Skip to main content
Publish date:


With two minutes remaining in a 42-10 dismemberment of the San
Diego Chargers on Sunday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett
Favre stood on the Lambeau Field sideline, yukking it up with
defensive end Reggie White and eating Gummi Bears out of a paper
cup. These days, that's about as hard as Favre is allowed to

The main source of excitement in the second half had come from
waiting to see which Packer would score next and how much
elevation he would get while leaping into the arms of Green Bay
fans in the end zone stands. Favre, despite throwing three
touchdown passes, abstained from taking any Lambeau Leaps,
explaining that he needed to "work a little bit more on my
vertical jump."

Let us climb out on a limb and predict that before this season
is over, some team will give Green Bay a game. Until that
occurs, however, the NFL might consider enacting a mercy rule.
After holding the Chargers to 33 yards rushing and handing coach
Bobby Ross the worst loss in his five-year NFL career, the
undefeated, untested Packers had outscored their three opponents
this season 115-26. They had yielded five turnovers against 13
takeaways, the last of those thefts being the most dramatic. The
Butler did it.

Just as the Chargers showed a glimmer of life by driving to
Green Bay's 12-yard line with just under seven minutes to play
and the Pack leading by 18, strong safety LeRoy Butler suckered
quarterback Stan Humphries into throwing his second interception
of the day (Butler picked off the first one, too). A little more
than a month after being fitted for contact lenses--he had his
eyes examined after dropping a potential interception in the
preseason--Butler correctly read a look-in pass to San Diego
running back Terrell Fletcher.

In high-stepping the final 30 yards of his 90-yard return,
Butler expended energy he otherwise needed to propel himself
into the stands. His Lambeau Leap was by far the weakest of the
day, with the faithful hauling him into the seats like a
distressed swimmer into a boat. "Cut the man some slack,"
Packers free safety Eugene Robinson said afterward. "If I ever
run that far for a touchdown, I'm bringing a stepladder."

With everyone getting into the act, who is to say Robinson's
stepladder scenario won't be realized? Less than two minutes
after Butler's touchdown, Desmond Howard took his turn, scoring
on a 65-yard punt return and doing a graceful Fosbury Flop to

How good is this Green Bay team? Frighteningly good is the
conclusion of new wideout Don Beebe, the former Buffalo Bill and
Carolina Panther, who told Favre after the game, "It's scary.
This team is better than any Bills team I played on."

"And he played in three Super Bowls!" said Favre, who quickly
brought his excitement under control. "We've only played three
games. And the rest of our schedule is brutal."

Nevertheless, his team is clearly the class of the league, his
quarterback rating is an out-of-this-world 116.2, and his agent,
Bus Cook, was in Titletown last week to negotiate a new contract
that will probably pay Favre more than $6 million a year over
the next seven years. What's more, Favre is in the best shape of
his life, happily married, drug-free and sober.

And royally ticked off. Favre is angry at the NFL because, in
his view, he did the right thing and got slammed for it. On May
14, Favre publicly admitted his addiction to the painkiller
Vicodin (SI, May 27), and the next day he was bound for Topeka,
Kans., where he underwent a 45-day rehabilitation at the
Menninger Clinic. But last week Favre revealed that checking
into the clinic wasn't his idea; he did so under pressure from
the league.

After suffering a frightening seizure in February--an incident
that doctors told him could have been brought on by his heavy
use of painkillers--Favre had flown to Chicago to see a group of
physicians retained by the NFL and discuss his Vicodin
dependency. Favre went home thinking that he would be able to
overcome the addiction on his own.

Three weeks later, however, Favre says the league informed him
that he would have to enter rehab or be fined four weeks salary
($900,000). Favre complained bitterly. He didn't appreciate
being lumped with players who tested positive for recreational
drugs such as marijuana or cocaine. Suddenly he had a black mark
on his resume. He would not only have to go through
rehabilitation but also would have to submit to up to 10 random
urine tests a month for drugs and alcohol and abstain from
drinking alcohol for two years.

If he had known the league would force him into rehab, Favre
says, "I'd have never" told the NFL of the Vicodin dependency.
But when the league told him to go, he packed his bags, and just
like that, more than a dozen of the summer's celebrity golf
tournaments, including his own, were deprived of one of their
major attractions.

"If I want to have a beer after the game, I should be entitled
to do that," Favre says. "Do I intend to drink when this program
is over? Probably." In the meantime Favre is appealing the
alcohol ban. His determination to resume his 12-ounce curls as
soon as possible is bothersome to some in the Packers'
organization. Shortly after Favre admitted that he was hooked on
Vicodin, ESPN reported that he was also an alcoholic. Favre
insists he isn't, though he has acknowledged that in years past,
he engaged in occasional heavy drinking.

Recently Favre has been under extra strain because of incidents
involving his siblings. In August his older brother, Scott, was
arrested on a felony drunk-driving charge in Pass Christian,
Miss., about a month after a train struck the vehicle he was
driving, killing passenger Mark Haverty, a close friend of
Brett's. Last week Favre's 19-year-old sister, Brandi, a former
Miss Teen Mississippi, was arrested in Slidell, La., and charged
as an accessory in a drive-by shooting; she is alleged to have
been a passenger in the car from which shots were fired into a
motel office.

