Favre won't give up

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- He has just turned 38 with more than hints of grey spreading through his stubble beard and brush cut, but Brett Favre has no plans to give up. Or grow up, for that matter.

It is a midweek afternoon here in pro football's holy land and the ageless Green Bay Packers quarterback couldn't be in a better place.

Inside Lambeau Field -- part amusement park, part shrine to the NFL's most storied franchise -- a steady stream of fans roam through the Packers Museum and on stadium tours.

Some dine on brats and deep fried Wisconsin cheese curds at Curly's Pub, christened after famed Packers coach Earl (Curly) Lambeau, and the man for whom the field is named.

Others gather out front, gawking at the statues of Lambeau and Vince Lombardi that guard the main stadium entrance.

As they do their thing, most visitors are oblivious that in a corner of the grounds they so revere, the Packers' latest living legend is doing his thing too.

It is a work day for Favre as he prepares for Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos. But for the guy who will forever be a kid at heart, it's play day, too.

The strong-armed quarterback, taller and more physically imposing than you might expect in person, has just finished his weekly sermon with the press.

It ends with an admonishment and a smile for a reporter who has barely hinted that Favre has perhaps lost a little zip in his rifle right arm.

"I challenge you to come out and catch a couple for me afterward," Favre said, maybe half-joking, maybe not. "And you can make that decision."

When there were no takers -- who wants a broken finger or three? -- the quarterback retreats to the Packers locker room for some mid-day nourishment.

So what does the millionaire Cajun from Kiln, Miss., chow down on?

The kid in him rises again.

"Nothing fancy about him," says Gordon (Red) Batty, the Montreal native and Packers equipment manager who doubles as Favre's unofficial valet.

"His favourite piece of food is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I just made him one for him for lunch today. That and some gummy bears and he's all set. That's Brett."

There is no fountain of youth in football, a cutthroat business which spits out famous players before their expiry date if it significantly improves the outlook any given Sunday.

So at 17 years in the NFL and counting, Favre is playing with house money, currency his status and past success has bought.

But rather than a morbid tour through a final season to set records and pad his stats, the obituary is on hold for all the right reasons thus far in 2007.

HOT TEAM

A Packers team that is the youngest in the league with an old quarterback and no running game, is also one of the NFL's hottest. A win tomorrow and the Pack would join the Dallas Cowboys atop the NFC at 6-1, a far cry from a year ago when there were more than just rumblings that '06 would be the end for No. 4.

"I still feel I throw it as well as I always have," Favre said this past week. "I think my arm is the reason I am still standing in front of you today."

Favre has had more spectacular seasons to be sure, but in its own way, few more memorable to this point. With every touchdown pass he throws, he adds to the NFL record of 423 he claimed when passing former Dolphin great Dan Marino (420) earlier this month.

The quicker than expected start gives him the career mark for wins as a starting quarterback (152) and his 5,281 career completions is also the NFL standard.

Winners of nine of their past 10, following a four-game streak to end the 2006 season, Favre has even more jump in his step these days.

Just ask Regina native Jon Ryan, who has an up front view to his fun-loving ways from his stall next to the quarterback at one end of the Packers opulent locker room.

"He jokes around more than anyone on the team," the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers punter said. "He's just a regular guy, a good old country boy. If you didn't know he was Brett Favre, you wouldn't know he's a huge star.

"And if you see him this year, you would never know he's 38 years old. You would think he is 20 by the way he throws the ball and the excitement he brings out on the field."

There are some who believe the Packers have punched out a 5-1 record, tops in the NFC North, on fumes. There is barely a hint of a running game, which should expose itself when Lambeau becomes the famed frozen tundra in the coming weeks. And when the team opted to pass on a chance to get receiver Randy Moss in the off-season, many wondered whom Favre would gun it to.

But with the help of a surprising defence and an energized, measured attack under second-year coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers are more than getting by.

"I've been around a long time and I'm not saying I know right from wrong, but I've heard things done and seen things done the right way," Favre said in praise of McCarthy. "I tell Mike all the time 'I thought what you said to the team was right on and believable.' "

Favre himself has been credible as well. He may still be young at heart, but he has matured enough to accept a role will less emphasis on brawn and more on brains.

As a result, his interceptions and questionable passes are down and his confidence is up.

"He has made good decisions this year and has consciously made an effort to keep care of the ball a little better," said Packers quarterbacks coach and CFL Hall of Famer, Tom Clements.

"He can still make a lot of plays and he still has that gunslinger mentality, but this year he has done very well at keeping it in control."

That may have been a hard lesson for Favre, going against the grain of what he has done stylistically throughout his career. And it has paid off. A recent stretch of 142 pass attempts without an interception was the third longest such run in his career and the best since early in the 2002 season.

