There's nothing quite like a playoff game at Lambeau Field when Brett Favre is playing quarterback. Freezing temperatures. Blinding snow. 72,000 screaming fans. A will to win that tests the boundaries of human endurance.
We were given just such a treat on January 12, when the Seattle Seahawks battled the Green Bay Packers for the right to play in the NFC Championship Game. It was an instant classic. It was also Favre's last victory.
The game's signature play started with 1:19 remaining in the first half, and lasted eight seconds. That's all the time it takes to see what makes Brett Favre so special.
The scene: The Packers are marching down the field, but Seattle's defense has stiffened inside the red zone. It's third-and-eight; there is little choice but to call a pass play. The ball is snapped. Almost instantly, Seattle's pass rush collapses the pocket. Panic. Favre steps forward to avoid the rush, but it doesn't work. There's a hand on his jersey pulling him down for a sure sack.
Favre somehow stays up, frantically stumbling to his right through the snow. He underhands the ball to tight end Donald Lee, and promptly falls on his face. Lee runs in for the touchdown but is tackled short of the end zone; Green Bay will have to settle for a first-and-goal at the three-yard line. They promptly score on a three-yard Ryan Grant run. John Coltrane couldn't improvise like that.
After the game Favre joked in his trademark Mississipi drawl, "we practice that play all the time."
There's a reason some people refer to Favre's playing style as "cardiac."
Other Favre highlights that day included high-fiving a startled referee when no teammates were nearby after a touchdown pass and pelting star receiver Donald Driver with snowballs.
What a shame then, that this scene will never be repeated. On March 4, the Packers announced Favre's retirement after a 17 year career. One wit remarked, "I knew he wouldn't last."
FAVRE COULD HAVE lasted longer. At age 38, he is coming off of one of his best seasons. He knows he can still play. But after an NFL-record 275 consecutive starts -- try that, Cal Ripken -- Brett Favre is tired.
After all he's been through, he can't be blamed. In college at Southern Mississippi, Favre was in a near-fatal car accident and had to have thirty inches of intestines removed. He played six weeks later. He took a vicious shot on the first play, and was slow to get up. The crowd was silent. The team trainer rushed out. Favre was fine, and yelped, "Doc, I got hit in the [groin]." His team won, by the way.
Later on, he had well-publicized troubles with alcohol and pain-killers; there is less humor to found there.
On December 21, 2003, his father, Irvin, died. The very next day, the Packers played the Oakland Raiders. Irvin Favre was Brett's high school football coach, and would have wanted his son to play. So Brett played, and threw four touchdowns - in the first half. Even Raider fans, well known for their hostility, were cheering for him.
Since then his wife has battled and beaten breast cancer, he lost his brother-in-law to an ATV accident, and, most recently, his daughter entered college.
While all that was going on, he set records for consecutive starts (275), most victories by a starting quarterback (160), most touchdown passes (442), most passing yards (61,665), you name it.
He also holds the record for most interceptions (288); unlike John Coltrane, Favre's improvisations didn't always work.
Still, Favre's high-risk style came with high rewards. In 1996 he helped Green Bay win its first Super Bowl in 29 years. He very nearly did it again this year.
Packer fans need not worry too much. The Packers are a talented team, and they have a promising replacement quarterback -- no, not a replacement, a successor -- in Aaron Rodgers.
Join me in thanking Brett Favre for all the great memories he has given us, and in wishing him well in his post-football life.
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