THE QUARTERBACK By Nicholas Garton
Millions of fans across the nation and world know The Quarterback’s name. Hundreds of reporters have gathered weekly to hang on his every word, criticize or applaud his every move. The Quarterback commands the utmost respect from his opponents and receives unwavering loyalty from his teammates.
71,107 fans were at the stadium on a unseasonably warm Sunday night in October when The Quarterback returned home to Green Bay. Green Bay: the scene of his most triumphant moments, most devastating losses, greatest performances and grandest failures. The Quarterback is known as Brett Favre. He is known to all of us as we have watched him these past 21 years.
21 years. Brett went from being a drunken backup quarterback to becoming the rifle armed starter for the NFL’s most storied franchise. From starting quarterback to being the league’s Most Valuable Player in his mid 20’s. From Most Valuable Player to worshipped hero and icon in his early 30’s. From icon in his early 30’s to many considering him the very best quarterback to ever play the game by his late 30’s and age 40. Still we watched; still he delivered. Time and again during those years he brought the Green Bay Packers back from the edge of humiliating defeat to the throws of thrilling victory. He celebrated every touchdown pass like it was his first and every interception like it would be his last. He battled drugs, drinking, broken bones, cracked ribs, concussions and heartache.
We took that rollercoaster ride with him. Somewhere along the way he became us and we became him. Somehow the injuries, the drugs, the alcohol, the comeback victories, devastating defeats, 90 mph touchdown passes and 20 mph game losing interceptions became part of the fabric of our daily lives. We went to middle school, then high school, got our driver’s licenses, went to prom, graduated, went to college, got married, had kids, had a mortgage. Still he played on. We lived our entire lives with The Quarterback Brett Favre a part of it all the way. As we lived and died with him during weekly games, so was he part of us as we advanced through each stage of our lives.
21 years. Cancer, heart attacks, personal tragedy, retirement, un-retirement, injury upon injury. Favre went from worshipped hero and icon to being betrayed, to himself betraying others, traded, traitor, hero in another town and then yet another town after that.
Which brings us to where we are now. 21 years later in historic Lambeau Field on a warm autumn night.
Favre jogged rather unsteadily onto the field he once called home in a town that once regarded him as being as much a part of home as grandma’s molasses cookies. He took the field and the game began.
As epics go this one ranked up there with the best of all time. Yet this is not an article about an epic battle. This is not an article about the emergence of a young star quarterback named Aaron Rodgers, the maturing of the NFL’s youngest team, or the comeuppance of a pariah. This is about a journey one game took us on. For on this Sunday night we took the full 21 year journey once again with The Quarterback.
Favre started out slow and unsure just like in his drunken backup days. By the second quarter, however, he had found his groove again and validated his place as the Vikings rifle armed starter. In the third quarter he threw touchdowns and interceptions, a stark reminder of his prime days as the league’s most valuable gunslinger.
The fourth quarter brought us to the present day. During this fourth quarter a city of fans who once held him in their hearts more dearly than an only begotten son began to boo and ridicule him mercilessly. Fans of a different city who for two decades maligned Favre and were maligned by him cheered emptily. Their cheers were rendered empty because they were momentary, a product of only one year. He was not in their hearts the way he was in Lambeau’s.
As always, Favre led a late rally. With less than a minute to play he marched his team the length of the field. It was an 80 yard drive that took 21 years. The game was his to win or lose. Either result was equally unthinkable to the 71,107 in attendance. Favre could throw the game winning touchdown as he had for those fans so many times and break their hearts perhaps permanently. Or he could fail. Fail in front of those people the way he had never failed for them.
In the end The Quarterback did both. He did throw the game winning touchdown and listened as a mournful hush came over Lambeau Field. However, the officials reviewed the play and overturned the touchdown. There was time for just one more play. As his last pass sailed out of bounds the 71,107 let out a deep sigh of relief followed by a cheer. Somehow, though, it was an empty cheer like the ones the fans from the other city had been giving. The fans were happy their team won but somehow felt as though they’d lost something they once held dear. The mystique of the man they held in their hearts had been shattered. The rollercoaster we all rode together came apart. The celebration was on but not in full throat. Our team won but someone we used to love had lost and was lost to us. Because after 21 years our team belongs to us but a piece of our hearts still belong to The Quarterback.
THE QUARTERBACK By Nicholas Garton