Sorry, Cheeseheads, Packers Need To Get Rid of Favre
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Did you ever wonder what pro football would be like if the game was actually played to win? The history of football is loaded with clichés about winning, such as Vince Lombardi’s “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” (which he never said) and Bear Bryant’s “Winning isn’t everything, but it sure beats coming in second” (which he did say), but in the real world, teams make decisions based on profit margins, ticket sales, and pressure from the fans and the press — things that have very little to do with anyone’s idea of what it actually takes to win ball games.
If, for instance, decisions in pro football were actually made on the basis of winning, the ongoing nonsense about whether or not Brett Favre should retire would never have gone on so long. Favre has become an embarrassment both to himself and to his team, which, because of his stubbornness and selfishness, will be struggling through the next few seasons trying to break in a new passer, something that the Packers should have been in the process of doing for a couple of years now.
Brett Favre may not be the worst quarterback in the NFL — and then, on the other hand, he actually might be. He is certainly the most washed-up quarterback in the NFL.
Last year he threw 29 interceptions, 9 more than his total of touchdown passes, with a lousy 6.4 yards a pass average. That average was down to 5.9 last Sunday in the Packers’ humiliating 26–0 loss to their archrival Chicago Bears, a loss in which Favre completed just 15 of 29 passes for 170 yards and threw two interceptions without coming close to a score.
What do the Packers have to look forward to for the rest of the year if Favre continues to start? I would guess that last season’s 4–12 record will seem like a wistful dream.
Why, exactly, is Brett Favre, at age 37, still in the National Football League? Certainly not because there’s any money in it for his team, as the Packers sell out all their home games anyway. Given Favre’s paychecks this year will cost the Packers more than $10 million against the salary cap, it’s arguable that he is the biggest financial handicap in the league. It certainly isn’t because the Packers think there’s a chance they can win with Favre. The only reason that he appears to still be in uniform is because Green Bay’s fan base, spurred on by much of the sports world, wants to keep Favre around for what seem to be purely sentimental reasons. Here’s a sample from SI.com’s Bill Syken on April 6:
“No one should be pushing Favre out the door. The reasons are:
1. He only lives once.
2. If he feels like playing and he’s able to do it, he should do it. “
Note that neither one of Syken’s reasons have anything to do with winning of football games. “He has the same right,” Syken writes further,”as Sean Landeta and Julio Franco and other less celebrated athletes to play for as long as he wants, as long as someone will let him.” That, of course, is no right at all — the right is all on the side of the team, and the team’s decision should be based on the best interests of the team.
Instead of thinking about the welfare of his team, Favre, in his arrogance, asked football rhetorically in the spring, “What are they going to do? Cut me?” Cutting Favre, of course, is exactly what his front office should have done, and quite some time ago. The fact that they haven’t probably has more to do with the fact that the Packers, with their “Town Team” image, are reluctant to make any moves that may upset the fans. It’s the ultimate decision-by-committee fallacy, and in Green Bay’s case, it’s a very, very big committee.
The committee, and much of the football press, have always overrated Favre, just as they underrated the greatest quarterback in the franchise’s history, Bart Starr. Brett Favre was a great quarterback, one of the best of his era. But except for 1995, the only season he led the NFL is passer rating (99.5), and 1996, when he had his second highest rating (95.8) and led the Packers to their only Super Bowl victory under him, its arguable he’s never been a truly great one.
Favre’s trademark was always productivity over quality. He has passed for more than 53,000 yards in his 15 NFL seasons, exceeding 4,000 four times and leading the league in totals yards passing five times. He’s led the NFL in TD passes four times and has thrown 20 or more for 12 straight years. But he never once led the league in the most important single passing stat, yards a throw — in fact, he has never gotten as high as 7.8 in a season and has been first, second, or third in interceptions six times, throwing the most picks three times. His postseason record, to put it charitably is a shade above mediocre: an 11–9 won-lost record, an okay 7.4 yards a pass, and just 8 more TDs than his 26 interceptions. And if you take away the 1996 Super Bowl season, Favre’s postseason numbers get downright ugly: a 8–9 record with 7.1 YPA, 29 TDs, and 25 interceptions.
Contrast this with Bart Starr, a much less heralded but much greater big game passer who played for 15 full seasons (and a piece of a 16th) and threw for less than half of Favre’s total yards passing — 24,718 to Favre’s 53,615. Starr was the kind of quarterback who was content to run the offense, not to be the offense; his career YPA was 7.8 (to Favre’s 7.0), and he led the NFL in passer rating three times. Moreover, he is probably the greatest postseason passer in NFL history. Unlike Favre, Starr got better in the postseason: 8.2 YPA and a TD-to-interception ration of 15-4. He won five championships to Favre’s one and lost just a single postseason game.
Bart Starr was the same age in 1971 that Brett Favre is now, and it took Starr just four games into the season to realize that he had nothing left. He stepped down while there was still a modicum of dignity to be had in voluntary retirement. Since the Packers don’t appear ready to tap Favre on the shoulder and tell him the obvious, let’s see if he shows the same grace and good sense as his illustrious predecessor.
Mr. Barra is the author of “The Last Coach: A Life of Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.”