Brett Favre has likely thrown his final pass as an NFL quarterback. In 19 seasons, Favre has accumulated an array of NFL passing records including touchdowns, yardage, regular season victories by a starting quarterback, and, yes, those heartbreaking interceptions. But the biggest piece of criticism against the old man is the fact that he has won only one Super Bowl.
And to that, I say, so what?
In my opinion, there is one factor that means more to a legacy than wins and losses and even something more than championship rings. That factor is heart, and Favre has a heck of a lot of it.
Favre’s gunslinger mentality has contributed to two costly interceptions in the waning moments of two of the past three NFC Championship Games. You can question Favre’s decision-making all you want, but there is no disputing that Favre is the toughest player to ever play the game of football. Dating back to September 27, 1992, he has started 285 consecutive games, 309 including playoffs. The streak is the longest of any player in NFL history.
This is the man who returned six weeks after a near-fatal car accident in 1990 and led Southern Miss to a comeback victory over Alabama. This is the man who publicly admitted a vicodin addiction in 1996. This is the man who has suffered a multitude of shoulder, elbow, hand, ankle, and other various injuries, all the while maintaining his starts streak. This is the man who played in a 2003 Monday Night Football game against the Raiders, one day following the death of his beloved father. There is no one tougher than Old Number 4.
Through this whole Vikings fiasco, I, a diehard Packers fan, have never rooted for the purple-clad version of Favre. I have not felt one tinge of emotion for the man, who, in my opinion, was so vain that he would return to play for the archrival of the team on which he made a name for himself. I thought that the concept of loyalty had no meaning to him.
Then the championship game against the Saints began. Through much of the game, I smiled when members of the Saints front seven pounded Favre into the ground. When Favre was blindsided following his handoff to Percy Harvin on a reverse, I was fired up and ecstatic as it was one of the most punishing hits I had ever seen. The play was 10-times better, too, because the hit came on that old fart Brett Favre. I loved seeing Brett take the shots.
But as the game wore on, and the hits became even more menacing, I couldn’t help but admire the 40-year old former Packer. He had been taking beatings like this for years, but at some point, I thought that his age would catch up to him. He proved me wrong every time that he got up on his feet and went back in the huddle. I have never seen anything like it.
Yesterday, I was rooting heavily for the Saints. I did not want to see Favre go to a Super Bowl with a team I have grown up hating and despising. I was speechless when he threw the interception with seconds left in the fourth quarter. I thought that if the Saints could pull it off, I would be thrilled and genuinely happy.
So it was funny that when Garrett Hartley kicked the game-winner in overtime, I felt terrible for the man who had returned the Packers to glory. For a while, I wanted the game to be replayed so I could see Brett win the game and, later on, the Super Bowl. Even if it meant a championship for the Vikings. For the first time, I understood Brett’s reasoning when he came out of retirement: he simply loves the game of football. I know that there was some resentment for Ted Thompson when Favre decided to sign with Minnesota of all teams. But Favre knew that he would only get two shots at the Packers. For the rest of the Vikings’ games, he still showed up and played his heart out.
I believe that the season started out in Favre’s mind as the year to stick it to Thompson. I think that changed as soon as he realized that he was at home in the Vikings locker room, something he did not feel last year while in big-city New York. The goal then became to help his team to a Super Bowl. Favre and the Vikings came so close this season to accomplishing that.
If this was indeed Favre’s final game, which I firmly believe it is, he is still going out on top, having one of his best statistical seasons of his career, beating Ted Thompson and the Packers twice, and taking his team to the conference championship game. If he makes a retirement announcement during the offseason, then all the hard feelings I and many other Packers fans experienced in the past two years will be vanquished.
Brett Favre may end up with just one Super Bowl victory. But there is a lot to be said for the intangible statistic of playing with heart. At times I questioned his motives and his behavior whenever it came to matters that dealt with the Packers. But I have never seen one man pour his heart and soul into each and every game. I will never question Favre’s effort nor will I ever question his commitment to helping his team win. That, Mr. Favre, is your legacy, much more than all your records and statistics.
Sports today are all about winning championships, revenue, and fat contracts. But have we forgotten perhaps the most important characteristic in sports? Play hard and give your all, and it will result in success. Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one type of success in football. It’s leaving a lasting impression on your teammates, so they can continue what you started and pass it onto younger players when their time has come and gone. Any young player who watched Brett Favre get up time after time after taking shot after shot, at age 40, nonetheless, had to be inspired. Now if even just a few players step up their commitment, toughness, and effort upon watching that remarkable championship game performance yesterday, then the NFL will be better in the future than it is today.
All thanks to Old Number 4.