Favre, Holmgren shared a special bond
Brett Favre will be the first to admit he's made mistakes, but the Green Bay Packers quarterback regrets very little about his 20-year NFL career.
Not being able to play longer for Mike Holmgren was one of them.
It was Holmgren's West Coast offense that the three-time MVP began began his Hall of Fame career. Their seven seasons together produced 84 wins (including playoffs), three NFC Central titles, two Super Bowl appearances and the Lombardi trophy that had eluded the franchise for nearly 30 years.
Holmgren's tenure in Green Bay ended after the 1998 season when he was introduced as the head coach and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks. They had their individual successes - Packers went onto make five more playoff appearances with Favre at quarterback and Holmgren led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2005.
Yet, neither claimed the NFL's biggest prize again.
"One of the only regrets I have is that I didn't get to play with Mike longer, which I can put that blame off on him," joked Favre prior to his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
"But he and I both know, because we've talked about this numerous times, that had we had a chance to play and he had coached me for more years, I think there would have been – I truly believe there would have been more championships."
Favre was incredibly close with his father, Irvin, who was his high-school football coach. In the NFL, however, it was Holmgren who rode the wave of Favre's gut-curdling decisions. Favre acknowledged there were a few times where Holmgren seriously considered pulling the gunslinger, but he always stood by his side.
That meant dealing with his share of headaches. During his nearly 15-minute speech at Favre's induction ceremony, Holmgren playfully recounted several stories where Favre's actions wore on Holmgren, beginning with his comeback win over Cincinnati in 1992 in relief of an injured Don Majkowski.
"We're playing Cincinnati at home, we're down 14-0 and I said to myself I'm going to be the shortest tenured head coach in the history of this league," joked Holmgren. "I am not going to be able to win a game and I'm out of here. Then, Don got hurt. Brett goes in the game. Honestly, a lot of weird stuff happened in that game. I'm calling plays and he's running other plays. I'm not sure he expected to play all that much, but hell, he's in the game, so he had to play."
In the Packers' final game at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1994, Holmgren said he called two plays for Favre with 15 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts. Down 17-14, he gave Favre two instructions – don't get sacked and don't run.
Predictably, Favre scampered in for a 9-yard touchdown on the next play in a 21-17 victory.
"As has been written many times, you may have seen me standing on the sideline (and) yelling, 'No, no, no, yes, yes,'" Holmgren said. "In typical Brett Favre style, he comes over to the sideline. I'm happy. Everyone is happy, but I have to know why the miscommunication. I said, 'did you listen to me? I told you you couldn't run.' He goes, 'Mike, I knew I could make it.' He made it by this much if you see it on the film. What did I learn? Total belief in himself. No doubts. You need that playing that position. You're out there by yourself. It's your team. It's you."
Holmgren added another instance in a game where he was trying to get Favre to choose between two different plays to call, but received only a blank stare in response. With backup quarterbacks Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell looking on nervously, Holmgren finally grabbed Favre by the jersey.
"'Will you listen to me?' Holmgren recalled saying to Favre. "(Favre) goes, 'Mike, you ought to see your mustache right now."
During a trip home from an away game Favre came up into the seat next to Holmgren on the team plane, something no player did because it was usually reserved for players who had done something wrong in the game.
Instead, Favre sat down next to Holmgren and said, 'Mike, I finally get it. The game today slowed down for me. I understand it. It's going to be good.'"
It certainly was.
"Mike, I think the world of him as a man and as a coach," Favre said. "One of the things he was so great at doing – he was great at chewing my butt too, by the way – but he was so great at making us believe we could win against anyone."
Holmgren mostly kept his composure during his speech, but his voice began to break up as he told his final tale of the evening. It was about how hard he'd coached Favre and the effort he put into making him the type of quarterback he envisioned he could be.
The two talk about once a year with the conversation usually spurred by either's birthday. Still, those opportunities are meaningful for Holmgren, who says he knows Favre "better now than I did when I was coaching him." The retired coach came across a lot of talented quarterbacks in his nearly 30 years in the NFL, but no one quite like Favre.
A father of four daughters, his seven years in Green Bay gave him a son.
"People think we didn't get along very well and I was probably too hard on him. At times, I was," Holmgren said. "The reason I was, was I recognized how talented he was and what he could do. I wasn't right about everything but I was right about that. I knew it was my job. I was really hired to harness that energy a little bit and to teach him."
"But I have to tell you, he was like the son I never had," said Holmgren, his voice cracking. "After I left, he went onto great, great things with great coaches. They're in the audience tonight. Fabulous guys who extended what we started. I've never forgotten our time together."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.