Brett Favre and Cal Ripken, Jr.: Ironmen akin?

Not until Cal Ripken, Jr. had long surpassed Lou Gehrig's "Ironman" record of 2,130 consecutive MLB games played did it become kosher to overtly offer that the Oriole luminary had perhaps paid more credence to the sanctity of the streak than the success of his team.

That Ripken ultimately would appear in 2,632 straight games for Baltimore prior to voluntarily removing himself from the lineup toward the close of the 1998 season remains a remarkable feat.  And (ignoring the obvious cliché) one that won't be broken.  Ever.  Consider that standing third on the all-time consecutive games list behind Ripken and Gehrig is journeyman infielder Everett Scott, who appeared in 1,307 straight ballgames between 1916 and 1925 -- an impressive feat, no doubt, yet a mark not even equaling half of Ripken's streak.  As for modern day ballers?  The active leader is Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp, who has played in 204 straight games for L.A.  Just 2,428 games to go, Matt!

In the NFL, the owner of both the all-time and active streak is of course Viking quarterback Brett Favre, who has now started 290 consecutive games; that marks leaps to 314 when taking playoff contests into account.  Last season, among his myriad of NFL records (both incredible and inauspicious) Favre passed longtime Purple luminary Jim Marshall, who had played in 270 straight (282 including postseason). 

In Favre's rear view, however, there's a more potent force than Ripken's Kemp: Peyton Manning is now at 216 entering the week.  That mark serves as the longest ever to begin a career.  Should Manning start every game for the remainder of 2010 and then each contest for the next five year (going with the current 16-game schedule), the Indy quarterback would be at 307 consecutive starts.  Considering this truly will (and should) be Favre's last year, Manning would best Favre's mark in 2015.

Despite the Viking's desperately-needed win over the Cowboys on Sunday, it's apparent that Favre, now a grandfather at age 41, is weathered and that the tendinitis in his throwing arm is compromising his production.  Whatever youthful juice pumped through his veins last year -- and in the 19 seasons preceding this campaign -- now appears gone.  Brett Favre is surely one of the greatest quarterbacks and toughest players (at any position) in the history of the NFL.  But we should be concerned that the pride of his own ironman streak will cost the 2-3 Purple a playoff birth. 

Like he always has: Favre is playing through pain.  And while he said last week that he would consider sitting out one or two games to give his right arm a rest -- please count me among the majority not buying that.  Favre didn't waffle through another off-season and then get dragged back up north to wear a ballcap on the sidelines.  Two years ago as a member of the Jets, the dogged Favre played through a partially torn bicep as New York ultimately went 1-4 down the stretch and missed the playoffs..  To the effect of aptly serving his then-team (and himself) while playing through that injury, Favre told the Strib on 10/13:

"I had the biceps a couple of years ago but as far as just nagging. Pitchers get it all the time, as a quarterback it's a lot like a receiver or a running back, you get nagging issues or your legs or whatever that poses a problem. I had tendinitis [in 2000] and I was out all of camp.

"Prior to that if you had told me tendinitis would keep me out I would have laughed at you because I always looked at it as, 'That's kind of a wimpy injury. It was painful. Very painful and for people who have had it lifting things is a problem. So throwing 50-yard bombs is even tougher. We've been treating it, it's been there for several weeks. It hasn't gotten any worse but it really hasn't gotten better."

Through five games, Favre owns a mere completion percentage of 58.7, bad for 25th in the NFL and currently ranking as the fourth worst of his storied career.  It's true that he's now coming off his best game of the season as the Vikings ready for a Sunday night in Green Bay; yet the 73.7 completion percentage he etched against Dallas came via the fewest pass attempts (19) Favre had in nearly two years. 

And per those "50-yard bombs," the numbers further evidence the Viking's lack of going over the top -- they're one of just three NFL teams without a passing play of 40-plus yards this season.  Time and games will tell if Randy Moss and a healthy Sidney Rice can help alter that number, but at present it's obvious that the Purple are too heavily reliant on Adrian Peterson and a solid defense (certain d-backs aside) to find victory.

Nearing the crest of his Gehrig pursuit, Ripken experienced declines in production (after a

sensational 1991) in the early-to-mid '90's.  Post a June, 1993 brawl with Seattle in which he suffered a twisted knee, Ripken struggled to hit with consistency for the next two months.  After breaking Gehrig's mark, Ripken would move over to third base and offer three seasons (1996-98) of only measured offensive numbers while building on his own record.  Yet in 1999, the first year in which Ripken took regular days off (and missed the month of August after going on the DL for the first time) he enjoyed a batting Renaissance, batting .340 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI in 86 games.

Yet we won't see Favre volunteer himself to the bench.  What, is he going to miss a re-visit to Green Bay?  The only thing that will sit him down is Commissioner Roger Goodell, should the league find the three-time MVP culpable off untoward off-field behavior and shockingly suspend the legend during the season.

Part of that is, like Ripken, the organization lacks the promise of a clearly superior alternate option.  But the larger part can be heard in Favre's above quotes.  Toughness identifies a man in the NFL like no other quality.  And Brett Favre has penned the code for playing through pain, whatever the result be for his team.  Sitting down for a week could eventually behoove a maligned Vikings passing game, but Favre is too proud to conclude his career with a "wimpy" stamp on his stat line.

"Hubris" will never show up on an NFL injury report.  But until Brett Favre proves that he can consistently direct a football and forcefully chuck the pigskin 50 yards, his pride may do more harm to the Vikings than any opponent.  

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