When Brett Favre told me in an interview before the start of the 1993 season that his goal was to become the best quarterback in NFL history, I wondered what he possibly could be thinking.
On Saturday night, I finally found out.
To take you back, Favre had flashed talent in 1992, his first year with the Green Bay Packers, but the thought that he’d become one of the all-time greats, let alone the best ever, seemed crazy, even if his ambitions came off as heartfelt.
But if Favre never quite got to the top of the NFL’s quarterback mountain, he at least got into the discussion for a while. His 20-year career was spectacular enough to land him last weekend in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with the presentation of his case and debate in the selectors meeting in San Francisco on Saturday lasting anywhere from six to nine seconds, depending on who in the room was doing the timing.
For some context, Hall of Fame debates that short — the longest of Saturday was about 50 minutes — are reserved for the absolute no-brainers. The presenters for transcendent players such as Jerry Rice, John Elway and Walter Payton also needed only a matter of seconds to make their cases, so overwhelming were those players' credentials. Now Favre ranks among that elite group.
But as easy as the vote on Favre was for the 46 selectors Saturday, it’s a light year’s trip back to ’93, when it wasn’t at all obvious that he would be even a good NFL quarterback, let alone great. I’d never gone back and asked what made him think at that time that he had a chance to be special. At his news conference after his election Saturday night, I finally got the chance.
He started by saying he had no idea at the time how his career would turn out, and that he was fortunate it wasn’t derailed along the way. But as he went on, what came out, though he didn’t exactly put it this way, was a deep belief in himself, no matter how shaky things might have looked to the rest of the world.
He knew he was unsophisticated for his position — or at least looking back now, he can fully comprehend how little he knew about playing quarterback in the NFL. But that didn’t matter.
“I played a lot of games in college but not really in a passing offense, so I had to rely on just make something happen and learn on the fly,” Favre said. “My first 10 years (in the NFL) was really athletic ability overcoming lack of knowledge over football. I just felt like if I got a chance I could make something happen. I’ll get the other part of it down as I go. A little naïve, too; I think that played a big part, because I didn’t realize the (long) odds from Day 1.”
Yes, the odds looked long in those early days. But five years retired, Favre ranks among the top quarterbacks in NFL history. He’s one of 33 quarterbacks in the Hall (25 modern-era and eight pre-modern era), and very well might make it into the best 10 of all time.
Coming up with that list would be a long story in itself, though the top of it likely consists of Tom Brady, followed in some order by Joe Montana, Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning. Where Sammy Baugh might fall is a big question. And then there’s a group that would include Elway, Dan Marino, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw and Favre, among others.
The hardest thing for most of this year’s finalist had to be the excruciating wait Saturday for news on whether they were voted in. The Hall brought them — 15 modern-day candidates and three from the seniors and contributors committees — to San Francisco for the weekend so the eventual inductees could appear on the NFL Honors Show and a news conference Saturday night.
While the committee met for about 9½ hours starting early Saturday morning, the candidates waited in their hotel rooms. By mid-afternoon, they knew the next knock on their door would be from David Baker, the Hall’s president.Then they'd find out whether their trip to San Francisco was in vain.
The wait had to be far less painful for Favre, who no doubt knew he was a shoo-in for induction in his first year of eligibility. So the highlight for him was at the NFL Honors Show on Saturday evening. After the eight inductees were introduced to the crowd and a national TV audience, all the Hall of Famers in attendance rushed the stage to congratulate them.
“Roger Staubach when he comes up on stage, I still get goosebumps,” Favre said. “That was my childhood hero, Dallas Cowboys were my team. (Friday) night Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones comes up and says, ‘Hello,’ and he’s actually talking to me. That’s how I feel. I guess what I’m saying is I’m extremely thankful to be part of the group, but I don’t necessarily feel like part of the group. I mean that with the utmost respect.”