The Packers won their first NFC Central crown since 1972 in 1995. One of the main reasons for this was Favre's ability to spread the ball around to different receivers. In that season, wide receiver Robert Brooks became a force in the NFL. Brooks caught 102 passes in 95, while the starting running backs caught 109 passes and the tight ends 67. The Packers advanced to the 1995 NFC Championship game as the offense thrived under Favre. Favre also won the first of his 3 MVP awards.
In 1996, the Packers were on their way to their first Super Bowl since the 1967 season. Midway through the year, the Packers suffered another devastating loss at wide receiver. On a Monday night game against the 49ers, Brooks suffered a severe knee injury and was lost for the season. Favre and the Packers once again compensated for that loss by giving other wide receivers the opportunity to step up. Then-second-year wideout Antonio Freeman and newly acquired Andre Rison quickly filled the void. So nicely that each caught a TD pass from Favre in the Super Bowl win over New England that season. Once again, Favre was league MVP.
Brooks returned in 1997 as he and Freeman were a potent 1-2 combination. The Packers once again returned to the Super Bowl, this time narrowly losing to the Broncos. Favre threw three touchdown passes in that game, but the Packers fell short of repeating as NFL champs.
Favre won his 3rd straight MVP that year, but there was trouble down the road at the wide receiver position in 1998 and beyond.
Brooks' production dropped in 1998 as the knee injury he suffered in 1996 and other injuries had taken a toll on his body. Local product Bill Schroeder was given more opportunities in the offense as Brooks' injuries took away from his playing time. Freeman, meanwhile, had developed into an elite receiver that also had a knack for scoring TDs.
The Freeman/Schroeder combo caught the majority of Favre's throws through the 2001 season. Corey Bradford also was productive as Favre's main deep threat in that era.
In 2002, Freeman, Schroeder and Bradford were all gone. Freeman's skills were dropping off and his lack of speed was very apparent. Schroeder had been fairly productive in the past, but his aptness for running the wrong route caused too many miscommunications with Favre. Bradford left the team as a UFA and joined the newly formed Houston Texans. Favre was basically starting from scratch in 2002. The Packers had acquired WR Terry Glenn that year to help compensate for all the losses at wide receiver. The Packers also had a little known young receiver named Donald Driver. Glenn battled through injuries that season as Driver stepped up his game and became Favre's go-to guy.
In the opening game of the 2003 season, Driver suffered a scary neck injury as he landed awkwardly trying to make a catch. Driver still led the team in receptions that year, but he was not the same player he was in 2002.
Once again, other WRs stepped up their game. In this case, it was second-year pro Javon Walker and third-year pro Robert Ferguson that showed flashes of their fine ability. Freeman even returned in 2003 to help out. Although his production was way down, Freeman was a good mentor to the young WRs and he added stability to the position.
In the 2004 season, Driver was once again like the WR he was in 2002 while Walker became one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. The two combined for 173 catches, 21 TDs and 2,590 yards receiving. Ferguson's production dropped off slightly as he battled injuries, including a frightful clothesline hit late in the season.
This year, Walker made Drew Rosenhaus his agent. Almost immediately, the threat of a hold-out loomed as the Packers prepared for the 2005 draft. The Packers bought some insurance at the WR position by adding Terrence Murphy in the second round. When Walker decided not to hold out, the Packers looked like they were four deep at WR with Walker, Driver, Ferguson and Murphy. Murphy, however, had injury issues throughout training camp. Just as he was set to return, Walker suffered his devastating, season-ending knee injury against the Lions in the season opener.
Favre has seen this before. He has always been able to adapt to the adversity that has challenged his wide receiving corp. Favre still has Driver, a pro's pro and he is also very capable of being Favre's number-one option as he has proven in the past. Ferguson has been chomping at the bit to get the opportunity that is now in front of him.
Murphy has great ability as well. Favre has proven time and time again that he will hit the open receiver. He has also proven that he will hit the WR when he's not so open. It's all about confidence. Favre will always give his WRs a chance to make a play. The receivers need to take advantage of those opportunities.
Yes, Favre has seen this before. And he has looked the challenge in the eye and has not blinked yet.
Bob Fox is a freelance writer from the Tampa, Fla. area.