On the day following a crushing Green Bay Packers playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Brett Favre met with quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell to discuss the season. Favre had put up staggering numbers, throwing for 4,088 yards and 30 touchdowns but had a regret.
"I felt like I could have done more," he said. "I couldn't sit here today and pinpoint a play, but I just knew."
Favre said with better mobility he could have dodged defenders on five or six plays. To improve Favre's elusiveness and stamina, strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin suggested a personal trainer named Ken Croener. Favre had always worked out in the offseason on his own, but the Packers paid for the outside help.
In his hometown of Kiln, Miss., Croener worked him out 50 minutes-a-day, emphasizing core exercises to strengthen his abdomen and back. Having strength in those muscles will help when he throws from awkward positions during a game.
He also concentrated on football-specific excerises. In 2000, he reported in great shape, but it did not prepare him for the gridiron.
"I was in shape for a marathon more than football," he admitted.
Additional conditioning work allowed him to drop down to 222 pounds. The 15-year-veteran threw with Croener three weeks before training camp, but most of the work involved grueling exercises.
"There were days when I was hoping Ken would come down with the flu," Favre joked before reflecting on his drive. "I am probably as proud of the fact I was willing to ask for help."
He trains much harder than he did in his twenties. His buzz cut does not hide the fact that his hair has turned mostly gray. Nor does his tan complexion hide the crow's feet developing beside his eyes, but the 35-year-old hopes to turn back the clock.
"Age is working against me as it works against everyone," he said. "In my profession, if you can help it, you can't afford to be slow."
Favre feels better mentally as well as physically. 2004 represented a trying year for his entire family.
"I was trying my best. I knew I was expected, like we all are, to do a job in the face of adversity and tragedy," he said. "I tried to never use those things as an excuse."
However, most would have understood if his mind was elsewhere. As his Packers team struggled to a 1-3 start, his brother-in-law died in an ATV accident. He missed practice on Friday, Oct. 8 to attend the funeral.
On Monday Oct. 11, the Packers had one of their worst performances of the year and suffered a 48-27 defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Titans in front of a primetime audience. The next day, doctors informed Favre's wife, Deanna, she had breast cancer.
"She never had a chance to grieve for her brother," he said.
With a difficult year behind, Favre should be able to focus more on football this year, but few have picked the Packers to win the division, something they have accomplished the last three consecutive years.
"Maybe that's a good thing," said Favre, who like his teammates have started to relish their new underdog status.
The outcome of their season will depend heavily on whether a defense ranked 25th in the league a year ago can improve.
"We have young guys on defense," Favre said. "We have to find an identity."
If the defense assumes the identity of their defensive coordinator, Jim Bates, Favre will be a happy man. He had heard good things about him from Bates' friend, offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. He remembers playing against Bates' stout defenses in Dallas and Miami. He remembers watching Bates cry and hug players on the sidelines as the Miami Dolphins interim head coach last year.
As Favre saw how much winning means to him, he said to himself: "I hope this guy gets the job."
In addition to any upgrade Bates will provide, Favre looks forward to a healthy Mike Flanagan, who has participated in every morning practice this year. A knee injury limited the center to three starts last year.
That injury not only robbed the Packers of a jovial, wise-cracking locker room leader but also the quarterback of the line. The center recognizes the stunts, alignments and blitzes of the defense and instructs his fellow lineman to adjust accordingly.
"There's four guys asking Flanagan what the hell they have to do," Favre joked. "Sometimes he covers for me."
Despite the addition of Bates and the opportunity to play with a healthy Flanagan, Favre hedged on making a prediction this season. According to the veteran quarterback, this team is unlike their 1996 squad which could dominate teams, and it will have to scratch and claw its way to success.
"I'm not gonna say Super Bowl or bust," he said. "We're not able to take any game for granted ... We can't waste a play."
To keep their star quarterback fresh for a playoff run, the coaching staff has limited him to one-a-day sessions thus far in camp.
"We've got to get his arm in a little bit better shape," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "His juice is still there."
On Tuesday, Favre completed 8-of-14 passes in the 7-on-7 drills, including wide receiver Walker's 25-yard over-the-shoulder catch. In team drills he completed 8-of-15 passes, including a touchdown to Antonio Chatman.
So it would seem training camp is treating Favre well - except for one thing.
"I feel fine except for my feet," Favre said. "My feet are killing me."
The citizens of Green Bay have fallen in love with him because of that folksy sense of humor. They also respect his achievements -- leading the team to two Super Bowls, winning 135 games and starting 205 consecutive games.
"Favre is the governor," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
The Packers drafted Rodgers 24th overall in the 2005 draft, leading many to believe he will succeed Favre as the quarterback of the Packers.
When will that time come? Favre still loves playing football and has given few hints as to when he will hang up his green and gold uniform for the last time.
"This year may be it. It may be two years down the road," he said. "For the last seven years, we've been talking about when I was leaving. So I don't know."