Just one day after losing his father, Irvin Favre, to a heart attack and fatal car crash, Brett Favre took the field for aMonday Night Football game against the notorious Oakland Raiders. Even with the Green Bay Packers clinging to a slim chance for a playoff spot, his teammates and his adopted city didn’t expect Brett to suit up.
Big Irvwas the game to Brett. As his coach at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, Mississippi, Irv taught Brett the importance of execution, precision, and sacrifice. He rarely let Brett throw the ball; rather, he had him lead the run-oriented wishbone offense, which required him to handoff and then block for his teammates. When no major college had any interest in Brett as a quarterback, Irv got the University of Southern Mississippi to give him a shot as a defensive back. And when Brett did the impossible at Southern Miss–moving from defense to the team’s starting quarterback his freshman year–Irv was there the whole way.
Prior to the Raider game, Favre had started an exhausting 189 games straight (an NFL record) and was nursing a broken finger on his throwing hand since the early weeks of the 2003 season. Rumors of his retirement circulated among the press–he was in his thirteenth year–and while no one said it out loud, most commentators believed Brett was a shadow of his former self.
But what happened in the Oakland twilight on December 22, 2003, is the stuff of NFL legend. Brett Favre sealed his reputation as one of the greatest football players in history.
“I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play,” he said after throwing for just under 400 hundred yards and four touchdowns to rout the Raiders.“I love him so much, and I love this game. It meant a great deal to me, to my dad, and to my family, and I didn't expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching.”
Chris Havel is a sports columnist for the Green Bay Press-Gazette and has covered the Packers for fourteen years. Co-author of Brett Favre's first book, For The Record, he has also contributed to the Packer anthologies Heir to the Legacy and Titletown. Havel is the host of Wisconsin's most popular daily sports talk radio show, “Fanline,” on WFAN 107.5 F.M. and is the feature writer of Packernews.com, a subscription website on all things Packer.