, fun at Ship Island, he says he was blinded by the lights of another car. He swerved and hit gravel, and when he tried to pull the car back onto the road, it began to flip. His brother Scott was following in another car and later reported that one flip was so high, "you could have driven a dump truck underneath the car." Scott broke the front window to pull Brett from the wreckage. Brett wound up in the hospital with a concussion, lacerations, a cracked vertebra and, it turned out, complications.
"I was out of the hospital, and I thought I was O.K.," Brett says. "I wasn't eating much, though, and when I did, I was throwing up. I kept having these abdominal pains, and they started to get worse. I went back to the hospital, and they found that a lot of my intestines had died."
Thirty inches of intestines was removed. His recovery had to begin all over again. He reported to Southern Miss in mid-August but was still having trouble eating. Back he went to Kiln, where Mee-Maw's cooking finally got him going. Five weeks after the surgery he was at Southern Miss again, in uniform, 30 pounds underweight, leading the Golden Eagles to a 27-24 upset over Alabama.
"You can call it a miracle or a legend or whatever you want to," Alabama coach Gene Stallings told reporters later. "I just know that on that day, Brett Favre was larger than life."
The Eagles finished the 1990 season at 8-4. Favre ended up in the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. At the Shrine game he more than caught the attention of Ron Wolf, then a scout for the New York Jets. After the accident a lot of scouts had dropped Favre in their thinking. Wolf still liked the way he threw the ball and also liked the way he took charge, the way he had that gift of making everyone else in a huddle listen and respond. How many leaders does a scout see?
Alas, the Jets had already lost their No. 1 draft pick by signing Syracuse wide receiver Rob Moore in the supplementary draft. Their first choice was in the second round, 34th overall. The Atlanta Falcons picked Favre with the 33rd pick and gave him a three-year contract worth $1.2 million. It wasn't until the next year, after Wolf had become the Packers' general manager, that he could finally make his move. On Feb. 10, 1992, Wolf traded the Pack's first pick to Atlanta, for which Favre had thrown only four passes all season playing third string. Wolf was told he was crazy.
" 'Have your lost your mind?' was what most people said," Wolf says. "I just really liked him. He has that unexplainable something about him."