Favre, Holmgren meet for possibly one last time

More than a decade after they teamed up to revive one of the NFL's marquee franchises in Green Bay as a young coach and young quarterback, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre will cross paths again on Saturday.

They are no longer young, of course, and no longer on the same team.

One of them will leave Lambeau Field with a chance to return to the Super Bowl.

And the other? He will spend at least days, if not weeks, after the game thinking very seriously about retirement.

That's not idle speculation. Both men have talked often in recent years about retiring. Before another NFL season begins, Holmgren, who is completing his 16th year as an NFL head coach, will be 60. Favre, who is completing his 16th year as a starting quarterback in the NFL, will be 39 a month into next season.

The world moves in mysterious ways.

Holmgren, who made his reputation working with young quarterbacks, has a veteran team two years removed from a Super Bowl defeat. It's a team that, despite the coach and his reputation for offense, really is fueled more by Seattle's best defense in at least a decade, a defense loaded with speed, especially at linebacker, and charged with stopping Holmgren's prize pupil.

"You really have to make sure you're after (Favre) all the time," Holmgren said. "It's very important that he doesn't get real comfortable."

Favre, meanwhile, has managed to survive despite his own doubts, rein in the natural eagerness of his youth -- something Holmgren tried to do in the '90s -- and become a leader and role model for a rebuilding team that is the biggest surprise among the NFL's final eight. The Packers were the youngest team in the league this season, based on the average age of players on the opening day roster.

"We won 13 games and there was no experience, and I was as shocked as anyone," Favre said this week. "Each week, we continued -- we made mistakes -- but we continued to rise above and find ways to win. ...

"The most experienced team doesn't always win. It does help to have experience and chemistry. Talent sure helps, too, but . . . not knowing any better sometimes worked in our favor, not realizing the odds that you're up against."

He's not kidding when he says he was shocked. Last offseason, Favre lobbied publicly for his team to acquire Randy Moss, calling it "disappointing" when the Packers passed on Moss, who was later traded to New England.

"There are times when I wonder if I'm the odd man out here and they just don't know how to tell me," Favre said at the time. "Right now, it's hard to be optimistic."

That was then. This is now, and this may be the last good chance for both Favre and Holmgren.

It may be the last chance, period, for both of them.

And they know it.

The retiring kind?

Holmgren acknowledged speaking about life after football with Washington coach Joe Gibbs, who took a long sabbatical before returning to the NFL in 2004 and retired this week for the second time.

What he said could go for Favre, just as well.

"You're doing something your whole life . . . you like your job, you enjoy what you do, so why leave?" Holmgren said. "You like it. You're getting paid to do something. Why leave? The second part of that is, I think, it does take a toll on you.

"You have to think about that, and when you do think about that, it adds the third part -- OK, then what do I do? Where will I go? Who will I talk to? What does the future bring after that, in all honesty? You can look at it as an adventure and kind of embrace it, or it can make you a little nervous."

When Holmgren became Favre's coach in 1992, the Packers were a quarter-century removed from Vince Lombardi's back-to-back Super Bowls, a period in which Green Bay managed one playoff victory and just five winning seasons. They used to drive down Lombardi Avenue to get to Lambeau Field, but today's Packers also can drive down Holmgren Way and Brett Favre Pass.

They went through a lot together, and they have been through a lot separately.

Because Holmgren came from the Bill Walsh school, where the biggest sin was an interception, Favre used to drive Holmgren nuts by taking crazy chances. (Favre has thrown more interceptions than any player in history. Of course, he also has thrown more passes, period, and completed more for more yards and more touchdowns than any player in history, too.)

Together, Holmgren and Favre won one Super Bowl, lost another, then Holmgren split.

Parting ways

Holmgren wanted to be a general manager, a club president, to run his own team as his mentor, the late Hall of Famer Walsh, did. He got that chance in Seattle, but the irony is that he and the team are both better off since the responsibilities were taken from him. Holmgren probably has coached longer than he ever thought he would. But he also is aware of Walsh's words, often saying that he retired from coaching too soon.

Favre, it appeared, wanted to be the gunslinger his entire career. But as the Packers' talent eroded around him in the early part of this decade, he had to change his game. The change took hold this year. Early in the 2007 season, Favre said, "There's kind of a fine line there. Play my game, but also be aware (of not taking unreasonable risks). I think it's easier said than done, but I'm going to try to do that."

For the last several years, Holmgren has taken a family vacation immediately after the season and said he needed the break to recharge and decide whether he really wanted to go through the grind of another season. He will do the same this year, whether the season ends Saturday in Green Bay or Feb. 3 in the Super Bowl. If it's the latter, he's virtually certain to walk away.

For the last several years, Favre went through his own mid-life crisis every offseason. Critics said he was a declining talent, that his aggressive approach couldn't carry him anymore as he got older. In 2005, he threw a career-high 29 interceptions. In 2006, he completed a career-low 56 percent of his passes.

He hardly seemed on the verge of what, for many, would have been a career year and, for a 38-year-old, was a remarkable year. Favre ranked among the league's top four in completions, completion percentage and passing yardage, and among the top six in touchdown passes and passer rating.

Mike McCarthy, Green Bay's second-year coach, managed the almost unthinkable: He got Favre to play, not necessarily cautiously, but certainly smarter.

Take a step back and remember that only last winter, Favre was publicly questioning the direction of his team, concerned that he was too old to start over with a rebuilding team. Holmgren said Favre told him two years ago that he was ready to retire, adding, "That's the only time in his life he's ever lied to me."

"When you have done as much as he had done, he really had nothing to prove," Holmgren said. "He won a Super Bowl, all these records, he really didn't have any new things he could prove to anybody. So he said, 'I think this is going to be it.' I believe he was sincere when he told me that. I believe that that's what he believed at that particular time."

Nonetheless, now the two of them will try to prove something to the other, one more time. One last time, perhaps.

Veteran NFL writer Ira Miller is a regular contributor to NFL.com.

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