Brett Favre at 40: Still holding court

The Minnesota Vikings QB is an Artist of the Year in 2009

During his senior year, Favre flipped his car and nearly died. Doctors removed 30 inches of his small intestine. Five weeks after being sewn up, Favre led his team to another comeback victory against Alabama.

The Atlanta Falcons picked Favre in the second round of the 1991 NFL draft—the 33rd overall pick. The Falcons coach said at the time that it would take a plane crash to put Favre in the game. And he nearly kept his word—Favre was listed as third string and rarely played. He attempted only four passes and completed none.

In the offseason, Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf traded a first-round pick for Favre, whom he'd wanted to draft the year before. In his subsequent physical, Favre was diagnosed with the same condition that ended Bo Jackson's career: avascular necrosis of the hip. A doctor recommended failing Favre, which would have invalidated the trade. But Wolf believed in Favre. He got a second opinion.

Nick Vlcek

At the time Favre signed with the team, the Packers hadn't won more than five games in a row since 1965. With Favre, the team started to win. He was wild and undisciplined but oh, was he ambitious. "I want to be known as the greatest quarterback who ever played," he told Pete Dougherty, a reporter for the Green Bay Press Gazette.

True to his word, in 1997 Favre led the Packers into Superbowl XXXI against the New England Patriots. The media focus on him was intense: Reporters visited his hometown and learned that his family dog had been eaten by an alligator, that he'd preferred to sleep on top of the sheets rather than make his bed, and that Favre's farts "could bring tears to your eyes," according to his college roommate.

Days before the game, Favre was under the sheets in his hotel room, shivering with a 101-degree fever.

"I was worried," he would later say. "I'd waited my whole life to play in this game, and now I wasn't going to be healthy."

Favre dry-heaved throughout the game, but his head was clear enough to make smart calls. Twice, he detected the defense's strategy and made split-second changes at the line of scrimmage that resulted in touchdowns.

The Packers won 35-21. Favre passed 27 times, completing 14 for 246 yards. He became the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with three touchdowns—two throwing, one rushing—and not be named Super Bowl MVP. That title went to teammate Desmond Howard, who returned a kick for a 99-yard touchdown and became the first special teams player to earn the honor.

Favre's joie de vivre was readily apparent to anyone who watched him play. Take, for example, the time Tampa Bay defensive end Regan Upshaw rammed his helmet into the middle of Favre's back and folded him like a paper clip. Favre popped right back up, slapped Upshaw on the helmet, and screamed, "Good hit!"

Favre was not without flaws—he drank too much, got hooked on painkillers, and went to rehab. But none of it could tarnish him in the public eye.

"People in Green Bay really liked his relatability," Steinfeldt says. "He's this person with these superhuman talents, yet he's a little bit flawed."

His back story helped people relate. When the Packers unsuccessfully tried to sign wide receiver Andre Rison, Favre said the team could do just fine without him. "Well, that hillbilly doesn't know anything," Rison responded, according to Dougherty, the sports reporter. When word got back to Favre, he stayed cool: "Well, he's right. I am a hillbilly."

On December 21, 2003—the night before a game against Oakland—Favre's father died. No one expected Favre to play the next day, but he did. More than that, he threw four touchdown passes, leading the Packers to a 41-7 victory. Even the Raider Nation cheered Favre's heroic performance.

Favre played 16 seasons in Green Bay. He started every game after September 20, 1992. He racked up three Associated Press MVP awards and led his team to seven division championships and two Super Bowls.

His performance declined in 2005 and 2006, and Favre was flirting with retirement. Each season, he would take weeks or even months to decide, as fans hung on his every word.

When the Green Bay head-coaching job came up in 2005, Favre was upset that his friend Steve Mariucci didn't get the gig. He also felt betrayed when the team drafted QB Aaron Rodgers over Favre's choice of a new offensive lineman. Then Favre wanted the Packers to sign wide receiver Randy Moss. Instead, Moss signed with the New England Patriots and helped take them to the Super Bowl.

"So that was kind of the final straw," says Ross Bernstein, author of the recently published flip book I Love Brett Favre-I Hate Brett Favre.

Even without Moss, 2007 was Favre's milestone year. At 38, he surpassed some of football's towering greats, beating John Elway's record for most wins with 149 and Dan Marino's record with 421 touchdown passes. Favre also became the third quarterback—along with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning—to beat all 31 other NFL teams. He led the Packers to a 13-3 regular-season record, losing the NFC championship game to the New York Giants—the eventual Super Bowl winners. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the 10th time in his career, but an ankle injury forced him to withdraw.

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