Sometimes there’s agony in victory, too. Sometimes the price of winning transcends captured images of arms raised and fists pumping. And sometimes, after emptying every last drop of what makes you one of the greatest athletes in your sport onto the playing field, you don’t have the energy for clever one-liners that usually roll off the tongue so effortlessly.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre sat quietly in a room full of bright lights, cameras, and tape recorders, speaking in low tones and taking deep breaths in between. He had just led his team to one of their most dramatic come-from-behind victories ever, moving the offense 82 yards in 11 plays over the final 1:51 of the game. Tight end Jeff Thomason was wide open in the end zone for a 1-yard score that gave Green Bay a 28-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
With as few words as possible, he reflected on the win, until emotion, total exhaustion, and the pain of a severely injured thumb caught up with him. He bowed his head and put his left hand up to his face as tears rolled down his cheeks. The right hand of the franchise was heavily bandaged, concealing the extent of the injury, as well as the impact it will have on the rest of the season.
“It’s sore,” Favre said. “I just can’t believe I played. We haven’t done any X-rays or anything but it feels worse (than the last time it was injured on Aug. 23 vs. the Broncos).”
Favre first hit his hand on the helmet of a Raiders defender while following through on an incomplete pass to Bill Schroeder with 9:33 left in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Oakland defensive end Lance Johnstone swatted at Favre’s arm as he released the ball, and hit his thumb again.
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New Era, Same Favre
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Jeckyl and Hyde
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Special Game, Special Place
Dad ‘Was Watching Tonight’
By the Numbers
Teammates Return for ‘Icon’ Favre
“This is a very, very emotional game and he has a lot of guts staying on the field,” Packers safety LeRoy Butler said. “His hand looked like somebody ran it over with a car. He stays in there and drives the offense down the field for the winning score. This is a win you can build on.”
The importance of getting a win was obvious to Favre. It was the first game of a new era under head coach Ray Rhodes, the Packers were installed as a nine-point favorite, and this would set the tone for a team with aspirations of returning to the Super Bowl. As if he needed extra motivation, his entire family was on hand for the game, already in town for the baptism of his youngest daughter, Breleigh Ann. But when his hand swelled and was hurting so much he could barely feel the football, he was forced to consider his options.
“At one point I almost came out,” Favre said. “I didn’t even mention it to the coaches or anything. I just didn’t. I was actually sort of scared at times to throw the ball downfield. I didn’t know if I could put anything on it. We didn’t move the ball for a couple of series so I just gave it one more try.”
After the offense barely showed a pulse through three and a half quarters, this try was a shot of adrenaline.
Favre opened a drive that started at the 18 with a 22-yard strike down the middle of the field to running back Dorsey Levens, then found flanker Antonio Freeman for 6 more. Levens carried for 12 yards and a first down on the next play before Favre, who was out of timeouts, spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Fifty-five seconds remaining.
Schroeder followed with an 11-yard reception. Ball spiked. Thirty-nine seconds. Favre’s pass to Levens fell incomplete on second down before finding Schroeder again for 11 yards on third down. With the Raiders’ defense reeling, Favre went for the kill, hooking up with Corey Bradford on a 19-yard play down the right sideline that ended when he was shoved out at the 1-yard line by safety Eric Turner.
Lined up in a three tight end formation, Favre took the snap, dropped back, rolled to his right and found Thomason – in for his first offensive play of the game – all by himself. Touchdown.
It was Favre’s fourth touchdown of the day, as he completed 28 of 47 passes for 333 yards. He also had three interceptions and was sacked three times during the high-drama home opener.
“He’s amazing,” Rhodes said of Favre. “He just makes plays. The young man is what I would call an ultimate warrior, because you have to look in the guy’s eyes and see the emotion and the tears with everything that goes on with him. I haven’t seen that much emotion out of him because I’ve been watching him from afar, which I’ve been doing for years. But today, I saw the emotion and the tears flowing down his face and how important it was for him to win a football game -- important for this football team -- and I have to take my hat off to him.
“I thought it was a great drive. Those types of drives are a storybook drive. You’ve been associated with them in your life at one time, you’ve seen a Joe Montana do it, you’ve seen (John) Elway do it a number of times. But those are the types of drives that the Favre’s and the Montana’s always make. That’s why Brett is one of the best quarterbacks in football and it was a picture-perfect drive.”
But until the extent of Favre’s injury is known, no one knows when they’ll see that picture next.