Brett Favre Proving that the Elway and Montana Principles Do Hold True

Chaz MattsonAnalyst INovember 30, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 29:  Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings passes the ball in the second half against the Chicago Bears on November 29, 2009 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Considering all the great quarterbacks in NFL history, without a doubt, Brett Favre has proven that he is among the best. 

He sits along the legends of the NFL lore in John Elway, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady.

Say what you will, Cheesehead Nation, you never wanted to see a No. 4 FAVRE jersey come into the frozen tundra in any other color scheme but the Packers' gold and green. 

Unfortunately, you, the franchise owners, and the front office let it happen. It was during that time period that a few key ideologies, theories, and principals about how to handle such situations became the center of great debate nationwide on sports talk shows. 

The questions surrounding Brett Favre had to do with his offseason attitude and questions about his desire. On the Packers' front, it was complicated to say the least; but it had more to do with building for the future than the present. 

Certainly, since Favre beat the Packers twice this season with the arch rival Minnesota Vikings and his new team appears primed and ready to make a deep playoff run...one which will, in all likelihood, have them playing in the NFC Championship and possibly in the Super Bowl.

The whole debacle and fallout between the Packers and Favre is not unique in and of itself. However, it did cover a lot of ground. With that, it’s really time to get a clear pulse on the dynamic of what happened between Favre and the Packers.

At the end of the day, any way you slice and dice the data, the Packers and their fans only have themselves to blame for letting Brett Favre go. Moreover, and most damaging, they instigated it with not allowing him back to camp and with the eventual trade.

It's an emotional issue but one that is worth looking at on a deeper level.

So, by now it’s fair to ask what exactly is the Elway Principle and how does it apply to Brett Favre?

Explaining the Elway Principle

In a sense, the Elway Principle is the explanation of a dynamic that does exist and is unique to professional football.

The Elway Principal is simply this:  A franchise quarterback is retained by the franchise for the greater good of the team and the player with the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl Championship in mind. 

In the case of John Elway, it took the intervention of owner Pat Bowlen to keep a trade of Elway from Denver to Washington from happening.

Dan Reeves was later fired in part because of his decision to seek a new quarterback.  Reeves drafted Tommy Maddox out of UCLA as Elway’s possible replacement in the early 1990s.  

The Elway Principle is somewhat sympathetic on both sides.

Don’t misunderstand it however. It’s not entirely empathetic.

When applying the rule to Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, the direct comparison can and should be made between John Elway and the Denver Broncos because there are parallels that exist in how each franchise handled their business.

In the Broncos' case they knew they had a franchise quarterback who was heading into the sunset of his career. 

By 1990, John Elway had played in three Super Bowls while his team suffered blowouts in each of the big games. Denver became one of the best teams in the NFL during that time period, but could not win the big game.   

Something very unique happened to the Broncos franchise at that time, a time when free agency played a major role in the NFL.

Both Elway and the Broncos stuck with one another through challenging setbacks and time periods. Elway and the Broncos showed noticeable signs of falling into mediocrity and there was the trade that never was and never should have even been a discussion.

The Broncos could have given up on Elway in the early 1990s when Dan Reeves had a personal rift with Elway and Mike Shanahan over play calling. In many ways, Dan was reaching a burnout point over the shortcomings of his Broncos teams in the Super Bowls. 

The loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV was devastating and forced major changes on a team that went to the Super Bowl three out of four seasons but lost to the 49ers 55-10 in the big game. 

The Broncos, however, became yesterday’s news as they went 0-3 in the big dance while the Buffalo Bills hit their stride and reached four consecutive Super Bowls from the AFC. 

The Bills' fate was no better, as they went 0-4 in those games, as the NFC was dominating football at the time with the emergence of the retooled Dallas Cowboys

Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen ensured that despite these hardships, John Elway stayed in Denver and never landed in Washington, as Reeves was proposing at the time. 

Pat Bowlen showed Dan Reeves the door after the 1992 season and eventually got his man Mike Shanahan to return to Denver and lead his football franchise in 1995.

The Broncos had been through two mediocre seasons under Wade Phillips and the first one under Mike Shanahan. Then the Broncos had a devastating playoff loss to Jacksonville in 1996 after the team filled so many high expectations. 

It was one loss that still stings the franchise, especially when you consider they could have possibly had a three-peat, something that has never been done in the Super Bowl era. 

The Broncos were the clear favorite in the AFC and had a memorable blowout victory at New England, the eventual 1996 AFC Champion during the regular season.

