- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

GREEN BAY, Wis. — If this is it for Brett Favre, he’s doing all he can to make sure he doesn’t leave the game with any regrets. His mind is recharged and his body reshaped.

Favre spent the first two months of the offseason clearing his head and supporting his wife, Deanna, as she underwent treatment for breast cancer. That diagnosis was made a week after her brother was killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident on the Favre family ranch in Mississippi in October.

When his wife got better, Favre started thinking about himself again.

He had done it all. So why not walk away now before his skills softened or an injury drove him off?

He has a Super Bowl ring and three MVPs. He has led his team to the playoffs 10 times in the salary cap era, tops in the league. He has started 225 straight games, an NFL record for quarterbacks.

But did he really want to go out like this? With a home playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings?

In that game, Favre tossed an illegal forward pass just before halftime as two defenders converged on him near the goal line. Was his failure to slide for the first down or dive for the end zone an uncharacteristic concession to age? Or, worse yet, fear?

All Favre knew was that he couldn’t live with himself if he walked away now.

He knew something deep down that was hard to swallow.

“I felt like the last two or three years I cheated myself, which obviously ends up cheating your teammates, as far as being in the best shape physically and mentally,” Favre said.

He always has despised teammates who showed up to training camp flabby and had to use two-a-days to get into shape. Invariably, they end up pulling a hamstring and watch the workouts from the side.

“And I felt like I was turning into one of those guys,” Favre admitted.

Favre, who turns 36 in two months, threw for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns again last season. It was maybe a half-dozen plays that gnawed at him, ones on which he couldn’t avoid the defender like he used to or couldn’t put enough zip on his famous fastball to make the play.

So after deciding retirement could wait for at least another year, Favre told coach Mike Sherman he needed someone to help him with his offseason workouts.

The Packers recommended Ken Croner, a strength and conditioning coach at Athletes’ Performance in Tempe, Ariz., who arrived at Favre’s Hattiesburg, Miss., home April25 for a five-week, five-day-a-week regimen designed to improve the quarterback’s agility, balance, conditioning, posture and power.

Favre never touched a weight. He was hooked up to a heart monitor throughout his 50-minute workouts, which involved medicine balls, weight vests, bungee cords, stretch ropes and foam rolls.

“Making an athlete feel strong doesn’t mean you have to put him under the bench press lifting 500 pounds,” Croner said. “We wanted to get him strong to play football. We did a lot of movements incorporating upper body power, forcing him to use his trunk, his midsection, his hips, his butt.”

It was all designed to allow Favre to move better in the pocket.

“He makes a lot of unorthodox throws because his arm is so strong,” Croner said. “His delivery is not over the top like Tom Brady. He’s coming from the side. By improving his posture, if he’s on the move and he’s stronger through the trunk and midsection, he’ll be able to get a little more zip on that ball. The whole focus was to improve his mobility.”

After Croner left, Favre, who was excused from both of the Packers’ offseason minicamps, followed the program on his own for six weeks. Croner returned in June and incorporated throwing into the regimen.

Favre reported to camp at 217 pounds, his lightest since coming in at 214 in 1999 after giving up beer. He’s trimmed and toned like he was in his early 20s.

“I feel better,” Favre said. “But there’s no guarantees that I play better.”

True, Croner said, but Favre’s mind and body are unburdened now.

“He wanted to make sure he put himself into a position to succeed this year, not change the way he plays the game or any of that,” Croner said. “But if it’s helping him to move a little bit better, be more stable when he’s trying to make a play, then we’ve accomplished our goal.”

Favre said he doesn’t know whether this is his farewell season. But he does know one day, no matter how hard he works in the offseason, he won’t be able to throw the football like he does now.

Someday soon, either an injury or age will steal away the spectacular plays from his wonderful right arm, and the Packers and the NFL will have to go on without him.

“And when it’s my time, I hope I know,” Favre said. “Everyone is an expert, and we’ve all critiqued other players: ‘Joe Montana, he played one year too long.’ Or ‘Dan Marino should have left here.’ Everyone was saying that about Elway, and then he wins a Super Bowl. So you don’t know.

“And unless it’s by injury like Steve Young or Troy Aikman, I don’t think you do know. Because you are competitive and you still think you can play.”

Favre feels he can still play with anybody.

“I really do believe I still can play as well as anyone in this league,” he said. “And I hope if that changes, I will be the first to see that, and then I can walk away gracefully. And hold my head high.”

And be able to look back without regret.

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