View Full Version : Favre vs. Big Ben ... A rare Sunday

10-25-2009, 01:00 AM
Steelers: Favre vs. Big Ben ... A rare Sunday
Sunday, October 25, 2009
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When they went to Green Bay to play Brett Favre and the Packers at Lambeau Field during their 2005 Super Bowl season, Hines Ward, Charlie Batch and several other Steelers players brought along jerseys and pictures to get autographed by the quarterback icon, thinking they might never see him again. At the time, Favre was 36 and seemingly nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career in which he would hold nearly every significant passing record in the National Football League. Four years later, Favre returns to Pittsburgh for the first time in 11 years, this time with the Minnesota Vikings, and the line for the autograph seekers and picture-takers at Heinz Field might stretch to the Warhol Museum. And that's just among the Steelers.

"Now that he's coming to Pittsburgh and we don't have to take the stuff on the plane, you might see guys coming to the game with a book bag they don't normally have," Batch said. "They're going back home, looking at what they have, and anything with 'Favre,' they might bring it to the stadium to get signed."

Even Ben Roethlisberger, who has never met Favre, might get in on the act.

"I'll probably get a picture or ask if we can swap jerseys and get an autograph," Roethlisberger said.

It is not very often a larger-than-life athlete comes to town, especially in a game that carries such national intrigue. But, make no mistake, it will happen today when the 40-year-old Favre -- the NFL's greatest ironman -- and the unbeaten Vikings (6-0) meet the Steelers (4-2) in a 1 p.m. game that has more subplots and storylines than a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

Adding to the moment is a first meeting with Roethlisberger, a player with similar guile and gunslinger tendencies who grew up worshipping the Golden Brett. In the pantheon of Pittsburgh sports, it might not be a stretch to compare the moment -- legend vs. new star -- to Nov. 6, 1984, when Wayne Gretzky came to the Civic Arena to play against Mario Lemieux for the first time.

Even though they were only four years apart in age, Gretzky was already in his seventh professional season and had won four NHL scoring titles when Lemieux was a rookie.

"This is the all-time passer, the all-time great, this is it," said Batch, who started the 2005 game in Green Bay while Roethlisberger stayed at home with an injury. "He is the so-called best. He's got the numbers and he's got the championship to go with it. He could be, for opinion's sake, the best quarterback ever."

Roethlisberger, 27, grew up worshipping five quarterbacks -- Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Favre, in that order. He copied Elway's number and has already matched him in Super Bowl victories (two). But, more than any of the others, he emulated Favre's daring style.

Now, he gets to play against him. And it's not some celebratory farewell tour, either.

"I wanted to just kind of have that same mentality to go out and always play fearless," Roethlisberger said. "You see him run the ball and taking hits, not getting down. Just being able to sling it [like him]. I try to be able to do a little of what he does."
Defying age

Roethlisberger is off to a Favre-like start, the best of his six-year career. He leads the NFL in passing yards (1,887), yards per attempt (9.1) and passes of 20 yards or longer (26) and ranks second only to Peyton Manning in completion percentage (72.5).

But Favre, who holds NFL all-time records for completions (5,844) passing yards (66,474), touchdowns (476) and victories (175), isn't far behind, despite his age. He leads the NFC in completion percentage (69.7), ranks second in passer rating (109.5) and has thrown more touchdowns passes (12) and fewer interceptions (2) than Roethlisberger. His average of 224.5 yards passing per game is just 17 yards fewer than his career per-game average (241.7) as a starter.

Even more remarkable is that Favre hasn't missed a start since his first season in Green Bay in 1991, a league-record 275 games in a row, 297 counting playoffs. His consecutive game streak recently eclipsed the old record of former Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall

Big Ben vs. Brett

"At this position, that's unbelievable," said Roethlisberger, who has missed eight starts in six seasons. "A lot of it is toughness, but I'm sure he'll tell you a lot of it is luck. You have to get lucky, especially in this sport where guys are rolling into you, hitting you. Any little thing can happen."

If that isn't enough, Favre has shown he still has the magic to author fourth-quarter comebacks and incredible moments. He has done it twice this season with remarkable throws, none more amazing than the back-of-the-end-zone pass to Greg Lewis to beat the San Francisco 49ers.

"How can a guy throw that on a rope from 40 yards at 40 years old?" asked ESPN analyst and former quarterback Ron Jaworski, the awe apparent in his voice on the phone the other day.

Jaworski played 17 seasons with four different teams in the NFL, most of them with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was 38 when he played his final season with the Kansas City Chiefs. By the time he was 35, he said he knew he couldn't make the same throws as when he was 30.

Not Favre.

"He's a freak of nature," Jaworski said. "When you watch him play at that level, at 40 years old, that's the only explanation."

Like most people around the NFL, Jaworski thought Favre had reached the end of his brilliant career last season when he badly faltered in his final five games with the New York Jets, going 1-4 and throwing nine interceptions and for only two touchdowns. It was later discovered that Favre was playing with a torn bicep tendon in his throwing shoulder that eventually required arthroscopic surgery.

Nonetheless, it had become a recurring pattern for Favre, who had been watching his production nose-dive late in the season for each of the past five years.

"When the Vikings signed him, we wanted to go see him live, we wanted to see what was left of that arm, what was left of that body, because, quite frankly, it ended badly in New York," Jaworski said. "I was blown away when we went to practice and watched him throw the football. From what I saw from the end of last year to that practice, the way he would spin the ball out of his hand with accuracy, it was amazing."
Pitch count

After 297 consecutive starts that have caused immeasurable wear and tear on his 40-year-old body, can Favre still conjure his magic after Thanksgiving?

Recent history suggests he can't.


In the first 11 games of the 2004 through 2008 seasons, Favre completed 64.8 percent of his passes with 97 touchdowns, 61 interceptions and an 89.1 passer rating in 55 games. In the last five games of each of those seasons (plus three playoff games), he completed 57.9 percent of his passes with 27 touchdowns, 46 interceptions and a passer rating of 66.3 in 28 games.

Even in 2007, during an MVP-like season with the Packers, Favre faltered in the final month, especially in cold-weather conditions that, for much of his career, never seemed to bother him. He threw two interceptions on a blustery, wintry day in Chicago in a 35-7 defeat and two more in a frigid NFC Championship game loss to the New York Giants at Lambeau Field, the final one on his first possession of overtime that led to the winning field goal.

The Vikings, though, are hoping that playing indoors in the Metrodome will prevent that trend from recurring. After next week's ballyhooed homecoming game in Green Bay, Favre's only game in a cold-weather city will be Dec. 28 in Chicago.

But that isn't the only solution.

People who are aware of Favre's troublesome throwing shoulder say he has problems beyond the torn bicep tendon that orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews repaired in May. Those problems will cause his arm to deteriorate from overuse as the season progresses. The only way to prevent that is to limit the amount of time he practices, or even plays, something Favre has already suggested.

. Even Jaworski said Favre should be "on a pitch count."

"The chances of any player playing consistently 16 games, not even talk about a career but just in one season, is tough," Favre said. "But you know what? It's like the way I played the other day. I'm going to get hit. If I have to block, I'll block. If I have to tackle, I'll tackle. Can I guarantee I'll get up every time? Who can? But I feel pretty good about it."

That's why he's Brett Favre.

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