SI Vault
December 10, 2007
The Packers' iron man is, at 38, enjoying one of his finest NFL seasons. His passing is more precise, his leadership more evident than ever, but his greatest attribute is the devotion he inspires in those he touches—and his dedication to making their lives better
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December 10, 2007

Brett Favre: Sportsman Of The Year

The Packers' iron man is, at 38, enjoying one of his finest NFL seasons. His passing is more precise, his leadership more evident than ever, but his greatest attribute is the devotion he inspires in those he touches—and his dedication to making their lives better

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While Favre can still revert to his freewheeling ways, he has torn through the league with the most controlled, efficient play of his career. Grant has begun to assert himself, but with the Packers' ground game still coalescing, Favre is completing a career-best 67.4% of his attempts and has thrown only 10 interceptions. On Thanksgiving Day he carved up the Detroit Lions with 20 straight completions, two short of the NFL record, and he has already tied his Packers mark with seven 300-yard games. "He is playing as well as I've seen him play," says Lions coach Rod Marinelli, "and I've [coached] against him since 1996."

With a game-breaking passing attack backed up by an athletic, aggressive defense, the Packers look capable of a deep playoff run. It is a measure of how far this unproven team has come that after last week's loss in Dallas, no one was claiming a moral victory for having played the Cowboys close into the fourth quarter, even with Favre out and injuries sidelining top cornerback Charles Woodson and sack specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. "Winning is the only thing that matters here, and that comes from number 4," says rookie receiver James Jones, whose soft hands and elusiveness have him third on the Packers, with 43 receptions. "A team takes on the mentality of its leader. And this guy is the ultimate warrior. That can't help but filter down."

Favre's influence is felt in many other ways. His improvisational skills belie an obsessive preparation that forces teammates to keep up. Following the Panthers game, after Favre had relaxed at home with his dog for a while, he sneaked back to a darkened Lambeau to watch game film for an hour and a half. Not that his dedication to his craft prevents Favre from cutting up. "You play your best football when you're loose and relaxed and having a good time," he says. Favre has tried to impart that notion to his teammates, though some of his methods would probably not impress Vince Lombardi. He's notorious for surreptitiously squirting heating ointment into colleagues' jockstraps, and his locker room flatulence is legendary—though if you can believe Green Bay insiders, it is delivered with a purpose. "There have been many times before a game when you can see the guys are kind of tight," says Edgar Bennett, Green Bay's running backs coach and formerly Favre's teammate for five seasons. "Brett always knows how to loosen them up. I don't want to go into too many details, but let's just say that the guy has some unique talents."

WHILE FAVRE simultaneously inspires and relaxes his teammates, he also forms a palpable brotherhood with them. No Packer has felt this more profoundly than receiver Koren Robinson, who has become Favre's personal reclamation project. A first-round pick of the Seahawks in 2001, Robinson has struggled with alcohol abuse for several years. As a Minnesota Viking in 2005 he was voted to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, but in August 2006 the team cut ties with him after his second arrest for drunken driving. Green Bay took a chance and signed Robinson the next month, but four games into the 2006 season he was suspended by the NFL for a year because of a third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy, the fallout from one of his incidents in Minnesota. Robinson was banned not only from games but also from practicing with the Packers and using any team facilities. When the suspension was handed down, Favre blasted the NFL, accusing the league of turning its back on a player who he thought could clearly benefit from structure and support.

In the year that Robinson was out of football, Favre took it upon himself to provide that safety net, regularly calling Robinson to check up and lend an ear. "For a guy of his stature to reach out, he didn't have to do that," says Robinson, 27. "To know he cared so much for me, it was a huge motivation for me to better myself and correct the things in my life that needed to get right."

Favre's compassion was born of his own experiences. "From a substance-abuse standpoint I was probably worse off than Koren," he says. "People don't realize that, because I was never suspended. But I've done all kinds of drugs, I've drunk too much—the only difference between me and Koren is that I didn't get caught. But I've been there, and I know how lonely it can be."

Robinson, who is married to his college sweetheart, Joy, and is the father of an 18-month-old son, K.J., was reinstated in October of this year, and in five games has already made an impact on the field. His 67-yard kickoff return against the Panthers was the longest of the season by a Packer, and Robinson has been featured in the new five-receiver set Green Bay unveiled last month. Against Detroit, Robinson gave Packers fans a glimpse of his playmaking ability, gaining 50 yards on only two catches. He has scraped off the rust with another assist from Favre. Says McCarthy, "I think sometimes Brett looks to Koren a little too much during practice, just trying to get him involved, get his confidence up."

An NFL locker room is among the most macho places in sports, but Robinson's voice catches when he talks about his quarterback. "I am so blessed to have a friend like Brett Favre," he says. "A lot of what keeps me going now is that I want him to be proud of me."

"I'm already proud of him," says Favre. "I couldn't care less if he ever catches another pass. The way he has put his life back together is much bigger than that."

On the vast expanse of Robinson's right biceps is tattooed MATTHEW 28:20. That scripture appropriately captures Favre's relationship with Robinson and the rest of his teammates: "[Teach] them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

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