Consider the fact that during the following season of John Elway’s career he tore a bicep tendon in a preseason game in Mexico in 1997 against the Miami Dolphins

That was the same season John Elway made his now-legendary helicopter leap to decisively tell his team they were going to beat Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers team in Super Bowl XXXII. 

The Pack were the defending champions and Elway, on that one play, began to drive the dagger through the hearts of the Green Bay faithful as he came crashing to earth for a first down.

That play and that Super Bowl matchup might not have happened if the Broncos had given up on John Elway. The key note here is that John Elway and Denver stuck it out together during Elway’s fifteenth season.

In Green Bay there is a clear distinction that must be made. Brett Favre was being forced out by the Packers management and head coach who wanted to endorse the draft pick of Aaron Rodgers, who was picked four seasons previously. 

So, when he retired at the time, he was being forced out. Then Brett decided he had something to prove since he later felt he could still play and still wanted to play. 

By that time, the concessions being made by the Packers were nil and none. They were sticking with Aaron Rodgers.

Here is the flaw of that argument: Aaron Rodgers is not Brett Favre either in athletic ability or in star talent. It’s very possible that Aaron Rodgers may never even reach the Super Bowl.

Now, think about that for a moment and consider the argument thus far.

John Elway had the type of injury that could have kept him from playing the 1997 season. He could have been on the IR and not the championship platform hoisting the Super Bowl XXXII trophy above his head. 

It still seems peculiar at best to think that the Green Bay Packers were ready to part with Brett Favre before he was really ready to part ways with them. It’s not like Brett Favre really ever had an Elway-like injury holding him back at the time either.

So, what was holding them back?

It’s a simple answer, but a complicated formula that causes blindness in business and athletics. 

It’s called pride. Its best friend is ego, who, for the record, is also blind.

The Packers management did what many management groups do. They took control of the situation with their power and their money, but they failed to do what people are generally paid big dollars for: make the right decision.

The same sort of actions that got Dan Reeves fired in Denver would most likely be the fate of current Packers coach Mike McCarthy if only it was his decision alone to part ways with Brett Favre. The fact of the matter is that it was not. 

Mark Murphy, President and CEO of the Packers, along with G.M. and Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson led the charge with McCarthy against Favre.

Make no mistake; this was an all-systems-go charge against their former NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer.

The Packers offered Brett Favre over $20 million to never play professional football again shortly after he was banned from the facility and team activities.

Brett Favre has made less actually playing for the Jets and the Vikings, but he did prove his point this year to the Packers twice, once at hallowed Lambeau Field.

This is the pivotal piece defining the Elway Principle.

There is no way, none whatsoever, that the Broncos fans or owner were willing to part ways with John Elway. It was part of the understanding through trials and shortcomings in the playoffs that the franchise owed John time and space to work towards coming back for the next season late in his career. 

There was no political maneuvering. No conspiracy. No collusive change management policy designed to oust a longtime veteran, star power and all.

Absent in Denver was the future franchise quarterback. Up until the very end of Elway’s career, the Broncos had the likes of Bubby Brister and Brian Griese ready to go, but neither could be considered seriously as filling Elway’s shoes. 

Even if John Elway retired and later decided to come back, the Broncos' franchise would have allowed it to happen. They would have made concessions based on his ability and leadership.

This is the thing the Broncos figured out that the Packers somehow could not.

For whatever reason, the Green Bay Packers failed to recognize those attributes in Brett Favre.

The Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. It was at that time the team started looking ahead, little did the fan base actually know they were seeking a successor to actually oust Brett Favre. 

Had it been sold to the fans that way then an absolute uproar would have taken place, even in the depths of the Packers' mediocrity at the time. 

Brett Favre was respectable in 2005, just as he played more than respectably his last year in Green Bay, leading them to the NFC Championship in 2007. 

Brett showed his mettle last season after his trade to New York in helping the Jets be one of the best teams in the AFC in 2008 until their late-season collapse.

The Jets implosion was bigger than Brett Favre, but he was partially to blame for his poor play and arm injuries that weren’t entirely disclosed or known at the time.

Then came the 2009 season, one in which Brett Favre was in Minnesota Vikings camp for only a short time before taking the reins and with them a total change in the mindset of a football franchise. 

There was a great deal of fear and excitement among the Vikings fans and coaching staff. 

Head Coach Brad Childress is now virtually married to that decision; to bring Brett to Minnesota even after wavering with the Vikings could have been career suicide for the coach. So far, it’s been paying huge dividends on the 2009 season with the Vikings at 10-1.

Explaining the Montana Principle

This brings to mind another situation it’s called The Montana Principle, named after San Francisco legend Joe Montana who won four championships with his 49er teams and was later traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Montana Principle is simply this: A franchise quarterback is traded by the franchise regardless of the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl Championship in mind. This is usually done to accommodate a youth movement or a younger backup quarterback. 

