Secret to his success
By Michael Silver, Yahoo Sports
December 7, 2007
"I don't know if anybody exactly knows where this came from," the Green Bay Packers' future Hall of Fame quarterback said in a recent interview. "It's one of those seasons where we put it all together, at least to this point, exceptionally fast. Sometimes a fall from grace can be fast, and in this case a rise to prominence can be just as fast. Can we stay here? I don't know."
What we do know thus far is that in an NFL season full of surprises, from the implosion of the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints to the rapid revival of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pack's Lambeau Leap back to the ranks of Super Bowl contenders – and the fantastic and inspirational play by its 38-year-old leader – is the wildest development of all.
Coming off a 37-27 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 29, the Packers (10-2) host the Oakland Raiders Sunday at Lambeau with a chance to clinch the NFC North and a clear path to an all-important first-round playoff bye. Favre, who was knocked out of the Cowboys game with a bruised throwing elbow and separated left shoulder, is expected to start his 250th consecutive game, extending one of the more remarkable streaks in professional sports.
A year ago, if you'd told me Favre remained the Packers' starter in early December, I'd have envisioned a Kareem Abdul-Jabbaresque retirement tour, complete with cheesy gifts and highlights retrospectives on the JumboTrons. I certainly wouldn't have entertained the notion that Favre, were it not for Tom Brady's sickeningly great season, would be battling it out with Adrian Peterson and Tony Romo for MVP honors.
Over his previous two seasons, Favre threw more interceptions (47) than touchdown passes (38) – far more interceptions than any player in the league. This year, his numbers have improved dramatically in virtually every category: He's completing 67.4 percent of his passes (296 of 439) for 3,412 yards (second behind Brady), with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
There are a lot of reasons for Favre's improvement – Mike McCarthy's coaching, an upgraded receiving corps, the emergence of Green Bay's defense – but the turnaround began in Hattiesburg, Miss., on the 465-acre ranch where Favre spends most of his non-Titletown time.
"After the way he worked in the offseason, I'm not surprised at all," says Ken Croner, a performance specialist for Athletes' Performance who spent eight weeks training Favre in the spring and summer. "The time and effort he puts in is amazing, and this year I could just tell he was really, really excited to get back."
Favre's morning workouts with Croner, who assisted the Packers as a strength and conditioning coach in the summer of '03 and began working with Favre individually in the '05 offseason, consisted primarily of resistance work geared toward simulating the quarterback's throwing mechanics. With a heart-rate monitor hooked up to his chest and a bungee cord around his hips (and Croner, also connected, standing a few feet away), Favre would work on three-step drops, rollouts and other movements designed to mimic what he does on the field.
Later in the day, he'd show up at his daughter Britney's high school and throw 50 to 100 balls to the lucky receivers on the Oak Grove football team, often joining them in wind sprints afterward. Then Brett would go back to the ranch and spend the bulk of the day doing farm labor, alone on his tractor or electric lawnmower or toiling in the hot, dusty fields.
"At a certain point of my career, I got tired of lifting weights, and no one likes to run," Favre says. "With Ken, we've been able to do workouts that are more suitable for what I do on the field. And when he comes to stay with me in Mississippi, he becomes part of the family."
Yet even after Favre showed up for training camp in stellar shape, he wasn't convinced that the Packers, who'd won their final four games of '06 to finish 8-8, would make a major jump in McCarthy's second year. Favre was still steamed that the organization had failed to acquire Randy Moss before the NFL draft and envisioned a season in which he'd have to take as many or more chances as he had in the previous two seasons to allow his team to contend.
"I can't say that I went into this year with a mindset different from the other years," Favre says. "In fact, I might've gone into this year with a mindset that I had to play more recklessly, because I wasn't sure where we were as a team."
McCarthy, who'd been Favre's quarterbacks coach in 1999 before leaving to become the Saints' offensive coordinator, helped convince the quarterback to play a less risky style in '07. Meanwhile, second-year wideout Greg Jennings blossomed into a big-play threat opposite trusty veteran Donald Driver, with '07 third-round draft pick James Jones and second-year scrapper Ruvell Martin seamlessly stepping into secondary roles. Speedy veteran Koren Robinson's recent return from a year-long suspension has given Green Bay an unlikely Fab Five, with all of the receivers sometimes deployed together in a spread formation.
Most strikingly, a playmaking defense led by swarming middle linebacker Nick Barnett and shutdown corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris kept the Packers from falling behind as frequently as they did in 2005 (when they went 4-12, leading to Mike Sherman's dismissal after six years as head coach) and '06.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal's Jason Wilde, 35 of Favre's 47 interceptions over those two seasons came when the Packers were behind. It turns out the quarterback is a lot more careful with the ball when he feels less pressure to score points – and is more confident that the guys on the other side of the ball can handle their business.
