The greatness of Brett Favre will be celebrated again this weekend, and why not? The record he's about to achieve is so remarkable, so magnanimous, so downright hard to fathom that it may never be broken.
You heard me. Never.
|Brett Favre's productivity remains high in his 16th season. (US Presswire)|
I'm talking about a record Favre already owns, one he extends each week: continuous starts by a quarterback, which reaches 241 (261, including playoffs) on Sunday in Minnesota. The last time the guy missed a game was Sept. 6, 1992, when 41 was President, the Chicago Bulls were royalty and the Baltimore Ravens were the Cleveland Browns.
"That's unbelievable," said Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, who studied behind Favre for three seasons. "Honestly, I don't know if there's anything like it in all of sports."
I do. I'd equate it to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak which hasn't been broken since the Yankees centerfielder set it in 1941. Pete Rose came close, but he still finished 12 short of tying the mark.
And that was 30 years ago.
To put Favre's record in perspective, get a load of this: Dating back to 1992, Chicago has started 20 quarterbacks (21 on Sunday), while Arizona and Washington started 17 each. Nobody except Houston -- which started four -- comes close, but the Texans have been in business six seasons.
Favre is in his 16th with the Packers.
To appreciate what Favre has done -- and keeps doing -- forget about statistics and just watch him play. This is not Dan Marino or Peyton Manning avoiding the sack with a quick release; this is someone who operates so recklessly -- throwing into coverages, bouncing around in the pocket, scrambling to daylight -- he practically invites opposing linemen to take runs at him.
And plenty have.
I remember the shot he absorbed in a 1998 game against Tampa Bay when Bucs defensive end Regan Upshaw slammed into Favre early in the fourth quarter as the quarterback rolled to one side, sidestepped a potential sack and looked to throw downfield.
The blow was resounding, and it came from Favre's blindside, knocking the quarterback into Iowa. Favre popped back up, slapped Upshaw in the helmet and returned to the huddle.
|NFL record for consecutive starts, QB|
|1. Brett Favre||GB||1992-07||240|
|2. Peyton Manning||IND||1998-07||147|
|3. Ron Jaworski||PHI||1977-84||116|
|4. Joe Ferguson||BUF||1977-84||107|
|5. Tom Brady||NE||2001-07||96|
"It was an unbelievable hit," said Philadelphia's Andy Reid, then a Packers assistant. "He was literally looking out of the earhole, and he's trying to fix his helmet while he's pointing at (Upshaw). But he can't see him. And he's saying, 'That was nuthin'; that was nuthin'' while he's looking out the stinking earhole."
Two plays later Favre threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman to stake Green Bay to a 23-0 lead en route to victory.
"It was the most unbelievable play I've ever seen," Hasselbeck said. "He got up before Regan Upshaw did. It was a bootleg to the right, and Mike Holmgren told him, 'Brett, whatever you do don't stop.'
"Sure enough, he swims the guy, stops and gets drilled. Then he gets up, and the whole stadium is chanting, 'Favre, Favre ... MVP, MVP ...' Tampa might've been the better team that year, but they were like: We can't beat this guy.
"Then he throws that touchdown two plays later. It was crazy. I've never seen anything like it in my life."
Maybe that's because Hasselbeck spent only three seasons with Favre and the Packers. Stick around, and you're liable to witness the unimaginable. Remember, for instance, when Favre had that broken thumb on his throwing hand in 2003? That was supposed to end the streak and put Doug Pederson in command of the offense.
Yeah, sure. Pederson threw two passes all season.
In the Packers' media guide, the team lists 15 serious injuries Favre sustained during his career, and they include a separated shoulder, a concussion, a sprained left knee and a "softball-sized bruise" of his left hamstring.
It also lists his record in games following those injuries: He's 9-6.
"I remember when we had Jim McMahon (as the backup), and we went to the Super Bowl," said Holmgren, the former Green Bay coach who is now with Seattle. "Brett got hit and came up spitting blood. We happened to have a timeout. So he comes out, goes over to the bench and I get Jim ready.
"We were down on the 4 and were going in, so McMahon was excited because even he could throw a 4-yard pass in those days. Then here comes Favre. The trainer came up to me and said, 'He's bleeding.' I said, 'How much is he bleeding? A little? A lot?' And he tells me, 'I'll check.' Well, before I know it, Brett's standing in the huddle."
Typical. If there's one thing that typifies Favre it's a durability that won't tolerate setbacks. Maybe that's why Favre in 2004 was named the "Toughest Athlete in Sports" by USA Today and chosen as the "Toughest Guy in America" that same year by Men's Journal.
"I've seen him come into the training room on Tuesday, and his foot looks like the color of our helmets," said Minnesota safety Darren Sharper, who used to team with Favre. "It's bloodshot, and he can't walk. Then he goes out and plays Sunday and throws for 200 yards and three touchdowns. It's unbelievable how tough he is."
When I asked Sharper which impressed him more -- Favre's touchdown record or his iron-man achievement -- he responded in a nanosecond.
"The consecutive starts," he said. "I think that's the most difficult record for any quarterback to achieve."
He's not alone. Of the 15 or 20 persons I polled this summer, no one cited the touchdown mark as Favre's greatest achievement. Instead, all pointed to an iron-man streak that is in its 16th season.
"Are you kidding me?" Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said. "For a quarterback to make that many consecutive starts makes no sense, especially with football being a game where there are so many injuries. People have no idea how unbelievable that is. To me, it's going to be one of the toughest records to break."
Pennington speaks with authority on the subject. Since joining the Jets' starting lineup in 2002 he missed time in all but one season. In 2003, he was sidelined the first six games with a fractured left hand. In 2004 he sat out three starts with a damaged rotator cuff. In 2005 he was sidelined all but three games after re-injuring his shoulder.
Finally, in 2006, he made it through a season without a hiccup, only to sit out his second start this season with a sprained ankle.
"It's not as if (Favre) hasn't gotten hurt," Hasselbeck said. "He's been hurt for almost every single one of those games during that streak. And it always seemed that when he had serious injuries the Packers would have a bye.
"It's unbelievable. I was there, and it's unbelievable. He would have a size-15 on one foot and a size-13 on the other, and, it was like he's going to be out six weeks. They'd tell me, 'It's your team for six weeks,' and then he shows up and plays the next week. I'd say, 'Wait a minute, he's on crutches,' but he'd play. And he'd play really well."
He still plays really well. In case you missed it, Favre has six touchdowns, no interceptions and two victories in his last six quarters of play. The Packers are 3-0, and Brett Favre is about to make history.
"Quarterbacks should model their game and play it the way Brett plays it," Detroit's Jon Kitna said. "And that's with a passion. Nowadays, most quarterbacks are taught to play cautious and to play not to lose.
"Peyton Manning plays like Brett plays. He doesn't care if he throws an interception; he's coming right back at you. And I like that.
"But there's so much pressure on the quarterback you don't see a lot of gunslingers like Brett anymore. I love the way he plays, and I love being in his division."
Once I thought the only certainties in life were death, taxes and two-hour waits at the local DMV. I don't know how I forgot Brett Favre. If it's Sunday I know where to find him. It's the same place he was last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.
In short, it's Groundhog Day.
And maybe that's the joy of this streak. It's not one pass or another win that makes Brett Favre unique. It's a body of work that started 16 years ago and never changes and never ends.
"I think it's one of the great records of all time," said Holmgren. "It's unbelievable. Simply unbelievable."