Brett Favre is back, and although increased shades of gray in his hair may indicate he is getting older, he is not about to back down. Competitively, he knows no other way.
After months of contemplating retirement from football this offseason, Favre, 36, will play his 15th season with the Packers later this year. Only one Packer in team history, Bart Starr, has played longer (16 years) in Green Bay.
Favre made his announcement to return just before the NFL Draft in April and then laid out his intentions for the season ahead at a news conference during the Packers’ first minicamp in May. He was adamant that day about several things, including his thoughts on continuing to play the same gunslinging-style he always has. That style has not only endeared him to legions of fans, but also brought about the worst season of his career a year ago on a team he seemed somewhat out of place on.
For anyone hoping or thinking the Packers might adopt a risk-averse offense, win-games-with-defense system that seems to be the trend in the NFL, think again. Favre made it clear he is coming back full steam ahead, even with a new offense, putting his will to win above all other factors.
“I think I’ve played 15 years a certain way,” explained Favre, “aggressively, not pretty at times, but there’s been a lot of guys out there who are prettier who are out of the league now. I don’t regret the way I play, the way I approach it, and I don’t feel like I should change. My will to win is probably why I’m still standing here. My desire and commitment is why I’m here, not my footwork, not my mechanics, not arm strength or decision-making. It’s my desire to win. I want to win more than anyone else, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but for me to change now would be time for me to leave.”
If there ever was a time for Favre to change, take the safe pass, or tone down his style to limit mistakes, it was last year. The Packers were a vastly different team from any he has ever played on. As the team underwent massive change in personnel and philosophy, Favre stayed the same player.
Diary of a Record Season
Working the Room Before Super Bowl XXXI
New Era, Same Favre
Laying It All on the Line
Jeckyl and Hyde
Dealing with a Favre-less Season
Special Game, Special Place
Dad ‘Was Watching Tonight’
By the Numbers
Teammates Return for ‘Icon’ Favre
As the 2005 season progressed, the Packers were depleted by injuries on offense at the skill positions and possessed an unexpectedly strong defense that kept them competitive in games. Favre, still the unquestioned leader of the team, started every game through a difficult season, and it became the worst of his career. He threw a career-high 29 interceptions and week-after-week made many of the same mistakes. Coach Mike Sherman stood by him, unwavering in his support, not even giving the slightest of chances to playing first-round pick Aaron Rodgers. Mistakes that Sherman insisted would get fixed never did, and the Packers finished 4-12, their worst season since 1991. Through it all, Favre showed he still had the physical skills, but could not get the results like he did in the past.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think I played any differently in my approach last year than in any other year,” said Favre. “I know when we were winning games every week and being ahead all the time, there’s a different way of playing the game, and being 4-12 was obviously new to me. As the season progressed, we were playing from behind. It was just different. There was a different guy in the huddle every time, but I, maybe I should have made some different decisions at times. But we had to try to win the ball game with whoever was in there.
“In ’95, ’96, and ’97, we would be up by 14, and I would throw a bad interception or something and (Mike) Holmgren after the game would say, ‘You’re bored. You don’t have to do that.’ He was right. It would get boring. We’d be running the ball out and we would take a shot and I figured this was my only shot to take. Whereas when you’re down week-in and week-out, you have to take chances, and sometimes you take chances and you know the odds are against you. But I’m not going to sit there and throw three-yard checkdowns and let the clock run out. I’m going to take chances. There are going to be people who are going to agree with that and people who don’t agree with it. I really don’t care.”
Certain Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the twilight of their careers have changed from their aggressive styles of younger years with varying degrees of success. The Broncos’ John Elway took a back seat to other teammates later in his career and won two Super Bowls because of it. The Dolphins’ Dan Marino looked to a persistent running game to help his waning passing game and went into retirement with a whimper. Should the Packers expect Favre to change his style this year? Can they expect to win if he does? The answer to both questions is no, even if logic suggests it should be yes based on last season and the prospects ahead.
Quite frankly, the Packers are a team in transition. They have been since Thompson came aboard in January 2005. Having a quarterback like Favre is a bonus for the team, but it also presents a dilemma. Think about it. How does Favre really fit in for 2006?
As many players on the Packers’ roster a year ago were relatively new to the NFL and the Packers, Favre was playing like he did during his Super Bowl years. The only difference was that he was playing with nothing close to the same seasoned talent.
In the season ahead, the same challenge will present itself to Favre. There are even more new faces expected to make an impact for the Packers. Those faces are not only players, but also several new coaches. A potential franchise quarterback in Rodgers is waiting for his chance, and the team is set up to win this year with defense and a strong running game. In theory, Favre’s style does not seem to fit the Packers’ plan. That may have played into his uncertainty in making a decision this off-season and has him not really knowing what to expect.
“I don’t know what this season’s going to hold. I don’t,” said Favre. “I’m not going to make any predictions. I’m going to play as well as I can, I’m going to prepare mentally and physically as well as I can, and hopefully that’s enough to lead this team. I’m going to be a leader as I always have and do the right things and hopefully that’s enough.”
Taking the safe approach would go against everything Favre stands for on the football field. Living on the edge made him who he is and without trying to think that way, he would be embracing a foreign concept – one that would take more than just a year to really grasp. Even then, he may not grasp it and his time as a player is running short. Walking the fine line between what Favre needs to do for this year’s team and what he does do puts Mike McCarthy in a tough situation. It is something the new Packers head coach will have to manage to be successful this season.
“It’s important for him to play within the realm of the offense, which I think he always has,” said McCarthy. “I’ve said it over and over again, when you call plays, the play-caller and the quarterback have to be on the same page. You’ve got to know when to push the envelope and when to pull back. If you’re pushing the envelope too much, a lot of times you may get away with it, but you’re also in an area of turnovers and things like that can happen. So you just got to be smart.”
Smart has not always been the best of terms to describe Favre’s play over his career, rather aggressiveness and toughness are much better suited. This season, like many others, is in Favre’s hands and there is not much McCarthy, Thompson, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski or quarterbacks coach Tom Clements can do about it – or at least they have not shown those signs of it yet.
Favre is back, for better or for worse. What makes him different is what makes him a legend. In what could be the final chapter of his career, he does not have the offensive weapons he used to, or the overall team experience, and he no longer can accomplish Herculean feats by himself. He will continue to try, though, so it should be quite the adventure to watch once again.