Coached as a youth and in his days at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, Miss., by his father, Irvin, Brett Favre didn’t grow up slinging the football all over the field. Irvin Favre coached a run-oriented option offense, which required his son to throw just a few passes per game.
That all changed at the University of Southern Mississippi, where Favre first put on a No. 4 jersey and became the team’s starting QB in the third game of his freshman season. He finished a decorated career as the school’s all-time leader in most major passing categories, and he entered the NFL as a second-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons in 1991.
Little did Favre know that as the Falcons were selecting him with the 33rd overall pick, future Packers GM Ron Wolf was planning to take him with the 34th choice. Leading the New York Jets’ personnel department then, Wolf had Favre rated as the top player in the entire draft, but the Jets didn’t have a first-round pick that year. Seeing his prime target snatched from his grasp, Wolf drafted Browning Nagle instead, the fourth QB taken after Dan McGwire, Todd Marinovich and Favre.
Meanwhile, the Packers had acquired an additional first-round pick for the next year in a draft-day trade with Philadelphia.
Seven months later, Wolf became GM in Green Bay, and the Packers’ first game following the hire was in Atlanta, where Favre was buried on the bench as a third-stringer. Scouting him during warm-ups, Wolf decided he was going to trade for Favre, and he used the extra first-round pick in ’92 to get him, just a couple of months after he hired Mike Holmgren as the new head coach.
"To me the most important thing in professional football is having a person at that position,” Wolf said at the time, when many were questioning why he would spend a first-round pick on a third-string QB. “His talent needs to be harnessed, but we’ve got the best guy to harness it that I’ve ever known.““I think we've got a future here in this guy.””
Favre’s Green Bay career began inauspiciously enough. In Week 2 of the ’92 season, he entered a game in Tampa Bay in relief in the second half, and his first pass was deflected and caught, by Favre himself.
The following week was a different story, though it didn’t start out that way. Stepping in for an injured Don Majkowski, Favre fumbled four times and was sacked five times as the Packers trailed Cincinnati by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Miraculously, Favre then directed two touchdown drives, covering 88 and 92 yards, in the final eight minutes to pull out an improbable 24-23 victory, the inaugural one for both him and Holmgren.
“The guys kept hanging with me,” Favre said after the game. “They could have been saying, ‘This sucker’s killing us. Get him out of here.’”
The first of Favre’s 442 touchdown passes for the Packers went to Sterling Sharpe, but the second is the one that gave birth to the legend. A 35-yard laser-like TD throw down the right sideline to Kitrick Taylor won the game with just 13 seconds left, and a new era in Green Bay had begun.
Favre’s first NFL start came the following week, on Sept. 27, 1992, against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field. He would never miss another game in his Packers career, starting 253 consecutive games (275 including playoffs). He would eventually run the streak to 297 consecutive starts (321 including playoffs), an NFL record for any position by nearly two full seasons over the next closest streak.
His first three seasons as a starting quarterback rode like a roller coaster, the initial signs that his free-wheeling, improvisational style of play could generate exhilarating highs as quickly as depressing lows. In ’92, Favre engineered a six-game winning streak in the second half of the season, only to lose out on a wild-card playoff spot with a loss at Minnesota in the finale.
Favre also proved early on he could play through pain, separating his left shoulder on a hit from Philadelphia defensive end Reggie White in a game in Milwaukee, but soldiering on to direct a come-from-behind upset of the playoff-bound Eagles. White would later say the guts and courage Favre showed that day helped convince him to sign with Green Bay as a free agent the following year.
“Thank God he’s on our side,” Favre said upon White’s arrival.
The ups and downs continued in ’93, as Favre racked up 24 interceptions, including four in a Week 17 road loss to the Lions that cost the Packers the NFC Central title. But he returned to Detroit the following week to avenge the defeat in a memorable playoff debut, launching an improbable deep throw to his right (after a scramble to his left) that became a game-winning 40-yard touchdown toss to Sterling Sharpe with 55 seconds left.
Plenty of drama ensued in ’94, too, as Favre closed the book on Milwaukee County Stadium in a way only he could. With the Packers trailing by three, out of timeouts and facing third-and-2 from the Atlanta 9-yard line with their playoff hopes in the balance, Favre daringly took off running to his right, got tripped up and dove headlong across the goal line for the game-winning score with just 14 seconds left in Green Bay’s final contest in Milwaukee.