Specifically, in Joe Montana’s case, Steve Young became the starter for two years before Joe was healthy enough to play again. So, at that time he did have an image of being damaged goods like other star players traded late in their careers.

Looking at first piece of the definition, it may as well be called the Montana/Favre Principle for the rest of time. Both franchise quarterbacks were spurned by their former teams for whatever reason for the sake of progress and moving on. This was all done despite six Super Bowl appearances and five championships between them.

The situations are very different, however.  Joe Montana was injured and traded two years later. Steve Young eventually did win a Super Bowl; it is however very possible to make the argument that Joe Montana may have won two Super Bowls. 

In Favre’s case, Aaron Rogers clearly lacked playing time, but it was the front office that had to cover themselves and found that to be more paramount than winning football games and championships most immediately. 

It’s possible that Brett Favre may hoist the hardware one more time at the end of this season, ultimately proving out these principals all the more. In Green Bay, it’s already proving to be a long cold winter.

Consider for a moment some of Joe Montana and Brett Favre’s career statistics. 

Joe Montana was 117-47 spanning a 15-year career. The 49ers never ensconced Montana into the starting role until starter Steve DeBerg was injured midway through the 1980 season.

Montana’s first full season as a starter in 1981 saw him lead the 49ers to a 13-3 record, which, thanks to Dwight Clark’s amazing catch in the NFC Championship, resulted in their first Super Bowl.

San Francisco downed the Cincinnati Bengals in that game to claim their first championship.

Montana won three more with the 49ers in 1983, 1989, and 1990. His playoff record was something to be admired with nine playoff appearances with San Francisco and two with the Kansas City Chiefs. His record with the 49ers was a brilliant 14-5 in playoff games. 

At Kansas City, the Chiefs had very good teams but could not win big games and lost out on making a Super Bowl with Joe Montana. His record there was 2-2 in the playoffs. The Chiefs, however, were not the 49ers on or off the field.

As a passer, Joe Montana connected on 3,409 passes for 40,551 yards. His career completion record finished at 63.2 percent.

Joe Montana was essentially replaced as the starter in San Francisco due to an injury he suffered on his elbow in 1991. Joe only played one game over the 1991 and 1992 NFL seasons. 

The 49ers found insurance in backup Steve Young and by the end of the 1992 season the franchise parted ways with Joe Montana. 

This was a time that saw a little tension and heartbreak as the franchise could no longer keep Joe Montana on their roster due to the evolution of change in San Francisco.

Perhaps, when it comes to Brett Favre, the Packers knew more about Brett Favre’s arm than the rest of the country. That may be the reason they did not want to bring Brett Favre back after he led them to an NFC title game. 

The press however had numerous reports regarding a deteriorating relationship between Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers' front office.

So, for Brett Favre’s part, his statistics and leadership were shown the door.

Probably one statistic speaks volumes more about Brett Favre’s dilemma in Green Bay than any other. That statistic is the measure of a quarterback’s performance itself, the quarterback rating. 

In 2007, Favre’s last year in Green Bay, his quarterback rating was 95.7, the third-best rating of his career. His career rating resides at 86.4. 

At the peak of Favre’s career, when he won the Super Bowl in 1996, his rating was 95.8, his second-highest rating ever. The following year, when the Packers lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl, Favre’s rating was at 92.6.

What catches the eye are his ratings with the Jets and Vikings. In New York, with an injured arm, Brett the Jet had a rating of 81.0.

This season with the Vikings through 11 games, he’s sitting on a 112.1 rating, his best-ever by a mile.

But ratings don’t tell you the amazing last minute heroics and the ways in which Brett Favre is a man among men. It’s a shame, perhaps they should.

For his career, Favre has thrown nearly 6,000 completions, has a 61.9 completion percentage, racked up 68,001 yards, 488 touchdowns, and 313 interceptions.

His numbers take a backseat to no one.   

Perhaps the Green Bay Packers thought of Joe Montana’s situation briefly and spurned their golden boy Brett Favre in the blockbuster trade that landed him in New York for all of one season. 

The sheer neglect of seeking out the best possible solution for the Green Bay Packers franchise is baffling when considering the great lengths they went to to silence Brett Favre and to back the draft selection of Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers probably should have considered how the Denver Broncos handled John Elway late in his career for the betterment of their own franchise, yes, even through extremely challenging times.

Certainly the past is the past, but we can learn from it.

In the case of Brett Favre, these well stated principles do hold true.

He’s still proving it game after game.


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