CANTON, Ohio - Brett Favre. All-time competitor. All-time character.
Favre struck each and every emotional chord of his one-of-a-kind football career Saturday with his enshrinement speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Cheered by an overwhelming number of Green Bay Packers fans in the crowd of 22,469, Favre spoke from the heart for 37 minutes to close the four-hour program.
“I had a blast, sometimes maybe a little too much,” Favre said in conclusion. “But what I’m most proud of has nothing to do with statistics … what makes me most proud is how I played the game.
“Being real, authentic, spontaneous … Did I make mistakes? More than I care to count. But I can say this: there was never one time where I did not give it all I could.”
The kid from the backwoods hamlet of Kiln, Miss., thanked family members, coaches and teammates in his inimitable folksy style.
It didn’t take long before tears began to flow, as everyone knew they would.
“I’m not even halfway there. Help me out here,” Favre said as he gestured to Kevin Greene just below him on the stage. “Kevin, Kevin, give me some water. You got some water? Sorry about that. ... As long as it's not alcohol."
He became misty-eyed again when recounting the story of how his wife, Deanna, told him his father, Irvin, had wanted to present him at the Hall of Fame. She told him this a few days after Irvin died in 2003.
“I said to myself, ‘I will make it to the Hall of Fame so I could acknowledge the importance of him and my career and my life,'” Favre said. “He taught me toughness. Boy, did he teach me toughness. He also taught me teamwork, and by all means no player was ever more important than the team.”
Favre, 46, strode onto the stage exchanging fist bumps and low fives with Hall of Famers. Never one for a tie, he was the only new inductee in an open-neck shirt.
“Ask Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson if I can play the first series tomorrow night,” he quipped.
At times, he was really, really funny
When dozens of Favre’s ex-teammates accepted his invitation to stand and be recognized, Favre spotted guard Marco Rivera and said, “I loved playing with you guys. I loved carrying you off in the fireman’s carry. I loved tackling you.
“I loved slapping Marco on the ass, and he loved it, too. And, for everyone up here, they would all agree, that’s what it’s all about. Not necessarily slapping them on the ass but loving your teammates, competin’, fightin’, scratchin’, tough losses, tough wins.”
When fans groaned upon mention of his two seasons in Minnesota, Favre told them, “Settle down, settle down. Make no mistake about it. I will be remembered as a Packer.”
One time, Irvin Favre was coaching his son in a summer-league baseball game. Playing shortstop, Brett took a bad-hop grounder to the cup that drove him to his knees.
“Throw him out!” Irv bellowed from the dugout, after which Brett did before throwing up.
“My father was short on love and long on tough love,” said Favre. “He was always pushing me to do better.”
Favre remembered overhearing a conversation between Irv and his assistant football coaches after Brett didn’t play well in his final game at North Hancock Central High.
“I heard him say, ‘My son will redeem himself,’” Favre said as he choked up. “I never forgot that statement. I want you to know, dad, I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself and make (you) proud.
“I hope I succeeded.”
It’s unlikely any player in the league’s 96-year history was ever liked and respected by the opposition quite as much as Favre.
In what would be considered blasphemous by Bears fans, former Chicago defensive lineman Dan Hampton astonishingly placed Favre a notch above a former teammate regarded as the greatest Bear of all.
“That guy Walter Payton was pretty good,” Hall of Famer Hampton told Don Pierson of the Chicago Tribune near the halfway point of Favre’s career in November 2001. “I think Brett Favre is the greatest player I’ve ever seen in my life.
“He’s not bulletproof, but if we had him, what would we have won? Five or six Super Bowls?”
Favre, of course, brought only one championship to Green Bay just as “Sweetness,” the NFL’s second all-time leading rusher, delivered only one to Chicago.
When my beat-writing days began at the tail end of the 1970s, I recall Packers defensive players such as Ezra Johnson, John Anderson and Mike Douglass being just as much in awe of Payton as the offensive players for the Bears later appeared to be of Favre. It was easy to see that Favre had flaws as a player whereas Payton really had none.
Hampton’s point probably was that Payton, the consummate running back, inherently couldn’t be as important as Favre because of the responsibilities associated with their two positions.
When Hampton spoke, Favre was in the midst of an unparalleled streak in the NFL’s most hate-filled rivalry in which the Packers won 11 straight times in Illinois. In all, Favre as a Packer was 25-9 against the Lions, 22-10 against the Bears and 17-16 against the Vikings.
When I asked Ron Wolf last winter if Favre was more instrumental in the Packers’ football renaissance than Mike Holmgren, Bob Harlan, Reggie White or himself, the retired general manager didn’t hesitate.
“Certainly,” replied Wolf. “Without question, he’s the reason I was enshrined in Canton last year.”
Favre returned the compliment here, saying, “Ron Wolf is the single-most important person in the Packers’ rebirth.”
Another Packers quarterbacking icon, Bart Starr, weighed in on No. 4 in January 1996 as he was winning the first of his record three consecutive Associated Press Most Valuable Player awards.
“Let those of us who played long ago salute these players,” said Starr. “Favre is so much stronger than I was, a much better athlete. This man has as much courage as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Throughout his career, Favre revealed himself to the public more than almost every great player has.
With network television officials anxiously marking time as the minutes passed, Favre took charge. “I’m going for a world record, and I don’t give a damn,” he said.
He left it all on the stage at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday night. He did the same at Lambeau Field and every other venue across the NFL for two decades.