MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — There is the way most NFL quarterbacks do things and the way Brett Favre did it.
Over 20 seasons he built one of the most exciting, colorful and drama-filled careers the league has ever seen, built on a “don’t try this at home” style of play predicated on taking big risks in the game’s biggest moments.
No apologies needed for his three MVP awards, two Super Bowl appearances and NFL records for consecutive starts, victories by a quarterback, yards passing, completions, touchdowns and pretty much every other passing mark there is.
And none offered for his bitter split from the Green Bay Packers, careless interceptions in a pair of NFC championship games and refusal to cooperate with an NFL investigation into alleged tawdry messages sent to a game-day hostess with the New York Jets in 2008.
“I hope that people admired the way I played, my passion for it,” Favre said Sunday after watching his Vikings lose in Detroit while a third-string quarterback named Joe Webb took the snaps. “Because I hold no regrets.”
He’s been called a gunslinger and riverboat gambler by those who watched him throw off his back foot, across his body to a well-covered receiver time and time again.
Like most great gunslingers, Favre’s exit was messy and violent.
His final season was filled with turnovers and oddities — the final play of Favre’s career will apparently be a jarring sack by the Bears on a rock-hard college football field. On the same day players across the league were clearing out their lockers for the year, Favre was sued by two massage therapists who say they lost their jobs with the Jets after complaining about those text messages from the famous quarterback.
If you believe that Favre is done for good this time or that he’s heading home to Mississippi perhaps a year too late, there is no disputing this: The NFL will be a little less interesting without one of the league’s biggest personalities contemplating another comeback, playing through another injury and squeezing another pass into double coverage.
“I think that the history and what Brett Favre has done for this league it speaks for itself,” said Titans receiver Randy Moss, who spent four ill-fated weeks in Minnesota with Favre this season. “I’m a big Brett Favre fan, a big Brett Favre supporter.”
He wasn’t the only one.
In 325 career games with the Packers, Jets and Vikings, a total of 21,208,946 fans paid to watch him throw a pass in person, according to STATS LLC. That’s more than the populations of New York, London and Los Angeles combined.
He was one of the most popular and unpopular players in league history. Idolized for so long in Green Bay after putting the NFL’s smallest city back on the football map with a Super Bowl title in 1996 and another trip back in 1997, a road outside Lambeau Field wasn’t the only thing in Wisconsin named in his honor.
The name Brett was never more popular for a newborn boy in the state than it was during Favre’s three straight MVP seasons from 1995-97.
In the 15 years before Favre arrived in Green Bay via trade from Atlanta, an average of just over 105 boys born each year in Wisconsin were named Brett, according to the Social Security Administration. That average jumped to 204.5 in the Packers’ Super Bowl seasons of 1996 and ’97.
Teammates turned into fans in Favre’s presence, speaking in hushed tones with almost universal reverence for his accomplishments and leadership.
Kicker Ryan Longwell recalled a team meeting in his rookie year with the Packers when GM Ron Wolf asked the group what was needed to get the team back to the Super Bowl.
“Without missing a beat, this Hall of Fame Brett Favre, MVP of the league, a couple years previously, says, ‘You know what we really need? We really need a water softener in the shower,”‘ Longwell said with a chuckle. “That early on in my career told me everything I needed to know about Brett and the direction that he was going and the joy he had just playing the game.”
Even his coaches were enamored. When Favre was in New York in 2008, then-Jets coach Eric Mangini’s son was born on Oct. 10, the same birthday as Favre. Mangini named the boy Zack Brett.
“He was my favorite player when I was a kid and the only jersey I ever owned was a Brett Favre jersey when he was at Green Bay,” Vikings rookie running back Toby Gerhart said.
Favre’s storybook romance with Green Bay ended poorly. He first started hinting at retirement after the turn of the century, then chafed when the Packers selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round in 2005. He announced his retirement during a tearful press conference in 2008, only to change his mind and force his way out in a trade to the New York Jets.
After the Packers beat the Vikings for the second time this season, coach Mike McCarthy was asked if he was happy to be rid of the “Favre vs. the Packers” storyline for good.
“I’m rid of it,” McCarthy huffed to the reporter. “You need to get rid of it.”
An accomplished rambler, Favre was as skilled at controlling the message in his press conferences as any athlete, his slow Southern drawl masking a razor sharp ability to turn the conversation. It was on display throughout his final, disappointing season in Minnesota, especially when he was confronted about allegations that he sent lewd pictures and messages Jenn Sterger.
In the end, he was fined $50,000 by the NFL for failing to cooperate with the investigation.
Favre didn’t wear a Vikings hat at his final press conference. Instead, he donned a Navy blue baseball cap with a gray No. 4 on it, one final reminder that he does things his way.
“Wonderful experience,” Favre said. “Wouldn’t change it for anything.”
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