Before saying goodbye, Anna gave Favre a prayer card with her picture on it. Unbeknownst to the Walentowskis, Favre taped it to his refrigerator door that night, and it stayed there for the rest of the season. "Every day we looked at that picture and prayed for Anna and her family," Deanna wrote in her book, Don't Bet Against Me!
In the years since Anna's visit her condition has improved dramatically. This is no doubt due to specialized care made possible by the evolving understanding of leukodystrophy. Anna's parents think the meeting with Favre also has had something to do with it. "That one day they spent together never really ended," says Jennifer. "We would often talk about the visit and look at the photos, and she would be asked all the time to tell the story. It became a big part of her life."
The tale took another turn when Deanna's book was published in September 2007, including the passage about Anna, a girl she knew only from the photo on the fridge and the effect she'd had on her husband. The Walentowskis were unaware of their cameo in the book until a friend called to tell them about it—and to say that Deanna was in nearby Appleton at that moment for a book signing. The family hustled over to meet Deanna. Now nine, Anna still faces serious medical challenges, but against all odds she has continued to get better. "She looked so good, so happy," says Deanna. "I couldn't wait to go home and tell Brett. We had often wondered about Anna, about how she was doing. When I told Brett, it touched him. He didn't really have any words. He was pretty choked up."
FUNNY THING about the Favres is that Brett isn't even the hottest quarterback in the family. Dylan Favre is a high school phenom for the St. Stanislaus Rockachaws in Bay St. Louis, Miss., having just completed a sophomore season in which he threw 36 touchdown passes, a record for the southern Mississippi section. Brett has taken to mentoring his nephew, but they rarely discuss X's and O's. "That's probably for the better," says Dylan. "If I tried some of the things Uncle Brett does on the field, my coach would kill me!"
So what do they talk about?
Pressed to define what that means, Uncle Brett says, "It's somehow getting 52 other guys to raise their level of play. To get them to believe in what we're trying to do. You do that by setting an example, by doing things the right way. I've always shown up, I've always been prepared, I practice every day. I practice hard. I study. No matter what happens on the field, I never point blame at anybody else. Everything I do comes back to leadership, the example I want to set."
Favre says he has not given a locker-room pep talk since the eve of the 2005 season. "And we went 4--12 that year," he adds with a chuckle, "so what does that tell you?"
Nonetheless, this season Favre has, by necessity, become more direct in his leadership. Green Bay is the youngest team in the league and especially green on offense; starting running back Ryan Grant is playing his first NFL season, and among the top six receivers only two have been in the league more than two full years. "[Brett's] become a lot more vocal, a lot more hands-on," says Favre's backup, Aaron Rodgers. "He's out there coaching the entire offense, from running back to wide receiver to tight end. In practice he'll break away from what [the quarterbacks] are doing to watch some of the other positions go through their reps. He's extremely engaged in everything that's happening."
The evolution began with a challenge from second-year coach Mike McCarthy, who in the preseason told the future Hall of Famer that he flat-out had to play better. In 2006 Favre threw just 18 touchdown passes, his fewest since his first year with the Packers, and his 56% completion rate was the worst of his career. Favre has always been as much a point guard as a quarterback, forever finding creative (if chancy) ways to deliver the ball. McCarthy's orders for this year were to make safer decisions and substantially improve his completion percentage. "I wish I could make the story better by telling you there was a big knockdown, drag-out fight, but Brett's a pro's pro," says McCarthy. "From Day One he has embraced what we're trying to accomplish."