CANTON, Ohio - Brett Favre entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the same mix of raw emotions that he played with in his 20-year career in the NFL.
The former Green Bay Packers great became one of the 303 players inducted into the Hall on Saturday night in front of 22,469 spectators at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, including a huge contingent of Packers fans and many current and former members of the team for which he made his name. His induction became official when he and his presenter, his wife, Deanna, unveiled his bronze bust that will reside in the Hall of Fame, the last of the eight members of this year's class inducted.
And then Favre took the podium for an extemporaneous speech that lasted for 36½ minutes — the longest of the night — and that was at turns funny and bittersweet.
"What a lucky man," Favre said. "To play a game I love so much for 20 years and have all the wonderful things happen, what a blessing. To share in that joy with you guys tonight, what an incredible night, what an incredible week. Having my wife introduce me was an easy choice considering she was there long before my first touchdown pass, long after my last."
Favre choked up and even broke down several times, with the most poignant moments coming when he talked about his father, Irvin, who died in 2003. Irvin had been his high school coach, and Favre talked about how hard his father was on him, and how sparing he was with praise as he tried to instill in him what became Favre's trademark toughness.
So the day after his father died, during a private plane trip home after Favre's now-famous performance in the Packers' win at Oakland, he was bowled over when Deanna told him about a recent conversation she'd had with his dad. Irvin Favre had told her that he couldn't wait until Brett went into the Hall of Fame so that he could present his son.
"A new goal entered my mind then and there," Favre said. "I said to myself, 'I will make it to the Hall of Fame so I could acknowledge how important he was ..."
At that point, Favre had to stop talking for several seconds because he couldn't get out any words. "This is tougher than any third-and-15, I can assure you," he said. "So I could acknowledge the importance of him in my career and my life."
He later said, after telling a story of hearing his father say after a bad game in high school that his son would redeem himself: "I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself and make him proud, and I hope I succeeded."
The boisterous crowd was Packers-heavy, with probably at least 60 percent of the spectators wearing Packers gear. They serenaded Favre several times with chants of "Go Pack Go" and "MVP." Though Favre had a contentious split with the Packers in 2008 that eventually culminated in his signing in 2009 with one of the Packers’ great rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, his popularity with Packers fans appears to be back on the rise.
"I tell you, Packer fans are pretty special," Favre said. "I often wondered what it was like when (former coach) Mike (Holmgren) and (quarterback) Matt Hasselbeck came back when they were playing in Seattle. And then I found out. It ain’t easy. But I thank you so much. From Atlanta to Minnesota, 20 years, make no doubt about it, I will be remembered as a Packer.".
Many current and former members of the Packers' organization also were in the crowd, Holmgren, Steve Mariucci, Ted Thompson, Edgar Bennett and Aaron Rodgers. And the man who acquired Favre for the Packers in a deal that changed the destiny of the franchise, former general manager Ron Wolf, was with him on stage as a Hall inductee from last year.
Favre thanked many people from his college career at Southern Mississippi through his 16 seasons with the Packers He called Holmgren "the greatest head coach I've ever played for," and shared especially strong feelings for Wolf.
"Ron made it cool to come to Green Bay," Favre said. "So I thank you, Ron, for believing in me, seeing something in me that others didn't see, probably including myself, and sticking your neck out there for one of the riskiest and craziest trades in NFL history when you decided to trade a first-round pick for me with Atlanta. So i say thank you, Ron. I love you. You mean more to me than anyone."
Related: Favre, Mariucci like family
Favre is the 24th member of the Green Bay Packers’ organization in the Hall, which is second most in the NFL, behind only the Chicago Bears' 27.
He also is one of eight members in this year’s class and the final one inducted Saturday night. The others are Kevin Greene, Tony Dungy, Orlando Pace, Marvin Harrison, Ken Stabler, Dick Stanfel and Ed DeBartolo Jr.
Favre enters the Hall as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and maybe the best player in Packers history.
He is the 25th modern-era quarterback to be inducted, and the second from the Packers, following Bart Starr. (Arnie Herber also is in the Hall and was the Packers’ primary passer for most of the 1930s, but his official position was halfback and he’s listed by the Hall among the pre-modern era halfbacks and quarterbacks.)
Favre’s signature accomplishment was his durability — he started 297 straight regular-season games and 321 straight including playoffs. Both are NFL records that could stand for decades.
He also is one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. He ranks No. 2 in NFL history in passing yards (71,838) and touchdown passes (508).
Favre also won three league MVPs.
But more than statistics or awards, Favre’s legacy is being the indispensable player in the Packers’ turnaround that began in 1992, his first season with the team, after nearly a quarter century in which they were one of the worst franchises in the league.
Favre, who is tied with Peyton Manning for most wins by a quarterback (186) in league history, was the Packers’ quarterback from early in their third game of the 1992 season through 2007. Over those 16 years the Packers had the best winning percentage in the league (.629, ahead of Pittsburgh at .623). They won one Super Bowl (XXXI), lost another (XXXII) and played in two other NFC championship games.
In the 24 seasons before Favre’s arrival, from 1968-91, the Packers’ .423 winning percentage was the league’s worst except for three expansion teams from the ‘60s and ‘70s (New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay).