Brett Favre discusses his addiction to painkillers in 1996 as coach Mike Holmgren looks on. File/Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers
Although his 253 consecutive regular-season starts will long define Brett Favre as one of the ultimate tough guys in pro sports, his endurance through a string of personal difficulties and tragedies during his 16 years with the Green Bay Packers has made him all the more a champion in the eyes of his fans nationwide.
It started with physical pain. After completing the 1995 season, in which he led the Packers to their first division title in 23 years and earned his first of three consecutive league MVP awards, Favre, in May 1996, announced he voluntarily was entering the league's substance-abuse program to fight an addiction to the painkiller Vicodin.
At age 26, Favre was no stranger to pain. He was injured in a car crash in 1990, before his senior season in college at the University of Southern Mississippi, and had 30 inches of his intestines removed. He began using painkillers for football injuries in his breakout first season with the Packers in 1992.
Stemming from a barrage of shoulder, hip, knee, back and foot injuries during the 1995 season, the addiction became a serious concern in February 1996, when he had a seizure after undergoing ankle surgery in a Green Bay hospital.
Kicking the habit
He emerged from the six-week treatment program to announce he no longer was dependent on Vicodin and to combat rumors he was an alcoholic. The following season, he led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI.
Meanwhile, Favre's older brother, Scott, faced felony drunken driving charges in Mississippi after a train hit his car and killed a close friend on July 20, 1996. Favre was on hand in March 1997 as Scott pleaded guilty and received a one-year prison sentence.
Brett Favre's issues with alcohol continued. His treatment for pain-killer addiction required he also abstain from alcohol for two years, but Favre has said it wasn't until early 1999 he gave up drinking after his wife, Deanna, made him choose between his partying lifestyle and his family.
Deaths in the family
In December 2003, a more grown-up Brett Favre overcame his greatest moment of tragedy with perhaps his most memorable triumph. On Dec. 21, 2003, Irvin Favre — his father, high school football coach and avid supporter — died of a heart attack in Mississippi at age 58. Favre was to play a "Monday Night Football" game at Oakland the next night.
Assured his father would want him to go on, Favre had a career night. He threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout victory over the Raiders.
"I love him so much, and I love this game," Favre told ABC Sports after the legendary performance. "It meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I did not expect this kind of performance, but I know he was watching tonight."
However, the string of trials for the Favre family continued.
On Oct. 6, 2004, Deanna Favre's brother, 24-year-old Casey Tynes, died from injuries he sustained in an all-terrain vehicle crash on the Favres' property in Mississippi. The death came the week Favre sustained a concussion in a game against the New York Giants.
Less than a week after Tynes' death, on Oct. 14, 2004, Deanna Favre learned she had breast cancer.
She had a lumpectomy in New York the next day and faced months of chemotherapy and weeks of radiation treatment. During the 2004 season, she missed two Packers home games, which Brett Favre called "unheard of."
"For three months, I was 100 percent sure I was not coming back," he told USA Today at the beginning of the 2005 season. "My wife was still going through her treatments, and I was more concerned about that than she was."
Deanna insisted he keep playing, and he did. Becoming an advocate for breast-cancer awareness in the process, Deanna Favre received a clean bill of health in June 2005.
But the 2005 season the Favres had in mind quickly became anything but. On Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast the quarterback called home.
"I haven't slept much," Favre said that day while unable to contact his family in Kiln. "Today was very, very difficult because of the uncertainty that's out there. I don't know anything."
The disaster almost claimed the lives of Favre's mother, grandmother, brothers and other family members and friends. The Favre family home was destroyed, as was the family's 4-year-old restaurant.
Then, in December, Favre's maternal grandmother was hospitalized after having a stroke.
On July 28, 2007, Favre took a leave from Packers training camp after the death of his good friend and stepfather-in-law, Rocky Byrd, of a heart attack at age 56.
Favre retires as an all-around icon of durability and grit.
Through his much-publicized and analyzed tests on and off the field, the free-spirited young quarterback who came to Green Bay in 1992 has gone out as respected as any of Titletown's many legends.
"I think people say, 'You know what? Death does happen to Brett Favre and Deanna Favre. Cancer does happen to them,'" Favre said Thursday in his retirement news conference. "I hate to say that we're appreciated because of that, because we would love to change some of those things. But it's life, and we've had to deal with it with the public, and we're thankful for that, because it has helped."