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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, January 12, 2004
IT WAS DEC. 21, THE REGULAR SEASON WAS WINDING DOWN, and Green Bay's playoff outlook was grim. On the day before the Packers would play the Raiders in Oakland, Brett Favre and the rest of his foursome were hustling to beat the sunset on the 18th hole of a Berkeley golf course when his wife, Deanna, phoned to tell Brett that his father had died. Irvin Favre, 58, had suffered an apparent heart attack near his home in Kiln, Miss., and died instantly. Brett was famously close to his dad, and the question was, Would Brett be too distraught to play against the Raiders?
"Never crossed my mind," Favre would later say. "What I do today is a direct result of his influence on my life. When I saw [ Green Bay coach] Mike Sherman, he said, 'You want to go home, go.' I said, 'Mike, I'm playing. There's no doubt in my mind that's what he would have wanted.' "
Favre hates giving speeches, but he told Sherman that he wanted to talk to the team at its meeting that night. Favre started crying as he walked to the front of the room, then struggled to make it through the four-minute talk. "I loved my dad," he began. "I love football. I love you guys. I grew up playing baseball for my dad, and I grew up playing football for my dad. It's all I know. It's my life. I'm playing in this game because I've invested too much in the game, in you, in this team, not to play. If you ever doubted my commitment to this team, never doubt it again."
"There wasn't a dry eye in the house," Sherman says. "I've never seen a man open his soul so honestly, so completely."
On the day of the Oakland game Favre had an unusual feeling. "I've never in my life been scared before a game, but I was scared that night," he says. "Just before the game, [backup quarterback] Doug Pederson put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Let's pray,' and I just lost it. Then Mike called everyone up, looked 'em in the eyes and said, 'We're winning this one tonight. We're winning it for Number 4, and we're winning it for Pops.' And I'm thinking, Focus. Focus. Everybody would have understood if I had played lousy, but my dad wouldn't have stood for any excuses."
Playing with a broken right thumb that had plagued him since mid-October, Favre would throw for 399 yards and four scores in the Packers' 41-7 rout. "I can't explain it," Favre says. "I'm as amazed as anybody else." The win, plus one over the Denver Broncos the next week and the Minnesota Vikings' shocking loss to the Arizona Cardinals, put Green Bay in the playoffs.
Favre's last big cry of the night came on the plane ride back to Green Bay, when he called his mother, Bonita, to see how she was doing. She told him that a couple of weeks before Irv died, he had said to a friend, "You think Brett's decided who he wants to introduce him when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame? I hope he picks me."