“It’s vintage Brett Favre,” kicker Chris Jacke said after the game. “Dumb and brilliant at the same time. If he doesn’t make the first down or get out of bounds, we’d have been in trouble.““I guess you just have to live and die with the kid.””
No one had won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award three times, let alone in three consecutive years, until Favre’s remarkable run of excellence from 1995-97.
He led the league in touchdown passes all three years, throwing 112 in the three regular seasons. The fifth TD pass in that stretch, in Week 2 of ‘95, was the one that seemingly got the ball rolling – a record-tying 99-yard connection to Robert Brooks on a Monday night in Chicago.
Two months later, heading into the rematch against the Bears at Lambeau Field, Favre was out all week with an injured and severely swollen ankle. Yet he not only played with a tape job Favre himself described as like a cast, he threw five TD passes to win a shootout against the Bears and begin the MVP talk in earnest.
“He’s a tough guy,” Holmgren said after the key division win. “I don’t want anybody to think we were sandbagging. (The injury) was an ugly thing.““Nothing he does surprises me, good or bad.””
Favre won the first two MVP awards outright and then shared the third in ‘97 with a division rival, Detroit running back Barry Sanders. He led the Packers to regular-season records of 11-5, 13-3 and 13-3 again, carrying over his MVP play to the postseason as well.
He was brilliant in the ‘95 NFC divisional playoff upset in San Francisco that announced the Packers as legitimate contenders. His 132.9 passer rating that day was his highest in a playoff game until his final season in Green Bay.
He was remarkably consistent in the ’96 postseason in leading the Packers to their Super Bowl XXXI triumph, compiling consecutive passer ratings of 107.4, 107.3 and 107.9 despite the victories coming in the rain and mud (over San Francisco in the divisional round), in the bitter cold (over Carolina to win the NFC title) and in a dome (over New England in the Super Bowl).
Favre’s third MVP season concluded with a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl, where he came up short in a memorable showdown against another future Hall of Fame quarterback in Denver’s John Elway, but history had been made.
The Packers had returned to the Super Bowl for the first time since the Lombardi era, and had done so in back-to-back years, just as they’d done for the first two big games. And Favre was the league’s top player three years running, a feat still unmatched despite one player (Peyton Manning) now having won a record five MVPs.
Beginning in 1998, Favre would play the next three seasons for three different head coaches as the organization went through multiple transitions.
In ’98, Favre’s string of MVPs ended despite leading the NFL in completion percentage (63.0) and passing yards (4,212), the second of his five 4,000-yard seasons in Green Bay. The Packers’ run of Super Bowl appearances also concluded in shocking and heartbreaking fashion, as the 49ers avenged three straight years of playoff defeats to the Packers with a last-second, game-winning Steve Young to Terrell Owens TD pass in the wild-card round.
That turned out to be Holmgren’s final game as head coach, and the short-lived year of Ray Rhodes in ’99 featured Favre’s introduction to Mike McCarthy as his QB coach. That year, Favre directed three last-minute comebacks in the first four weeks of the season, all at Lambeau Field. Playing with a painful thumb injury, he threw a TD pass to Jeff Thomason with 11 seconds left to beat Oakland in the opener and a fourth-down, drawn-in-the-dirt TD strike to Corey Bradford with 12 seconds left to defeat Minnesota. One week later, on his 30th birthday in prime time, he found Antonio Freeman for a TD with 1:05 left to down Tampa Bay, stirring talk of another MVP and potentially magical season.““When you come into the last seconds of a game and see No. 4, Brett Favre, drop back and make things happen – believe you me, it's exhausting," Rhodes said after the second of the three stunning comebacks. “That was close to a miracle.””
It wasn’t to be, though, as the Packers lost six of nine games through November and December, Rhodes was fired, and Mike Sherman took over as head coach in 2000. The Sherman era began in fits and starts, and even though four straight wins to end the year did not secure a playoff berth, the strong finish brought faith that Favre’s and the Packers’ postseason absence wouldn’t last more than two years.
As Favre’s career continued, his streak of consecutive starts became as legendary as his All Pro-caliber play.
When he broke Ron Jaworski’s record of 116 consecutive starts for a quarterback with his 117th in the middle of the 1999 season, he wasn’t even halfway done. Five years later, the streak reached 200 games, and then he began surpassing a string of Hall of Famers on the all-time list for consecutive starts – Gene Upshaw (207), Jim Otto (210), Alan Page (215) and Bruce Matthews (229).
In his final season in Green Bay in 2007, Favre passed Mick Tingelhoff (240) and concluded his Packers career with 253 consecutive regular-season starts, behind only Jim Marshall’s streak of 270.
