Brett Favre has started 128 straight regular-season games
Brett Favre's life is not complicated.
The 30-year-old native of tiny Kiln, Mississippi, insists that he can be found at any moment in one of three places: the football field, home or the golf course. That's it.
It's been over eight years since the Packers acquired Favre from the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for a first-round draft selection. In that time, he has been selected to five Pro Bowls, won an unprecedented three league MVP awards and led Green Bay to two Super Bowls. His leadership in the huddle has been immeasurable, his confidence contagious.
Yet for all of his successes, Favre needed the stability of his wife, Deanna, and two daughters, Brittany and Breleigh, to give his legendary accomplishments personal meaning. After years of late nights and fast living, he credits those three with simplifying his priorities and providing perspective where it was previously lacking.
"I'm older and wiser," Favre reveals before a recent mid-week morning workout. "I'm one of those guys who literally learned from mistakes and successes. Not that I lead a perfect life now, but I think it's a classic case of 30 years old, and I had to experience things on and off the field in order to learn from them --- and then make changes. I have two little girls now and a beautiful wife, and I enjoy going home to them."
Deanna now rests assured that when he's not home, chances are that he is playing golf. Favre has become such a golf enthusiast that he currently sits at a 2 handicap and even beat pro Hale Irwin by 2 strokes in a charity tournament this past spring. While he is not planning on joining the PGA Tour in the near future, golf has become his escape from the NFL spotlight.
"It helps me relax and get away," he says. "I think the older you get, the more you find that you have to find something to do in your spare time, and golf is something that keeps me competitive and out of trouble. It's fun, and it's a challenge. It's a challenge to go out every day and try to go from a 10 handicap to an 8, down to a 6, then 4 and 2. It's one sport that I don't think anyone can ever master. In the offseason, it gives me something to do. It's something that you can play forever. Unlike football, you can play until you die. I enjoy it.
"There's basically three things I do now. I play football, play golf and play with the family."
On the field, meanwhile, it's been a year of nagging injuries that have not sidelined Favre but have left him at the training table far more often then he would like. Last year, he sprained his thumb during the preseason and played with lingering pain and discomfort for the remainder of the year. No sooner did his thumb heal than he developed elbow tendinitis during this year's preseason.
Favre is not new to playing through pain and overcoming injuries. In the summer prior to his senior year at Southern Mississippi, he was involved in a car accident that resulted in cracked vertebra, a concussion, and emergency surgery to remove 30 inches of his intestine. Just over a month after the surgery, he led his team to an upset victory over Alabama.
He's experienced other cuts and bruises throughout his career, but always has found a way to persevere and play through the pain.
"I don't think you can ever completely forget about (the pain)," he says. "It's there, but you understand it's part of the game. I guess 'block it out' is a better way to put it. You just learn to accept it. Everyone's threshold of pain is different, and injuries are different. So are the positions that we play. As a quarterback with tendinitis, that's very serious as opposed to an offensive lineman with the same injury, who wouldn't think twice about it. It all relates to the position you play, and how much do you want it? I want to go out and play, and it's worth it for me to go out. No one is pushing to go out there and play, but it's worth it to me to go out there and compete with injuries or without."
His toughness and persistence have resulted in a record-setting streak of consecutive starts at quarterback. Through last week's game against the Eagles, Favre had started an NFL-record 128 straight regular-season games, 11 more than runner-up Ron Jaworski. The next-best streak among active quarterbacks is a distant 35 consecutive starts for the Colts' Peyton Manning.
"Like everything else, it's already passed up way more than I thought," Favre says. "I just wanted to start one game in my career, and I've started way more than that. All I want to do now is play and play well enough to win. I don't care about individual honors. They're great, but they're forgotten just as quickly as anything else."
Can he win?
Critics are quick to point to two elements working against Favre: the injuries and his age. But through Week 2, Favre, who will celebrate his 31st birthday on October 10, has silenced those who suggest his arm is not what it used to be. Against Buffalo, he threw for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns while completing his first 14 passes en route to a 25-of-35 performance.
A week earlier against the Jets, Favre threw what he described as "one of the best passes I've ever thrown," a 48-yard completion on a seam route to Antonio Freeman. With little room for error, the throw reached Freeman in full stride, 30 yards downfield and with as much velocity as Head Coach Mike Sherman has ever seen from a quarterback.
"I know for a fact that he's the only man in football that could have thrown that ball in there to Freeman," Sherman says.