"This year it's OK to check it down on third-and-long and punt the ball," Favre says. "To a certain degree I've always known that. But if we're behind, I feel like at some point I've got to make a play.
"Everyone wants to find out the secret formula, to find out what's going on this year after what happened the two years before that. But it's really not that complicated. We haven't been behind by 14 points in the fourth quarter yet. And, hopefully, we won't be."
If so, we know Favre is prepared to go down slinging. That's what makes him so fun to watch in the first place – and, to this point, the most compelling figure in a season full of memorable storylines.
Take it to the ATM
Want to see an NFL team quit? Watch the Dolphins if they get behind early in Buffalo – and see how many of them pay more attention to the sideline heaters than to their opponents … Now that the Bucs can finally exhale, look for Sage Rosenfels and the Texans to pull off the upset over Jon Gruden's team at home … The Chris Redman story will get even better as the once-discarded quarterback leads the Falcons to a Monday night victory over the Saints, with Morten Andersen providing the game-ending dagger against his former team.
Please, boss, send me to …
Foxbrrrrrough, for that Patriots-Steelers game that could represent New England's last legitimate test before completing the NFL's first 16-0 regular season. Are the Pats buckling from the mental strain of the quest, or did they simply take a two-week "breather" before dispatching the latest threat to their dominance? It'll be fun to find out – and to witness the matching of wits between one of the most impressive first-year coaches in recent NFL history (Mike Tomlin) and one of the best-ever to roam the sidelines (Bill Belichick), at the top of his game.
Lies, lies, lies
1. The Chiefs' players have a ton of confidence in offensive coordinator Mike Solari.
2. Every NFL player who tests positive for "anabolic steroids and related substances" just happened to ingest a legal supplement whose ingredients he believed were on the up-and-up.
3. When an athlete "guarantees" a victory, it really carries a lot of punch.
World's simplest pool
Back when he was 2 Live Crew's frontman, rap impresario Luke Campbell was arrested onstage because his explicit lyrics allegedly violated indecency laws. But what could be more indecent than Campbell, succumbing to temptation, picking his hometown Miami Dolphins to defeat the New York Jets? By the time the Jets' 40-13 thrashing and complete, Campbell and the Dolphins alike felt indecently exposed. So Campbell, after three glorious weeks, is out (like Brandi Chastain and yours truly before him) – and I'm calling on another accomplished rapper to replace him. "I'll take Jacksonville over Carolina," says Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr, my old writing partner at the Palisades High School Tideline, who still has mad columnist skills. "Why? I like Vinny Testaverde as much as the next guy – he seems like a good guy. But as a general rule, when I'm picking games, I always choose against a team whose quarterback is collecting a paycheck and a pension at the same time. Jags win easily."
My buddy's annoying fantasy football adventure
More than boogie-boarding, pounding out Black Sabbath guitar riffs or nervously pacing, my buddy Malibu likes to give me grief for failing to improve his fantasy football fortunes. But he's had to pull back from the latter pastime this season, as my advice helped take his team, Beat The Gypsy, to within three victories of a league championship. After cruising to a 29-point victory over Shadongers in its regular-season finale, BTG (9-4) locked up a No. 2 seed and will face Cleveland Steamers (undoubtedly named after an Ohio-based train engine) in the quarterfinals. After Thursday night's action, Steamers (with solid efforts by Bernard Berrian and Chris Cooley) hold a 29.20-18 lead over BTG (thanks to a nice game by Clinton Portis), but Malibu is supremely confident. "I've got the big dog (Adrian Peterson) back on track," he said, "and Kolby Smith should get the ball a ton against the Broncos, because he's all Kansas City's got. And Carson Palmer has to snap out of it, right?" Our only lineup tweak was to drop the Redskins' defense in favor of the Bills, who host the feeble Dolphins. The rest of the lineups: BTG – Andre Johnson, Joey Galloway, Kellen Winslow and Nick Folk; Steamers – Tom Brady, Marques Colston, Donald Driver, Edgerrin James, Fred Jackson, Mason Crosby and the Patriots' defense. Oh, and a personal note to two-time defending champion Frank, who boasted during the draft that "I know more about football than everyone in this room combined" and openly scoffed at Malibu's picks: Good luck in the playoffs. Oh, wait, you didn't qualify. Sorry about that.
Oxygen-deprived thought from above
Like the Beach Boys, I wish they all could be California girls … but what's with the Florida ballots?