No game was more emblematic of both the streak and the success, of course, than a Monday night in Oakland, on Dec. 22, 2003. The day before the game, Favre’s father suddenly died of a heart attack, but the Ironman never seriously considered not playing, knowing his father would have wanted him to.
Taking the field with a heavy heart and with his teammates rallying to support him, Favre played perhaps the most remarkable game of his career, throwing for 399 yards and four touchdowns for a personal-best 154.9 passer rating. All four of the TDs came in the first half, as Javon Walker and Wesley Walls made spectacular catches in the end zone, and the Packers rolled to a 41-7 victory. Favre even received heartfelt applause from Raiders fans of the famed “Black Hole” as the Packers remained in the playoff hunt.““You couldn't draw up a script better than that," Sherman said afterward. "You hoped he'd play that type of game but the chances of that happening, unless it's Brett Favre, are unlikely. This guy put together a career day.””
In 2006, Favre was reunited with a former position coach in McCarthy when the Pittsburgh native returned to Green Bay as head coach, and a new direction for the team and the offense revived Favre’s career.
One year after throwing a career-worst 29 interceptions in the Packers’ 4-12 season of 2005, Favre reduced his interceptions to 18. He performed his first Lambeau Leap after rushing for a touchdown, and he also began a new mini-tradition of picking up his receivers in a fireman’s carry after big, exciting plays.
By 2007, he was once again playing like the Favre of old. Recording the highest completion percentage of his career and his fifth 4,000-yard passing season, Favre posted his highest passer rating since his second MVP season of 1996, earned his ninth Pro Bowl bid, and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as the magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year.”
Quoted in SI’s annual “Sportsman” piece, Favre said, ““I don’t know how it’s going to end, but I do know this: Throwing a touchdown pass for the Green Bay Packers is pretty neat. I've thrown a ton, and every one of them was a helluva lot of fun.””
In leading the Packers to a 13-3 record, Favre tied and broke Dan Marino’s all-time record for touchdown passes, hitting Greg Jennings for both his 420th (vs. San Diego, Week 3) and 421st (at Minnesota, Week 4) passing scores. Later that season, a short pass to Donald Driver (at St. Louis, Week 15) broke Marino’s all-time passing yardage mark.
Other signature highlights included a fourth-quarter comeback in Kansas City to give Favre at least one victory over every other NFL team, a first-play-of-overtime 82-yard TD strike to Jennings to beat Denver on Monday Night Football, a team-record 20 straight completions in a Thanksgiving triumph in Detroit, and a snowball-throwing celebration in the midst of scoring six TDs on six straight possessions in a home playoff win over Seattle.
The Packers came within an overtime period of returning to the Super Bowl, but on a frigidly cold day at Lambeau in the NFC title game with fellow Green Bay legend Bart Starr serving as honorary captain, it wasn’t to be. Typical of his career, Favre’s final game in Green Bay had its highs and lows, with a franchise playoff record 90-yard TD pass to Driver and an OT interception that preceded the Giants’ game-winning field goal.
In a tear-filled press conference at Lambeau Field in March of 2008, Favre retired. Four months later, he changed his mind and wanted to continue playing.
Having already turned the offense over to Aaron Rodgers during the offseason, the Packers traded Favre in the early days of training camp to the New York Jets, and for the first time since his rookie season of 1991, Favre was wearing a uniform other than Green Bay’s.
Favre’s one season with the Jets included a six-touchdown game, but an arm injury limited his effectiveness down the stretch and New York missed the playoffs.
After another retirement and un-retirement, Favre signed with the Vikings, reuniting with another former QB coach from Green Bay, Darrell Bevell, who was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator.
In 2009, Favre put together one more remarkable season, surpassing 4,000 yards again, posting a single-season career-best passer rating, and topping former Viking Jim Marshall’s NFL record of 270 consecutive starts.
“Every defensive lineman that he plays against is trying to hurt him,” said Marshall, a defensive lineman himself, after visiting Favre to congratulate him on the record. “That’s a tough way to earn a living.”
Favre led the Vikings to two wins over the Packers – one amidst a smattering of boos in his return to Lambeau Field – and to the NFC title game in New Orleans, where a late interception sent the game to overtime and the Saints ultimately prevailed.
