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Man of steel

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

On Sept. 27, 1992, Brett Favre started at quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and led them to a 17-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He never missed another start – regular season or playoffs – knocking out 275 games in a row.

Take a moment and let that roll around in your head because even though Favre got more than his share of praise from fawning fans and media during his iconic, championship career in Green Bay, his consecutive game streak may be the one accomplishment that is underappreciated.

You're never supposed to say never, but this is the NFL record that will never be broken.

And while baseball's Cal Ripken is best known as the iron man for his 2,632 consecutive baseball games played over 17 seasons – another mark that will likely never fall – it pales in comparison to what Favre did. And that isn't meant to take anything away from Ripken.

Baseball is a grind, a day in, day out test of physical and mental toughness. If what Ripken did was easy, everyone would do it.

But no one was trying to chase Ripken down and break him in half before pounding him through the turf. Ripken wasn't playing a game that leaves so many of its retirees shuffling around in unrecognizable, splintered bodies and various states of disability.

While everyone acknowledges football is a brutal game, it is even worse than people think.

BRETT FAVRE RETIRES

Every year at the Super Bowl all the big talk radio stations set up remote broadcasts in a convention center, a spot called Radio Row. And every year companies hire ex-players to make the rounds to hawk their products at the end of the interview.

It's quite a scene, too often a sad one, as you repeatedly watch one-time proud and glorious athletes hobble from one interview to the next, broken down shells of their former selves.

Favre took a historic whipping to start all those games. He hurt his shoulders, knees, ankles, back, various fingers and kept coming back for more. There were untold concussions and, of course, heaven knows how many non-publicized bruises that would have all but maimed a mortal.

None of them stopped him.

Neither did his numerous off-field tragedies, including the death of his father the day before a game, and self-inflicted drama of a personal life that was often as wild as one of his final drive comebacks.

But whatever it was, there was Favre, Sunday after Sunday.

There certainly was (and will be) a dark side to this. There is a price for such glory and Favre paid for it up front with Vicodin and alcohol addiction, a stint in rehab and a million regrets.

And here in the steroid era, where we've been trained to be skeptical of the impossible, it would be remiss to not mention that we can only hope that there wasn't anything else that got him back on that field.

But the frightening part for Favre is what is to come. The concussions have long-term ramifications and the physical ailments haven't even begun to expose themselves.

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Brett Favre with Packers coach Mike Holmgren in 1992.
(Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)

In the long run, this may not seem like something worth celebrating.

But for now, it is. For now, it is Favre representing that great American ideal of inner and outer toughness, of a Mississippi kid playing the nation's game on its most sacred plot of land and just rubbing dirt on all those injuries, on all that anguish. A story of a single millionaire doing what so many working people do, ignoring the pain and doing their job, punching that clock because they're living paycheck to paycheck and there is no other choice.

This is what Favre wanted. This was the legacy, more than any other, that he sought.

Football is a team game and early on he couldn't guarantee that Super Bowl title he brought back to Lambeau, but he could eye Ron Jaworski's record of 116 consecutive quarterback starts and go for it.

He broke it Nov. 7, 1999, an eternity ago in the NFL. It didn't curb his desire to play every week, didn't make him reconsider shaking off all that pain, it didn't stop him from being that blue-collar star.

It's a crazy record, one that means everything and nothing at the same time. Yes, Green Bay benefited for years from not having to go to a back-up, which, in the era of weak quarterbacks, is almost always a recipe for disaster. But mostly it was an individual mark of guts and luck, of lunacy and legacy. It takes a special kind of guy to even contemplate it.

Favre did more than that. For 16 consecutive years, 275 consecutive games, through hell and back, there was No. 4 taking the field of America's toughest sport.

Until Tuesday, when Brett Favre decided to simply walk away at last on his own two feet.

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