Let's do some Don Julio Silver shots for …
Brian and Candace Murphy, who are celebrating the birth of their first child, Declan. When he grows up, I'll tell the lad that I was there when mom and dad met before Super Bowl XXIX in Miami, where fortunately dad (now a magnificent morning show host on KNBR-AM in San Francisco) was as on his game as Steve Young. Mom, a former swimming standout who survived a stint as a Sports Illustrated NFL reporter that coincided with my hiring by the magazine, is an accomplished journalist in her own right. Whether Declan ends up wearing Bruin or Yalie blue, he's got a hell of a future ahead of him.
Yahoo search words of the week
Raoul Felder billionaire merger enemy
Rollin' with the Royals
The Reading Football Club ended a three-game losing streak with a 1-1 draw against struggling Middlesbrough at Madejski Stadium last Saturday, squandering the chance to pick up three points against a lesser side when it gave up an equalizer in the 83rd minute. The Royals led nine minutes into the second half after Kevin Doyle played a "route one" ball from American keeper Marcus Hahnemann and flicked it on to striker Dave Kitson, who lifted a shot over Middlesboro keeper Ross Turnbull. Reading (4-2-9; win-draw-loss) sits tied for 12th in the Premiership standings and has a tough test this Saturday as fourth-place Liverpool – still undefeated this season (8-6-0) – comes to Madejski.
Lyric-altered song dedication of the week
In the wake of that Monday night thriller in which the Ravens were so close to handing the Patriots their first defeat, here's Baltimore coach Brian Billick, baring his soul to New England safety Rodney Harrison, to Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses."
"Is it too much to ask?
Shouldn't I have this,
Is it much to demand
Shouldn't I have this,
Do I want too much?
Shouldn't I have this,
Trippin' on E(mail)
"Holy crap, stop the presses. Is this really Michael Silver writing something good about the Raiders? Oh, that's right: he writes what everyone else is talking about. … Shame on you."
I don't know where to start. So I won't … other than to wonder whether "stop the presses" will still be a viable term once print media officially dies.
"Your opinion on (Daunte) Culpepper does not make sense. The amount of running (for your life) and hitting that takes place during a football game puts far more strain on a leg/hamstring/knee then sprinting in a race. His injury was just a matter of time."
That's an interesting way of looking at it. However, you might be dismayed to know that some of Culpepper's teammates don't quite see it that way.
"Great article on the Raiders. It's nice to see a coach who commands respect from the players again. My only worry is Lane Kiffin looks like the second coming of Jon Gruden. While Kiffin might not be having the same kind of success as early as Gruden did, he's still a young, hard-nosed coach who could challenge Al Davis' authority. I just hope Al remembers that winning games is a good thing, even if it's because of someone else. We'll get The Axe back next year."
You speak the truth.
"Spot-on diatribe regarding the force-out rule in the NFL. Why leave the fate of a play in the hands of an official to essentially guess what should have happened? Unless the NFL referees have Masters degrees in physics and can calculate vectors using the replay booth, there is no room in this (or any) sport for this kind of judgment call. Does anyone even remember why this rule was put into place? It's amazing nobody has called out the NFL on this before you. Excellent work! Keep taking the ephedrine."
Thanks. I stole it (the diatribe, not the ephedrine) from my brother-from-another-mother Greg Heywood, and trust me, you don't want to argue with him.
"Thanks for the column on the 'U.' I hate the Hurricanes, but it was a heartwarming story to read how the Miami players rally around each other like that. Also, what's with some of the NFL players not wearing the 21 on the helmet? Bad karma!"
I'm not sure about the decal decisions – I know some chose to honor former Browns great Bill Willis instead – but I don't know any NFL players who aren't sympathetic to the plight of someone killed in a home invasion.
"Thank you! Finally a story about 'the U' that isn't snobbishly looking down on an awesome community of phenomenal athletes. I hope you have started a trend of positive stories following a week of heartless attacks. What other university would rally like this over the loss of one of their own? There may be one but I couldn't name it. The 'U' is something special and it should be cherished, not lambasted. So again, thank you! I am merely a lifelong fan, and my heart was broken at the loss of Sean Taylor. The 'U' is special."
I will say this: In terms of producing NFL players who give interesting interviews, Miami is a factory.
"Hines Ward, tremendous? Are you serious? Why don't you just drive your kiss-ass to Pittsburgh and (expletive)?"
How about if I just fly to Boston, drive to Foxborough and talk to him in the locker room? Wow – I really didn't think that was a controversial statement.
"Dallas has one loss and Colts two … so the Colts are ahead of Dallas because …?"
… I think the Colts are better.
"Your rankings are not true. The Colts are barely winning games and from what I see, Marvin Harrison maybe an impact (player) but, he is just the same impact as Terry Glenn (if he was active with) the Cowboys. … The Cowboys are a better team hands down from QB position to the defense side of the ball …"
The truth is out there.