In his final season of 2010, Favre would hit the 500-touchdown and 70,000-yard milestones, and he’d set a career high with a 446-yard game. The Packers would turn the tables with two wins over Favre and the Vikings on their way to a Super Bowl title, and Favre’s ironman streak would end in mid-December following a shoulder injury. His 297 consecutive starts (321 including playoffs) is nearly twice as long as the next-closest streak by an active player (Giants QB Eli Manning began the 2015 season with 167 consecutive starts).
Following a one-game absence, Favre returned to the field for what turned out to be his final time, exiting due to a concussion sustained on a sack against the Bears. Favre retired for good as the holder of virtually every significant NFL career passing record, with only two records eclipsed in the intervening five years – the marks for touchdown passes and passing yards, now held by Peyton Manning.
As if Favre hadn’t made enough history already, he made more on July 18, 2015. He returned to Lambeau Field to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and have his No. 4 retired, the first player in franchise history to receive both honors simultaneously.
As an induction class of one, Favre reunited with countless coaches and teammates who attended the ceremony inside the Atrium. Wolf and Holmgren headlined the long list of those present and set the stage for Favre to be introduced for induction by longtime center Frank Winters.
Typical of Favre’s career, though, the evening wasn’t as much about the formal events as it was about the fans. More than 60,000 packed the stadium bowl to hear an address from their hero at midfield before he retreated inside for the festivities they would watch on Lambeau’s giant video boards.
“I mean no disrespect, but I’m more honored by that than by the Hall of Fame induction itself,” Favre said of the Packers’ faithful buying up all available tickets for his return in a matter of hours. “That’s why Green Bay is Green Bay. Simple as that.”
As Favre emerged from the bright green, G-adorned tunnel in the southeast corner of the stadium for the first time in 7 ½ years, the standing ovation lasted several minutes before anything was said. Humbled, flattered and borderline embarrassed by the welcome-home tribute, an emotional Favre several times seemed at a loss for words.
“Wow,” he said. “Thank you …
“I loved to play football. I loved it. I dreamed of playing football. I dreamed of playing in the Super Bowl. I never dreamed of standing here before you in a moment like this.
“I can sit here and tell you thank you until tomorrow, and it wouldn’t be enough.”
Favre not only reconnected with the fans, but connected with them on perhaps a deeper level than he ever had, in the stadium that soon will permanently display his name in two places – on Thanksgiving night, next to the other five Packers to have their numbers retired, and next year, alongside the franchise’s 23 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Throwing a touchdown at Lambeau Field, running out of that tunnel,” he said, “there’s nothing like it on this earth.”
Favre emerged from that tunnel one more time, on a cold and rainy Thanksgiving night, as his No. 4 was unveiled on Lambeau Field’s north end zone façade along with the franchise’s five other retired numbers.
The ceremony took place at halftime of the Packers-Bears game, a fitting backdrop given Favre’s dominance of the Bears over the years. Greeted by several teammates as he took the midfield stage, Favre thanked them and the fans for all their support and expressed that his jersey retirement is shared with everyone.
Moments later, it was as though time stood still.
Battling ailing health with no guarantee until that week he’d be able to attend, Bart Starr rode out of the tunnel on a golf cart, walked a few steps toward Favre and the two embraced. Suddenly, the cold and rain didn’t matter. The weather did nothing to diminish the moment.
Even though the Packers lost the game, seeing Favre joined by another Packers legendary QB in Starr was a triumph in itself.““I really wanted him to be here,” Favre said afterward. “It was awesome. I got more of a thrill out of that than what I was here for.””
After Aaron Rodgers returned from the locker room to the field for second-half warmups, he spotted Favre and raced over for a handshake and hug. Even though logistics prevented the Packers’ trio of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks from being together in front of a sold-out crowd, it was the first time since Favre’s final game with the Packers – the 2007 NFC Championship for which Starr was an honorary captain and Rodgers was Favre’s backup – that all three were within the walls of Lambeau Field at the same time.
The night before Super Bowl 50, Favre was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 in his first year of eligibility. On Aug. 6, he’ll become the 24th individual (23 players plus Vince Lombardi) from the Packers to be enshrined in Canton and the third in the last four years.
Not including the Hall’s charter members in 1963, Favre is the fifth Packers player to be inducted on the first ballot, joining Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg in 1977, Ray Nitschke in 1978 and Reggie White in 2006. Including quarterback-kicker George Blanda, he’s the 14th first-ballot QB and the first in a full decade, since Troy Aikman and Warren Moon in 2006.
For now, the chronological list of first-ballot QBs will be bookended by Packers, as it was begun by Starr.