Packers-Patriots: Favre and Brady

Ten years ago, Brett Favre was the winning quarterback and Bill Belichick the losing defensive coordinator when Green Bay won Super Bowl XXXI. Today, observes's Steve Lawrence, Favre is nearing the end of his career and Belichick is at the pinnacle of his career, thanks to a new top gun at quarterback, Tom Brady.

The National Football League, like most things in life, runs in cycles. That cycle will be evident at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Ten years ago, the Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

The quarterback of that Packers team was an in-his-prime Brett Favre, and his stardom was something nobody could have predicted when Ron Wolf acquired him from Atlanta for a first-round draft pick.

The defensive coordinator for the Patriots under head coach Bill Parcells was the respected Bill Belichick. To this day, recalling his unit giving up 28 points — Desmond Howard's kickoff return accounted for the other seven points in the Packers' 35-21 win — burns at Belichick.

Belichick was in his first year with the Patriots after bombing as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He eventually would leave New England with Parcells, following The Tuna to New York when Parcells took over the Jets.

When Parcells retired, Belichick was going to take over in New York, but he got cold feet and backed out. He wound up landing the head job with the Patriots in 2000, and in his first draft, he landed a quarterback in the sixth round by the name of Tom Brady.

Meanwhile, in Green Bay, Favre and the Packers kept winning. Games, if not championships.

Age began to catch up to Favre, the roster began to detriorate and the Packers declined.

In New England, however, Brady became a star — something nobody could have predicted given his draft status — and helped turn Belichick into a genius.

Fast forward through three Patriots Super Bowl titles and move ahead to Sunday, when an aging but effective Favre will take on an in-his-prime Brady in a marquee duel of quarterbacks.

"You always had that vision of him after he threw his first touchdown (in Super Bowl XXXI) with his helmet up in the air," Brady said. "He's just that kind of player. He's very excitable.

"I've always looked up to him — even back when he was beating up on the 49ers when I was a 49er fan. They had some great battles with them, and he was a guy who I always watched and loved to see play. I remember the enthusiasm that he plays with. That's one thing that probably stands out with him."

In that Super Bowl 10 years ago, Favre was the X-factor in the Packers' favor. On Sunday, Brady is the reason why the Patriots are favored. He's simply one of the best in the game. Brady's arsenal of weapons isn't what it once was, though, so while he is plenty good enough to win a lot of games, not even he's good enough to beat the elite teams on a consistent basis. Because he wants to win so badly, he sometimes makes bad choices and forces the ball into coverage. Against Indianapolis two weeks ago, he was picked off four times.

Sounds a lot like Favre for the past few seasons, doesn't it? Good enough to win a lot of games, but lacking the supporting cast to beat the elite teams on a consistent basis.

So here we are, not quite full circle in Brady's case and perhaps moving beyond full circle in Favre's case.

Brady has won three Super Bowls but championship ring No. 4 seems unlikely today, and probably will seem even more unlikely next year and the year after that. Good teams simply can't stay on top forever, no matter how good the quarterback or how good the coach. His defense is old and he doesn't have a top-flight receiver. No quarterback is good enough to overcome that.

Meanwhile, 15 years ago, Favre took an up-and-coming team, turned it into a champion, fought like the dickens to keep it on top, slowly plunged with the team into the abyss, and now is quarterbacking a team that is flashing potential.

Will Favre be here when the team turns the corner and becomes a contender? And if he is, will Brady be hailed more as a great quarterback or a quarterback who used to be great?

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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