Favre Flashback: The Most Meaningful MVP

Brett Favre overcame the odds, starting with his Vicodin addiction, to win his second straight MVP award. A few weeks later, the Packers would be Super Bowl champions.

This story was published on Dec. 30, 1996. Photo from Packer Report archives

There is a place where the rest of the world fades away for Brett Favre. Where questions and doubts become distant echoes, drown out by the cheers of tens of thousands. It is a place where the difficult, the improbable, and at times even the impossible, appear easy for Green Bay’s quarterback.

It is a place where the real and surreal meet.

Three-hundred-pound defenders are left twisting in the breeze, grasping the nothingness that was most assuredly a sack. Oblong leather balls that should not be able to be thrown 40-yards across a person’s body spiral into a well-covered receiver’s hands. A play that has disintegrated into lost opportunity is rescued with an awkward toss from the waist into an open, if not surprised, teammate’s hands in the end zone. It is a place where Favre’s worth is demonstrated time and time again and when all was said and done and the votes were cast, it is a place where he was deemed the “most valuable” once again.

“The one place I feel at home is on the football field,” Favre said after becoming just the second player to win the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player award two years in a row and only the fifth to ever win it twice. “I can kind of escape everything.”

Favre had plenty to escape from heading into this season. After winning the league’s most coveted individual award in 1995, he spent 46 days in the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., for an addiction to the painkiller Vicodin. When he came out, reports of his demise were spreading.

But all the Mississippi native has ever needed to succeed was a little motivation. Tell him he can’t succeed, tell him he’s not good enough, and he will prove you wrong. He did it in high school, when he made it to the Mississippi all-star game as a senior. He did it at Southern Mississippi, when he returned from a serious car accident to lead the Golden Eagles to an upset win over Alabama (and later earned MVP honors in the East-West Shrine Game). He’s also done it in the pros, after being a third-string afterthought and trade-bait by the Atlanta Falcons.


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“The way Brett Favre thinks is that the whole world is against him,” Favre said. “Early in my career, in high school, that was kind of the truth. No one wanted to sign me. Another team traded me in pro football and I always wanted to prove these people wrong.”

And he has. But last July, Favre raised eyebrows when he vowed even greater success for himself and the Packers than their 11-5 record in 1995 and NFC Championship Game appearance. Bet against him, he said, eventually you’ll lose.

“I walked out of here saying, ‘Oh, God, you better live up to it,’ and I did,” Favre said.

But adversity was dealt to him in spades. Shortly after he left the Menninger Clinic, his 29-year-old brother, Scott, was arrested on felony drunken driving charges after a July 20 accident that killed a close friend of the family back in his home state. A few weeks later, his 19-year-old sister, Brandi, was arrested in conjunction with a drive-by shooting incident.

If the off-field distractions weren’t enough, the trouble spread to the playing field. Starting flanker Robert Brooks suffered a season-ending knee injury in a victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 14. Two weeks later, starting split end Antonio Freeman broke his arm against Tampa Bay. Two weeks after that, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Chmura tore the arch in his foot against Kansas City and was lost for a month. Just 10 days after Chumura was lost, starting left tackle Ken Ruettgers retired from football.

How did Favre respond to it all? He threw 39 touchdowns, an NFC record and the third-most ever thrown by an NFL quarterback, and led his team to a 13-3 record, its best mark since 1962 and tied for the best record in the league in 1996, all while being sacked a career-high 40 times.

“There were a lot of things to overcome, but I think it truly symbolizes the award, what type of player I am and what kind of person I am,” Favre said. “No one said it was ever going to be easy.”

The award was voted on by a nationwide panel of 93 sportswriters. Favre received 52 votes, followed by Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway with 33 ½ and Denver running back Terrell Davis with 5 ½. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis received two votes. While Favre won the Associated Press honor in a landslide last year, this year it was more meaningful.

“When I heard the news, I was much more excited and emotional, whatever you want to call it, because of what happened, good and bad, this year,” Favre said. “It’s something that was good for me, my family, and my teammates.”

That excitement was not lost on Packers coach Mike Holmgren, who agreed that Favre’s accomplishment meant even more when examining what his quarterback endured away from the game.

“It’s well documented all the stuff he had to deal with and I think he’s come through beautifully,” Holmgren said. “He’s really handled it as well as anyone could.

“I think dealing with the things he had to deal with, logically; it would have to help you deal with pressures as a player. Sorting out all the stuff and handling it, he’s a stronger man because of it, I believe.”

Still, Favre is not surprised by the honor, and to hear him tell it, others shouldn’t be, either.

“I did only what I was asked to do and what I was paid to do and that’s go out and play and play well,” Favre said. “Throw touchdown passes and win ball games. Nothing more. Sometimes we look at this award as, ‘God, he did something we didn’t expect him to do.’”

As a two-time award winner, Favre joins an elite group that includes Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. Montana is the only other players to win it back-to-back (1989-1990). Regarded by many as the greatest quarterback of all time, Montana is the one who Favre’s name is being mentioned with. Favre, however, can’t figure out why.

“I don’t see what’s to compare aside from the two MVPs,” Favre said. “He’s won four Super Bowls, he’s pretty good and he did it every year. I call this my fifth year, there’s one year in Atlanta that I don’t count, but I think what I’ve done in the five years, I played pretty good. But there’s nothing to show for it.”

Not yet, at least. But an NFC Divisional matchup with the 49ers is just days away as Green Bay embarks on its drive to Super Bowl XXXI.

Aside from one of the strongest arms in the game and the toughness to start 85 straight games including playoff – the longest streak among active quarterbacks – Favre’s best asset may be his ability to makes something out of nothing. And it’s that trait that most often leave his fans shaking their head in disbelief at what they just witness.

“You call a play and you get up there and it may break down and it’s totally different. That’s where I’m pretty good,” Favre admitted.

But Favre still searches for motivation, real or perceived. He scours the sports pages for someone who still doubts him. And he looks for new opportunities to prove himself. A Super Bowl ring is foremost on his list, but another MVP award wouldn’t be bad, either.

“I guess I’ll probably have to win three to have everybody say, ‘Hey, maybe this guy is for real,’” Favre said.

The scary part is, at only 27 years old, he just might.


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