Where age is concerned, Favre believes that time is in his favor, and historical numbers agree. Although the average age for starting quarterbacks on opening weekend of the 2000 season was 28 years, the record books show that, among many of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks, the most successful years often come after the age of 31.
For instance, 17 out of 34 winning Super Bowl quarterbacks were 31 or older at the time they won their championships.
John Elway won Super Bowls at 37 and 38 and threw 55% of his regular season touchdowns after his 31st birthday. Roger Staubach won his second Super Bowl at 35, and though his team was unable to win a championship, the Bills' Jim Kelly went to three Super Bowls and threw for more than 55% of his career yards after turning 31.
Joe Montana won his last two Super Bowls at 33 and 34, the same age as the Packers' Bart Starr when he won Super Bowls I and II. Montana also led the league in completion percentage and quarterback rating twice and won two MVP awards after his 31st birthday.
In fact, of the 16 Associated Press MVP Awards given to quarterbacks other than Brett Favre since 1970, nine have gone to players past the age of 31.
What's the catch?
Each of those quarterbacks had a great surrounding cast of players who protected their field generals and helped the quarterbacks to reach the pinnacle of their careers. Favre firmly maintains this year's team is capable of reaching those heights and is not far from the Super Bowl teams of three and four years ago.
"I don't think we've lost anything," Favre says. "I think people forget that two out of the last four years we were in the Super Bowl. We still have a nucleus of veteran players who were on that Super Bowl team and also some who've played around the league and are now on this team. Like I said many times before, if the Rams can do it at 4-12 and turn around and win the Super Bowl, we can too. It's not a knock against them, but it goes to show you that there's a lot of parity in the league now."
Having a go-to receiver should not be a problem for Favre this season. Wide receivers Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder each had 74 catches for more than 1,000 yards in 1999, and both enter the 2000 season healthy and in the prime of their careers.
Even with Corey Bradford missing the first month of the regular season with a leg injury, the ability of Freeman and Schroeder and the rapid development of several young receivers provide Favre with several downfield options.
"I think we have not only two good veteran guys in Schroeder and Antonio," says Favre, "but we have a good corps of young guys. It's still early in their careers and they have a lot of years left to learn the offense and the ways of the NFL. We have Ty Davis, a real good, veteran tight end who can teach Bubba (Franks) the ropes and bring him along. So, I think we have good leadership, but also a good nucleus of young guys, like Corey Bradford, Donald Driver, Charles Lee and Bubba Franks. The talent's there --- a lot of speed and ability --- plus guys that have already made plays here in their positions in Billy and Antonio. I think it's a good mix."
Favre was as surprised as anybody to hear in January that Sherman had been hired as the team's head coach, but since coming aboard the former Packers tight ends/assistant offensive line coach has been universally well received by the players.
Sherman is accustomed to the Packers' offense after spending the last three years under the tutelage of former Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren. His knowledge and dedication have endeared him to the team, and he quickly gained a reputation for his intensity and attention to detail, a characteristic not lost on Favre.
"It's not that he runs a boot camp and is a big-time disciplinarian," Favre says, "but I think he's a guy who concerns himself more with the little things and pays a lot of attention to them and doesn't forget about them. He doesn't address something the first night and two weeks later just assumes that everybody has got it. He's a lot like Mike Holmgren. He has his own little mannerisms, but I think he's a real good coach. I know he's a great offensive coach."
If indeed the "mix" in Green Bay is capable of taking Sherman and the Packers deep into the playoffs, Favre surely will be the one holding the main ingredients.
"We're not living in the past," says Sherman. "This is a 30-year-old man who was a three-time MVP not very far back. He hasn't lost it, and I have a lot of confidence in him."
Older and wiser, but just as competitive and exuberant as the day the 22-year-old kid from Mississippi came north, Favre agrees that he's still on top.
"Until the day I retire, I'll feel like I'm the top guy in this league," he says. "If you don't feel that way as an individual, I think you're cheating yourself and your teammates. You have to believe when you step on the field that not only are you the best team, but you're the best player and you're going to make an impact that day, and you're going to make an impact in practice and in the locker room. If you don't feel that way, then you're just content with being average, and that's not how I feel."
Following afternoon practice, Favre will hurry to make an afternoon tee time at a local country club. When he's finished, he'll go home and have dinner with the three most important people in his life. He is one of the best players in NFL history and at the height of his career, but he's living a new life now -- the good one.