The NFL Films highlights have been played over and over and over again. The gaudy statistics encompassing the 20-year NFL career have been analyzed and rehashed to the point of exhaustion. All that awaits now is pro football immortality, the final steps in an amazing journey that began in tiny Kiln, Miss., before stretching on to Atlanta, Green Bay, New York, Minnesota and, now, Canton.
On Saturday, Aug. 6, Brett Lorenzo Favre will take his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Though his legion of fans at every stop along the way will always have their favorite memories of watching him play, Favre’s 16 years as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers will forever define his career.
His was the storybook tale of a carefree country boy who arrived the NFL’s smallest but proudest city just in time to help restore the championship luster so many had feared might be gone forever. For nine of those Green Bay years (1997-2007), Favre also built a special relationship with one of his teammates in particular.
Not on the football field. On the golf course.
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“We had so many good matches and had so much fun playing golf and that’s where I would say our friendship and relationship was cemented, on the golf course,” said former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell, who was back in Wisconsin recently to play in the Packers Hall of Fame Golf Classic. “We just valued the time away but it was still competitive. It wasn’t like a walk in the park. There were times when you had to go 4 or 5 under par just to beat the other guy. You can joke between shots but — man! — you want to hit it and you want to beat that guy.”
Longwell also played two more years (2009-2010) with Favre as a member of the Minnesota Vikings and that whole experience proved to be somewhat of an epiphany for both men.
“Brett and I got very close on the golf course in Green Bay, and what those two years across the border gave us was a total perspective on what the whole Packer thing was, not only about our relationship but the value of the fan base, Lambeau Field and the tradition,” said Longwell. “Brett and I talked about it and (agreed) that there would not be total 100 percent respect for what the Packers represent if we had not gone across the border. To see it from the other side of the tracks, you understand that it is just not that way elsewhere. That whole force that has been cheering for you is now rooting against you and booing you. You gain total respect for the little things like playing in front of a sell-out crowd week in and week out. In nine years in Green Bay, it was something you kind of got used to at home and away.”
Longwell fondly remembers his first impressions of Favre when he arrived for Packerd training camp in 1997. Waived by the 49ers a couple of weeks prior, Longwell wasn’t supposed to make the final roster. He was merely to serve as a camp leg to give heralded third-round draft choice Brett Conway a breather every now and then.
“I’m in the locker room with Brett and Ron Wolf,” recalled Longwell. “I’m the rookie who probably won’t be around very long. The Packers had just won the Super Bowl the year before and Ron says to Brett, ‘Really, what do you think this team needs to get back to the Super Bowl?’ Without missing a beat, Brett says, ‘What we really, really could use is a water softener in the shower.’ It was moments like that where Brett knew exactly what to come back with and had perfect timing.”
Favre’s timing and sense of humor became as legendary as his rocket arm and incredible desire to be the best he could be as well as to make those around him perform notches above what even they thought possible.
“Brett and I had a trust and respect and we went through a lot of life issues together,” said Longwell. “When I look at him, I see just a total competitor and the best teammate you could ever have. All jobs can be pressure cookers but the difference with us is that everything we do is on camera so everybody can analyze it, talk about it and think they know all about it.
“When you’re in that NFL pressure cooker, you need moments of levity and joking to break the ice and release some of that pressure. Brett was the best at that, whether it was in the huddle striving for a game-winning drive or whether it’s Wednesday in practice. He was always there to break the ice to relieve the pressure. Coming from the leader of your franchise, your valuable quarterback that’s a major role.”
Perhaps no life issue was any bigger for Favre than the one he and his family faced in 2003 when Favre’s father, Irv, passed away. Longwell witnessed Favre’s reaction firsthand, again, on a golf course.
“I was with Doug Pederson, Josh Bidwell and Brett when we got the phone call,” said Longwell. “Just the four of us in the middle of the golf course in Oakland with nobody else around. It’s great to be on ‘Monday Night Football’ and to be with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, but when life intercedes, how do we all react and rally around the guy? We were his family at that time.
“There’s so many memories with Brett but those two kind of are the yin and the yang of being a professional athlete for so long. There’s the humor and the fun and there’s the life. You’ve got to balance both and I think Brett did that really well.”
OK, so fiery leadership, last-second heroics and Hall of Fame accolades aside, who is the better golfer, Brett Favre or Ryan Longwell? The answer comes quickly, emphatically and with a big, wide grin.
“Well, I’ve never been one to toot my own horn but I’m certainly not going to answer Brett!”