Favre's retirement marks the end of an era

When Brett Favre won the first of his three consecutive MVP awards in 1995, the starting quarterbacks in the NFL still included John Elway, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon.

All five are now in the Hall of Fame, and Favre is certain to join them in 2013, the first year he becomes eligible.

Thus his retirement announcement ends an era, but it's not just the '90s that we're talking about here. At least for now, the NFL finds itself without a larger-than-life quarterback.

By the end, Favre was no longer the best quarterback in the league, yet he was nonetheless in a class alone. As great as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are, no one today takes over a football field with the force of his personality like Favre did. No one demands the "what will he do next?" attention like Favre did.

Someday, probably, there will be another. Tony Romo shows signs. So does Vince Young, if he can become a better passer. But neither of them, in fact no single player in the league, was as responsible for reviving a franchise and keeping it pertinent more than Favre.

As much as coach Mike Holmgren and general manager Ron Wolf did to revive the glory in Green Bay a quarter-century after Vince Lombardi, the Packers would not have had the success they did over the last decade and a half without a quarterback like Favre. That $300 million renovation of Lambeau Field? It's hardly a stretch to figure that deal never would have happened without Favre, either.

That's why it would be unfortunate for anyone to remember Favre for the last pass he threw for the Packers, an interception by the Giants' Corey Webster in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, which set up New York's winning points.

If you want to remember Favre for one pass, think instead of the one he threw eight days before that interception -- his stumbling, improvisational, underhanded, on-the-run, third-down toss that set up a touchdown shortly before halftime, breaking open the Packers' divisional playoff game against Seattle.

You might call it a singular moment, but Favre had too many of them to call them singular.

Oh, sure, that sort of thing often backfired, which is why Favre, besides holding the NFL's career record for touchdown passes, passing yardage and victories, also holds the record for interceptions.

And that's why Favre so often has been referenced by his so-called "gunslinger mentality," as if that phrase explains the complicated makeup of a quarterback whose supreme confidence sometimes backfired. That phrase does not explain Favre at all.

In fact, before he became a Hall of Fame lock, Favre suffered from self-doubts and insecurity. He questioned whether he ever could run a playbook that required the precision and discipline of Bill Walsh's West Coast offense, which Holmgren brought to Green Bay.

Holmgren used to wonder, too. As late as the middle of Favre's third season as the Green Bay starter, there were so many questions about Favre's ability to rein in his game that Steve Mariucci, an assistant coach at the time, recalled coaching staff meetings that questioned whether Favre even should have remained the starter, or be replaced by Ty Detmer or Mark Brunell, the backups at the time.

That was in 1994.

A year later, Favre was the league's MVP.

In an interview after that season, Favre said, "I would have told people I didn't necessarily fit the mold of the West Coast offense. I would have said I was more of a Raiders-style quarterback. You know, drop back and throw the ball deep. Throw for 51 percent (or) 48 percent in a game, but have three touchdowns. Kind of like (Terry) Bradshaw used to do. I would say that was more me. I was totally unsure about whether or not I could run this offense."

The turning point apparently came in a 1995 game against Chicago when a severely sprained ankle limited Favre's mobility, and prevented him from doing some of the wild, out-of-control things that plagued his early career (and again plagued him near the end of his career, before the 2007 season).

The ankle injury forced Favre to stay in the pocket and play with patience, something Holmgren had been trying to get Favre to believe in for four years.

"He was injured and couldn't do all that wild stuff," Holmgren recalled later. "I told him to let the system come to him."

It came well enough that Favre completed 25 of 33 passes for 336 yards and five touchdowns, and he finally began to understand what Holmgren had been telling him all along. Now, there's a fine line, of course, with playing disciplined but taking chances or playing like an automaton, and Favre never crossed that line.

Before that game against the Bears, Favre had a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 87-to-64, which is considered poor for the West Coast offense, which places a premium on not throwing interceptions. Starting with that game, and over the next 50 games, that ratio was 117-to-37.

Perhaps the closest comparison to Favre in recent years was Young, who also was coached by Holmgren, and who, like Favre, was such a good athlete that he could not quickly adapt to the disciplined demands of the West Coast offense. Holmgren once said that both of them were "a little hard-headed at times." Yet it was not until Young tamped down his game, too, that he became a six-time NFL passing champion and set a record by throwing six touchdown passes in the Super Bowl.

Many will remember Favre today for the sheer joy he showed on the field, for his durability and longevity, for his effect on the Packers' revival. But those are all just parts of the package that made him so compelling to watch.

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

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