Favre started using Vicodin heavily back in 1995. It stemmed
from the weekly battering--and nagging injuries--he suffered.
How is he dealing with the chronic pain this year, now that, by
order of the NFL, he can no longer pop Vicodin? For starters, he
is gobbling Motrin as if it were Pez. "It's an
anti-inflammatory," he says. "While you're taking 'em, you're
thinking, I'm hurting, this stuff's not working. Then you get
off of it, and you think, I guess it was working, because I'm
really hurting now."

Favre has found that he can keep some of the pain at bay by
exercising regularly. "If I take a day off, the pain comes
back," he says, citing in particular his chronically aching
lower back, left ankle and left knee. After running every day
while in Topeka, he left Menninger in the best shape of his
life, and he has maintained that superb fitness level. Less than
24 hours before the game against the Chargers, after most of his
teammates had gone home, Favre was doing sprints on a treadmill.

A year ago he weighed 230 pounds, with 18% body fat. Today he's
218, with 8%. On Sunday, Favre used his mobility to bedevil San
Diego's defensive linemen, eluding them masterfully while
completing 22 of 34 passes for 231 yards and three scores. "I
consider him a street quarterback," said San Diego defensive
tackle Reuben Davis afterward. "They may have a play designed,
but he just does his thing."

To a 300-pounder who spent the afternoon in fruitless pursuit as
Favre ducked, scrambled and otherwise turned Lambeau Field into
his own private playground, the quarterback might have seemed to
be improvising. Actually he was running coach Mike Holmgren's
version of the West Coast offense to near perfection.

"He's getting there," said Holmgren, who visited Favre in Topeka
and has noticed a difference in him since the rehabilitation
stint. "He's got a bit of a chip on his shoulder. By that I mean
he feels that people think last year [when Favre led the Pack to
the NFC Championship Game and was named the league's MVP] he was
in dreamland half the time. And that was not the way it was."

Last Friday, NBC's Cris Collinsworth asked Favre what it was
like to take a Vicodin during a game. The question angered
Favre, who says that not only did he not pop painkillers during
games, but also he didn't take them on Fridays or Saturdays
during the season. "It's kind of like when I threw 24
interceptions [in 1993], and people said, 'I knew the Packers
made a mistake getting him [in a 1992 trade with the Atlanta
Falcons],'" Favre says. "Then I come back the next year, and
they go, 'Well, he's got good talent around him now.' And now
they're saying, 'No wonder he played well last year. He was
taking pills.' There's never been a time in my life when people
just said, 'You know what, he's just pretty damn good.'"

That, of course, is nonsense. Few active NFL players have been
praised as often, or as floridly, as has Favre. But, as Holmgren
says, "If that motivates him...."

The angry young quarterback's second scoring pass on Sunday was
an eight-yard dart to second-year fullback William Henderson.
Remember that name. After scoring his first NFL touchdown,
Henderson rumbled toward an enormous bull's-eye beyond the end
zone, beside which the words JUMP HERE had been painted. As he
obediently flung himself at the fans, however, Henderson was
dismayed to see them scatter.

"They didn't want to catch me," he said. Which proves that some
of the Cheeseheads are smarter than they look. Henderson is
6'1", 248 pounds. "I have six-percent body fat," he says. "I'm
built for taking people on."

A third-round draft pick out of North Carolina in '95, Henderson
was slowed during his rookie season by a knee injury. This
summer he beat out Dorsey Levens for the starting fullback spot.
His emergence bodes poorly for opposing defenses. To be
effective, the West Coast offense requires a fullback who can
decleat linebackers but also catch the ball and run with it.
That's Henderson. And there he was on Sunday, chopping Chargers
linebacker Junior Seau with a textbook cut block that cleared
the way for Edgar Bennett's 10-yard first-quarter touchdown run.

Bennett stunned teammates and Packers fans alike in the fourth
quarter when he absorbed a savage pop from San Diego free safety
Kevin Ross and coughed up the ball. Bennett had not fumbled in
726 carries dating back to his rookie season, 1992. Holmgren,
the Maytag repairman of NFL coaches, saw some good in this
historic turnover. "It gave me a chance to get the offense
together and give them the Knute Rockne treatment," he said. So
dominant were his players through the season's first three weeks
that Holmgren welcomed opportunities to chew them out.

Favre caught his share of abuse. He threw his first two
interceptions of the season on Sunday, although the second one
looked more like a fumble. As he cocked his arm to throw, he
lost his grip on the ball, which, after floating backward a few
feet, was caught by Chargers cornerback Willie Clark. After the
game, upon learning that the play had been ruled an
interception, Favre began lobbying to have the dubious pick
expunged from his record.

When he exited the locker room 45 minutes later, he was still
campaigning. "We've got to get that interception changed," he
said. "That ticked me off."

NFL, beware.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Humphries felt the heat from the likes of Gilbert Brown (93) and Santana Dotson. [Gilbert Brown, Stan Humphries, and Santana Dotson in game]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN BIEVER (2) Favre (left) looked like his old MVP self, while Henderson proved he's an emerging force at fullback. [Brett Favre; William Henderson]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER The Packers were stingy against the run, holding Leonard Russell and the Chargers to 33 yards. [Two Green Bay Packers players tackling Leonard Russell]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Howard put the finishing touch on Green Bay's big day with a 65-yard punt return for a TD. [Desmond Howard scoring touchdown]