Intense pain no match for intense game
Note: This story was published Sept. 13, 1999.
Green Bay -- An emotional wreck was one way to describe Brett Favre after the Green Bay Packers quarterback led his team to a heart-stopping, last-second 28-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders Sunday.
A physical wreck would be another.
"It looked like someone ran over his thumb with a car," strong safety LeRoy Butler said after leaving the training room.
It certainly was a good sign that Favre, the last one out of the locker room, left the building with just a bandage over his hand, and it was an even better sign that X-rays on the thumb were negative, according to a club spokesman.
But given this is the second time in three weeks that Favre has smashed his hand on an opposing player, he may have to battle this injury all year long. If it is just a bruise, as coach Ray Rhodes contended after the game, then it will be a matter of Favre dealing with the pain.
"It feels worse," Favre said, comparing it to when he slammed it on Denver linebacker John Mobley's helmet in an exhibition game Aug. 23. "I don't want to even think about it."
Somehow the gutsy field general overcame enormous discomfort and gut-wrenching turmoil to pull his team out of the jaws of death in Rhodes' opener as Packers coach.
Despite badly injuring the thumb with 9:33 to go in the third quarter and aggravating it again with 3 minutes to go, he drove the offense 82 yards in 11 plays for the winning score.
Favre, given the play-calling duties because it was the 2-minute offense, completed six of the seven passes he didn't spike to stop the clock, totaling 70 yards. His best completion was a nicely placed lob to receiver Corey Bradford for a 19-yard gain to the Oakland 1.
The drive was a testament to Favre's toughness, but it took an exacting toll. Several times, Favre grasped his hand in pain and appeared close to tears. When he threw the game-winning, 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Thomason with 11 seconds left, Favre came to the bench and fell to his knees.
The emotional strain of overcoming a 10-point deficit and enough pain to ground a pterodactyl took its toll on Favre. It was never more evident than in his post-game news conference when, after being asked about the emotional nature of the game, he choked up, apologized to reporters and left the podium.
Clearly, he was assuming the mantle of leadership for a team that previously was under the thumb of master Mike Holmgren. Maybe Favre's performance was his way of showing he could succeed without his former coach, that this was his team now.
"I could look in his eyes and see the emotion and the tears," Rhodes said. "Since I came here, I never had really seen that emotion in his eyes and today it was there."
Teammates and coaches alike were surprised neither that Favre had rallied the team for 14 fourth-quarter points nor that he needed an emotional rescue after the contest. They have grown accustomed to his wear-it-on-his-sleeve style on the field and knew that he wanted nothing more than to pull this victory out on his own.
And that's what he did, despite an up-and-down game in which he threw three interceptions - though two really weren't his fault - and was under constant pressure. In the end, he showed an uncanny ability to turn momentum in the Packers' favor and make opening day a bit easier on Rhodes.
"He was hurting," tight end Mark Chmura said. "His hand was beat up and swollen. After we scored, he was so emotionally exhausted. It was up and down all game. He was really hurting pretty bad."
Favre, starting his 110th straight game, completed 28 of 47 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, marking the 14th time in his career he had put four on the board. However, judging from the way things were going in the first half, you wouldn't have guessed those would be his final numbers. He completed just 12 of 20 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions as the Raiders jumped to a 10-7 lead.
It was in the third quarter on second and 9 from the Packer 13 that his right hand collided with the outstretched arms of defensive tackle Russell Maryland on an incomplete pass attempt to receiver Bill Schroeder. Favre grimaced in pain and held his right hand in his left as backup Matt Hasselbeck hurried to get his helmet on.
But Favre stayed in, and on the very next play he hit Antonio Freeman on a post route 17 yards downfield and the Packers receiver turned it into a 51-yard gain. Five plays later, Favre connected with Freeman for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 14-10 lead.
"He put it where he had to," Freeman said of the first completion. "It came a little easier than most of his fastballs."
On his next two drives, Favre struggled, completing just one of three passes and throwing a devastating interception at his own 15-yard line that allowed the Raiders to jump ahead, 17-14. Though he didn't specify exactly when it crossed his mind, Favre admitted he almost took himself out of the game.
"I didn't mention it to Coach or anything," Favre said. "I was actually sort of scared. At the time I'd throw the ball downfield and I didn't know if I could put anything on it. We didn't move the ball a couple of times, but I gave it one more try."
Things got worse when end Lance Johnstone clubbed him in the hand as he released a pass on the Packers' second-to-last drive. But Favre got another chance with 1:51 to go and wasn't to be denied.
"He was very emotional, as emotional as I've seen him when he came in the locker room," offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis said. "He wanted to get the year off to a good start. He knows this is his team."