- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

Brett Favre's first seven seasons as Green Bay's quarterback were glorious. The Packers won nine playoff games, two NFC championships and a Super Bowl. He won three MVPs and barely bruised a finger.

The past two seasons were shockingly different. Favre struggled with a broken thumb in 1999 and right elbow tendinitis in 2000. Coach Mike Holmgren left for Seattle and was replaced by Ray Rhodes, who was fired after one year in favor of neophyte boss Mike Sherman.

The Packers went 8-8 and then 9-7 and missed the playoffs both times. Favre, who had thrown 213 touchdown passes and just 116 interceptions from 1992 to 1998, had a pedestrian 42 touchdowns and 39 interceptions in 1999 and 2000. He didn't get an MVP vote, let alone win the award.

A week into the 2001 season, Favre is healthy and back in his accustomed place atop the NFC quarterback rankings with a 129.2 rating (compared to 78.0 last year and 74.7 in 1999). He completed 22 of 28 passes for 260 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in Green Bay's opening 28-6 thumping of NFC Central rival Detroit.

"I feel great," said Favre, the fourth highest-rated quarterback in history and already eighth in career touchdown passes and 12th in passing yards. "It has been a long time since I entered a season feeling this healthy. It helps to take all the reps and be there for preseason, having another year under the coach and [offensive coordinator] and having a better running game. I feel much more comfortable physically and mentally."

Favre said his early success he zoomed from Atlanta's third-stringer in 1991 to playoff starter in Green Bay in 1993 happened almost too fast to comprehend.

"By 28, I had won three MVPs and a Super Bowl," Favre said. "I knew how fortunate I was to be in a great system surrounded by great coaches, great players and a great organization. I got a little bit spoiled over the years, not being injured and being able to take all the reps, play every week, having the same coach and offense. By having different coaches and being hurt a little bit, it kind of brought reality back into it."

Neither Favre's opponents nor Sherman sees much, if any, dropoff in his play.

"Brett still looks the same: he can really stick the ball in there even when you think he won't, and he's a great competitor," said Washington safety Sam Shade, a member of Cincinnati defenses that Favre dissected in 1995 and 1998.

Said Sherman: "When I ask myself what Brett has lost, I really can't [find anything]. His velocity on the ball, his accuracy, his work habits, even his escapability I don't see a whole lot of things that have diminished. Brett has definitely matured in the last three or four years. I can't say enough about the contribution he has made to this team. The leadership he has displayed has been phenomenal."

Favre has stopped drinking, become a better husband and father and has evolved from brash upstart to grizzled veteran. Only Washington's Jeff George and Vinny Testaverde of the New York Jets have been starting NFL quarterbacks longer than Favre, who's in his ninth such season and has started a quarterback-record 142 straight games. Only safety LeRoy Butler has been a Packer longer, and on Green Bay's 53-man roster, only Butler and backup center Frank Winters are older than Favre, who turns 32 next month.

"When you're young, every guy thinks of money, of being in the spotlight and being in commercials," Favre said. "How can you not? I had a chance to do all those things. Now I don't need to have all the outside stuff. I can just go out and play. My sole purpose is to get this team back to the Super Bowl. There's nothing else left for me to do. I don't care about playing in Pro Bowls. I don't care about winning MVPs. I just want to win a Super Bowl. Eleven years went by so quickly. I feel like the luckiest man in this league. If [my career] ended today, I would be the happiest man to play this game.

"All I ever wanted to do was dress out in an NFL uniform. I've accomplished way more than I ever set out to. I don't know how many years I have left. I don't worry about it. I'm just having fun. I know I'm one of the older guys, but mentally I still feel like I'm 21 years old."



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