"It's official. You suck just as much as Charles Robinson. Go Cowboys!"
Hey, that's totally unfair. I want to suck as much as Jason Cole, too.
"Thanks for being the first sports writer in America to acknowledge the great job that 'Chucky' Gruden and the beat-up IR, 53-man team Bucs are doing this year. This team has some of the best cohesion and esprit de corps in all sports. They get better each week and are one team that can (did in preseason) beat the Pats. Dallas is awesome, but not really improving. The Pats are also not improving, when other teams are. Improvement is the key, the build up and the run to the championship. This is starting to look like a 2002 repeat with the Bucs going all the way. Defense wins championships and (Jeff) Garcia has given the leadership to this offense it was lacking in the past. He wills them to win, even on the sidelines. They haven't even used our defensive 'Bomb.' That's right, Jeremiah Trotter. He is about up to speed on this defense and also provides leadership to the youth. It is nice flying under the radar, especially when you reach the peak. Soon, all the Analyst Buc Haters will start to change their tune when they should really just shut up and suck cheese."
I don't know if I'm the first, but I'm definitely the prettiest.
"I really don't get all of the hate mail you received about your (Aaron) Rodgers column. As a guy who did not live in Wisconsin his whole life, I see a lot of strange behavior regarding (Brett) Favre. I love the Packers and I think Favre is a great QB, but some people up here think he walks on water. And, any opinion to the contrary is sacrilegious. I don't get it. I think Rogers should play Sunday and let Favre heal for the playoffs. That's simple logic."
In fairness, Favre does walk on tundra.
"Michael, I know how Dan of Wisconsin did his math (re: Favre being the 'most accurate QB'). Dan included Favre's record-setting interceptions in the total, since technically, they were passes that were caught and didn't hit the ground. And watching many of them over the years, they have hit a lot of defenders right between the numbers. P.S. Thanks again for the great columns every week. I wish there were more NFL writers who were as passionate about the sport and about their jobs as you are. Yahoo! pulled off quite the steal to grab you from SI."
Thanks, man. I wrote the story that turned into Favre's first SI cover, and I'll never forget how excited he was when I gave him the news. I wouldn't have believed then that I'd switch jobs before he would, but it has definitely worked out well for both of us.
"QB Aaron Rodgers missed practice with a pulled hamstring that he suffered at the end of Tuesday's practice. Rodgers could miss 'a week, maybe two' according to coach Mike McCarthy. He's the most fragile tulip the NFL's ever seen. He can't make the next game after playing for the second straight year. A real solution. Yep."
With fans like you (and I know they're not all like you, but still …), the Packers deserve David Carr as a backup quarterback.
"Sorry that some of my Sconnie comrades have been hating on you. Personally, reading your column is the highlight of my Monday morning. As a loyal Favre-ist, I can't fully subscribe to your Rodgers love, at least not yet. But I do think that last Thursday's game against Big D gave all of us Packers fans hope for the post-Favre era of football. Maybe we won't completely suck … maybe."
I hope not. The world is better when the Packers don't suck.
"Perhaps if the Cowboys do face the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Tom Petty will sing 'Won't Back Down' for us. I do think the rematch will be better than the first game."
I know a lot of people in New England right now are reading this and thinking a more appropriate tune would be "Runnin' Down A Dream."
"Just wondering if Cal is still the center of the universe, given that you are looking up at Stanford in the Pac-10 standings, Stanford's got the Axe, and Cal fans are getting busy cannibalizing coach and players alike. Have fun in El Paso, or West Bumblef***, or whereever you guys are playing. Yes, it feels good. It feels very good."
Dude, you finally get The Axe back after five years of laughably inept football, and that's the best you can do? Enjoy your imaginary bowl game, and be sure to come to Berkeley a year from now to watch us reclaim what is rightfully ours. You might also want to learn how to read standings and, more important, how to spell "wherever" (they have classes for that at Cal). And to answer your question, of course it is still the center of the universe. That never changes.
"Wait, Longshore is a junior? Doh! Remember when Nate was leaving tickets for Jessica Simpson at games and laughing in the huddle? Now he's a shaky, unsure, lock-onto-the-first-option-receiver QB. It's maddening. What happened? Can we blame this on the Jessica Simpson thing not working out?"
If so, Tony Romo had better watch himself.
"You have a really bed sense of humor."
Your spelling is sheet.
"Uh, Michael, two quick things: First, sorry about Cal. That's about all I can say on that without wanting to vomit. Second, though, how do you seriously deal with all those emails you get that were apparently educated by wolves? I mean seriously … 'Your a moron' and 'stuped' made my day."
Thanks, man. And kindly stop insulting wolves.
Fifty percent – wow.
Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Friday, Dec 7, 2007 1:21 pm, EST