Who’s the toughest of the tough? Some say it’s Favre
By Rob Demovsky
It was early September, and Brett Favre was in a reflective mood.
The start of his 14th NFL season, and his 13th with the Green Bay Packers, was still four days away. Seated in the lounge area of the home team’s locker room at Lambeau Field, Favre, for a brief moment, actually sounded amazed at himself.
Not because of his three NFL MVP awards or his Super Bowl ring. No, it simply was because he has been able to show up for work every day. At the time, his streak of consecutive games started stood at 189.
This week, almost three months later and with Favre expected to start his 200th straight game on Monday night against the St. Louis Rams, he’s tried to downplay the streak.
But on that September day, he had a different take.
“It really is starting to impress me,” Favre said at the time. “(My wife) Deanna and I were joking that if you’re a truck driver or a pilot, over time, the odds are leaning in your favor of you getting in a wreck or something. It’s amazing that I’ve been lucky enough — not that I haven’t been injured — to come back every time, but that’s kind of how my career has been.”
Where Favre’s streak, which is an NFL record for quarterbacks, ranks in history — both in football and other sports — is debatable.
Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,362 consecutive major-league baseball games, a streak that is widely recognized as the benchmark for durability in sports. When Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 straight games, it was a major national story. It was front-page news in papers all across the country.
Favre’s streak has been a major topic this week in NFL circles, but can Favre be compared to Ripken?
Just as Ripken — who will appear on ABC’s “Monday Night Football” to help commemorate Favre’s mark — shattered Gehrig’s record, Favre has blown away the old quarterback record of 116 straight starts by Ron Jaworski.
“For Brett to be making his 200th consecutive start is simply incomprehensible,” Jaworski said. “Brett shattered my record, and he just keeps on going and going.”
Even so, Favre has not even come close to the durability record in his sport.
Jim Marshall, a defensive end for the Cleveland Browns in 1960 and the Minnesota Vikings from 1961 to 1979, holds the NFL records of 270 consecutive starts and 282 consecutive games played.
Though NFL records are sketchy because starting lineups were not recorded in games before 1962, at least five other players in league history have played in more consecutive games than Favre. To match Marshall, Favre would have to play into the 2009 season. He would be 40 by then.
Even Marshall isn’t sure where Favre’s accomplishment should rank.
“I never played quarterback, so it’s hard to say whether what Favre’s done is tougher than what I did,” Marshall said. “I certainly admire him and his play. I think he has all the attributes that it takes to be one of the greatest quarterbacks who’s ever played in the NFL, and certainly his toughness and that streak have something to do with that. But as for how it compares (to my record), I really can’t say. I honestly don’t know.”
Like Favre’s durability, stories about Marshall’s toughness often have been retold. Marshall said he played despite what he called “serious ankle, knee and shoulder injuries.” Asked which was the worst injury, Marshall said: “Try to pick one out. You can’t.”
One story had Marshall holding his hand over an open flame for several minutes in front of teammates to prove his toughness, but Marshall said that wasn’t true.
“Never did that,” Marshall said. “Didn’t have to.”
Nor does Favre, who has sustained numerous injuries that probably should have ended his streak and might have kept other quarterbacks out for several games. He once coughed up blood on the sidelines during a timeout but returned to throw a touchdown pass on the next play. He once played with a foot so swollen he had to wear a larger-sized shoe on that foot. He played most of last season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
“That’s a testament to his toughness,” Jaworski said. “There may never have been a tougher player, at any position, than Brett Favre.”
Since Sept. 27, 1992, when he threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first NFL start, he is the only athlete in the four major sports to have started every game for the same team.
Just as Marshall said his streak “never became a driving force,” Favre last week said No. 200 never was a goal.
“I never thought about 200 straight games,” Favre said. “There’s so many factors that go into playing each week — injury, how you play, business decisions.
“Each game that I start is an accomplishment. There’s guys who start their first game and get injured and it’s not their fault. Sometimes, it’s something you can’t control. It puts into perspective how difficult it is to do this job.”
During the streak, Favre has a record of 131-68, a .658 winning percentage. That, more than simple durability, impresses teammate Ryan Longwell.
“It’s unbelievable to me that a quarterback can do that,” Longwell said. “Everyone talks about his health, but look at other quarterbacks who haven’t played well enough to remain starters. Not only has Brett been healthy, but he’s played well enough. It’s unbelievable to me that he has played that well for that long. I mean even now, who would you rather have on your team?”
There’s no telling how Favre’s streak will end. Ripken walked into his manager’s office one day, said, “It’s time,” and took the day off. Marshall and A.C. Green, who holds the NBA record of 1,192 consecutive games, retired with their streaks intact.
NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd, who has started 752 straight races, is the only athlete in major sports who holds his sport’s durability record and has an active streak.
“I don’t know how you can compare streaks in different sports,” Marshall said. “The rigors of football, the numerous games in baseball, I don’t think you could ever figure out which is better.
“All I know is all of us, no matter the sport, were probably very lucky. You have to be. I was. I’m sure Cal Ripken was, and I’m sure Favre has been.”