For the first time in his career, it seems, Favre is willing to take what increasingly more complex NFL defences will give him and not continually force things downfield.

"I think he's more comfortable with the guys who are around him," said receiver Greg Jennings. "He trusts in us and you can see that. He's definitely going to give you his all in every snap. That's what we love about him."

Favre has seen enough to know that with the leaves still on the Wisconsin trees, nothing has been earned just yet.

He is reflective and appreciative of the success he's having while marvelling at the phenomenal start Tom Brady is enjoying with the New England Patriots.

"He's off the charts," Favre said of Brady. "I think he might be the best quarterback in the league today.

"There was a time I was throwing three or four (touchdown passes) a game and I have to be honest with you, I thought 'what's the big deal?' They came so easy but it's much more difficult than it seems. A touchdown pass now is quite a feat."

Around Green Bay and Ashwaubenon and Du Pere and the rest of the immediate region that is Packer country, football fans are appreciative of the still living legend and every one of those feats.

They drive down Lombardi Avenue and Holmgren Way, roads named after Packers of the past, to see one who isn't quite done yet.

"His legacy has been set for quite some time now -- basically he's just stacking successes," Packers long snapper and 11-year Packers veteran Rob Davis said. "But he has never put himself above the team despite having that star quality.

"He has still been able to excel and it looks like he's having fun. But don't let that fool you: He wants to win. That's the only thing that's really important to him."

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HARD AND FAST

Some of it is no doubt the Packers country version of urban legend, but if you ask around enough people have a Brett Favre story. One comes from the cheesehead who knows a cheesehead who did some work on Favre's Green Bay-area home. The yarn goes something like this: After finishing the job, the construction worker asks if Favre will throw him a few then autograph the football for something he can share with his buddies. Favre agrees and soft-tosses a couple his way. Worker guy has a different idea -- he wants to catch a real Brett Favre, game-style bullet. With a shrug, Favre complies again and one real throw later, the grimacing construction worker guy is off to the walk-in clinic with three broken ribs.

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4 THE RECORDS

Now in his 17th season (and 16th in Green Bay) Packers quarterback Brett Favre is gunning down most of the NFL's meaningful career passing marks. Better yet, he has led the youthful Packers to one of the best records in the NFC.

CAREER TOUCHDOWN PASSES

Brett Favre Green Bay 423

Dan Marino Miami 420

Fran Tarkenton Minnesota 342

John Elway Denver 300

Warren Moon Several 291

Career Completions

Brett Favre Green Bay 5,181

Dan Marino Miami 4,967

John Elway Denver 4,123

Warren Moon Several 3,988

Drew Bledsoe Several 3,839

Career wins as starter

Brett Favre Green Bay 152

John Elway Denver 148

Dan Marino Miami 147

Fran Tarkenton Minnesota 125

Johnny Unitas Baltimore 119

Career Passing Yards

Dan Marino Miami 61,361

Brett Favre Green Bay 59,215

John Elway Denver 51,475

Warren Moon Several 49,325

Frank Tarkenton Minnesota 47,003

(records are regular-season statistics only)

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SOME CFL KNOW-HOW

From one Hall of Famer to a future one, Tom Clements offers his best advice to Brett Favre. Favre knows little of Clements' status as a CFL star, but since the latter was hired as the Packers quarterbacks coach in 2006, there is no denying Favre's play has improved.

Clements is modest enough to play down his role, but has relished the opportunity and challenge.

"He's obviously a great player who has had a great career but he's a good person to work with," Clements said in an interview outside the Packers locker room.

"After 17 years, he has his own way of doing things, but if you ask him to do something he'll do it. He's a true professional that way."

It goes without saying that Favre is considerably easier to work with than Clements' previous project as the Buffalo Bills offensive co-ordinator in 2004-05. Now he's working with a man who sets an NFL record with every touchdown pass he tosses.

Clements, who was hired by Packers coach Mike McCarthy, has been given some credit for Favre's more measured play. Favre went from a career-high 29 interceptions in 2005 to just 18 last year and six so far this season.

"He deserves all the credit because he's the guy with the ball in his hands, but it just comes down to decision making," said Clements, who played for four CFL teams and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

"If he makes a bad one, there's nobody who feels worse than he does."

The former Notre Dame star believes that over the years Favre has unfairly been tagged with the reputation of a player who tries to force too many plays.

"A lot of times in years past when he got in trouble it was when he was behind in a game and he was trying to make a throw," Clements said. "He hasn't had to do that as much and you are seeing it in the way he is playing."

So what exactly does a quarterback coach do with a superstar of the position?

"Sometimes we talk about technique, most of the time it's just talking about our plays and how they might unfold against the defence we are playing," Clements said.

And if it comes up, perhaps Clements will tell him some stories about the Grey Cup and football the way it is played even further north than Green Bay.


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