When Canton swings open its gates every year to the latest crop of icons, each new Hall of Fame member wears more than a gold jacket. He rides in swathed in stories and covered in football fairy dust. But even by the swollen standards of our modern NFL mythology, Brett Favre fits perfectly into the ongoing saga of the world’s greatest game.
Favre not only earned his jacket and bronze bust in the Hall, he may deserve his own wing. It’s not because Favre was the best player or even the best quarterback ever. It’s because he had all the physical and metaphysical contours of a true football legend.
His size. His braces. His reckless style. The short crop of hair, equal parts crew cut and carelessness. He looked the part.
And his arm. It’s hard to think of an NFL quarterback who had the raw, natural arm talent Favre had. If he were a pitcher, he would have been a carbon copy of Nolan Ryan.
Although MLB pitchers drop like mosquitos every year, felled by a mangled ligament, snapped tendon and Tommy John surgery, Ryan somehow threw a baseball 100 mph for a quarter-century, sans any serious injury. While most pitchers start to decay in their early 30s, Ryan was firing fastballs, ticking triple-digits and short-circuiting radar guns deep into his 40s.
Likewise, Favre threw a football harder and farther than anyone. Just as Ryan astonished with his endurance, Favre played football into his 40s. Pro football ingests and coughs up all-world athletes with alarming apathy and regularity. Men who weigh 300 pounds and run a 40 in under five seconds are broken in 10 years, if they’re lucky. The average career is over in three. The NFL forever lives up to the haunting acronym “Not For Long” at the expense of the players who bleed for a short time under the bright lights.
Favre played for two decades. When most QBs are planning for post-football life, swapping helmets for headsets, film rooms for broadcast booths, Favre seemed to have an endless reserve of football, and fun.
Perhaps that’s the handle. To a man, almost every great football player will say he always loved Sundays but loathed Mondays. He no longer had the energy for the endless, pinpoint preparation, the practice and the pressers. He labored out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom just to brush his teeth. He was tired of the travel, the conga line of planes and trains and buses. The greats will tell you that they played on Sundays for free. They were paid for everything leading up to it.
And just think where he played most of his career. No one was more perfectly fit for a town and team than Brett Favre was for Green Bay and the Packers. From the rugged legacy set by the patron saint of pro football, Vince Lombardi, to the frostbitten sidelines of Lambeau Field. From the Ice Bowl to the Super Bowls. From Bart Starr to Brett Favre.
Favre didn’t run from Lombardi’s legacy. He ran toward it. No doubt the old man Born in Brooklyn would have adored the kid from Mississippi. Favre was equal parts Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, a running back who happened to be blessed with a divine right arm. There’s no part of Brett Favre that doesn’t fit into the Packers blue-collar ethic or hard-hat ethos.
If you need the formality of stats, if your eyes alone didn’t prove how great he was….
Favre threw for 71,838 yards — second most all-time, just 102 yards behind Peyton Manning. He threw 508 touchdowns, also second all-time. He had 6,300 completions, most all time. At a certain point, the stats become superfluous.
Like Nolan Ryan, Favre could be wild. You never knew if Ryan would walk six batters and surrender six runs, or if he would throw a no-hitter, and reduce MLB batters into solemn little leaguers.
Likewise, you never knew if Favre would toss six picks, with six sacks and four fumbles, or if he would throw for 400 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He could be that galling, yet that great.
No one honored Lombardi better than Brett Favre, even if the soon-to-be Hall of Fame QB never played for the Hall of Fame coach. There will be better quarterbacks than Brett Favre. But there will never be anything — or anyone — anywhere near Brett Favre.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.