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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

As he nears 30, Packers quarterback Brett Favre has a new
perspective on life

At a pretournament party for the fourth annual Brett Favre
Celebrity Golf Classic, in Bay St. Louis, Miss., last week, the
host was chatting with an old friend who works as a beer
distributor when a well-meaning fellow interrupted, creating an
awkward moment: "Brett," the intruder said, "I just wanted to
tell you how wonderful it was to hear that you're not drinking
anymore. Congratulations."

Favre, the Packers' quarterback who in 1996 spent 6 1/2 weeks in
a rehab center for addiction to the painkiller Vicodin and who
has admitted to periods of heavy drinking, says he hasn't had an
alcoholic beverage in two months. The big kid may have finally
grown up.

"Last year at this time, I was pounding 'em hard," Favre says.
"But I've got a 10-year-old daughter, and my wife [Deanna] is
pregnant with our second child, and I want to grow old with
them. I've lived a fun, hard life. But fun now is watching
[daughter] Brittany play softball. Fun is having rookies in the
weight room look at me as an example of what they want to be.
I'm done with alcohol."

There's another reason Favre has gone on the wagon. After
winning three consecutive league MVP awards beginning in 1995
and leading Green Bay to the Super Bowl in '96 and '97, Favre
saw his performance--and his team's--slip last season, when he
threw more interceptions, 23, than he had in any year since '93.
Favre is feeling his athletic mortality creeping up on him.
"I'll be 30 this year," he says, "and I don't want to be the
forgotten man."

Nor do the Packers want to play second fiddle to the Vikings in
the NFC Central again. Last year Minnesota went 15-1 and is now
favored to repeat as division champion. Green Bay (11-5) must
learn to win without coach Mike Holmgren, who left in January to
run the show in Seattle. New coach Ray Rhodes has Sherm Lewis
calling plays for the first time in eight years as the Packers'
offensive coordinator. (Look for Favre to throw deep more often
than he has in recent seasons.) "We knew losing Mike was
inevitable," Favre says. "I owe him everything. Early on he
stuck with me longer than any other coach would have. But we've
got to keep it going."

Holmgren is not the only key figure in Favre's football life to
have departed. Quarterbacks coach Andy Reid left to become the
Eagles' coach, and trusted strength coach Kent Johnston followed
Holmgren to Seattle. Defensive end Reggie White, who along with
Favre had the biggest locker room presence in Green Bay, retired.

Such drastic changes might normally drive a man to drink,
particularly a country kid so used to imbibing. "It's what I grew
up around," he says, "and it's hard to break from your roots."

Favre has settled in Hattiesburg, Miss., 65 miles north of his
hometown of Kiln, and when he returned to the area for the golf
tournament he passed dozens of the seedy bars he used to close.
EARLY BUZZ HOUR 11-1, read a billboard outside one joint. That's
11 a.m. As the golfers arrived at the Bridges Golf Resort last
Thursday, a 30-foot-tall inflated Miller Lite can greeted them.
Coors and Budweiser trucks were parked in the driveway, making
deliveries. "Well," Favre said wryly before hitting the links, a
bottle of water in his hands, "I guess I kept 'em in business a
long time. Not anymore."

Ricky Williams's Contract

Ricky Williams is used to being cheered for his ability to run
with the football. But last Friday, after he signed an
incentive-laden seven-year contract with the Saints that could
be worth anywhere from $11.1 million to $68.4 million, Williams
was being hailed for his blue-collar sensibility. While
receiving relatively minuscule base salaries ranging from
$175,000 to $400,000, Williams will get huge bonuses, such as
$1.5 million in any year he gains at least 1,600 yards. There's
a fascinating kicker too. If in four years Williams reaches
three of the four benchmarks that the Broncos' Terrell Davis has
established in his first four NFL seasons--rushing yards
(6,413), rushing average (4.8), combined rushing-receiving yards
(7,594) and points (372)--the Saints will match the salary terms
of the final four years of Davis's contract. Last summer Davis
signed a nine-year, $56 million deal, the richest ever given to
a running back.

Player agents and representatives of the NFL Players Association
will bemoan the fact that Williams didn't get enough in base
salary, but if Williams plays like Ricky Heisman, he'll be the
game's highest-paid runner. (Williams's contract includes an
escalator clause that would kick in if Davis signs an extension
or someone else signs a more lucrative deal.) If Williams plays
like Ricky Flopman, he'll be paid accordingly. Now that's the
way sports contracts should be structured.

Williams pushed his agent, Leland Hardy, to get the deal done
quickly so he could start the Saints' off-season training
program this week--and so he could invest the portion of his
$8.84 million signing bonus that is payable immediately ($3.6
million; the rest comes in 2000) in the bull market.

At first Hardy pushed for a voidable-years deal similar to what
most of the highly drafted quarterbacks have gotten in recent
years, but Saints negotiator Terry O'Neil told him the club
would never trade eight draft picks--as New Orleans did--for a
player it might have for only three years. Then Hardy tried to
duplicate the terms of the contract signed last year by
Cardinals defensive end Andre Wadsworth, whose salaries of $8
million, $10 million and $12 million in the fourth, fifth and
sixth years would kick in if Arizona's defense improved even
infinitesimally in his rookie year, which it did. O'Neil
declined, telling Hardy, "That contract means that a rookie with
five sacks jumped over every defensive end ever in salary." Then
O'Neil offered the Davis option, which was hashed out and agreed
upon after some tinkering with incentives.

One such clause carries more weight than the others. The Saints
were concerned about Williams's self-discipline after he weighed
244 pounds (up from the 225 he played at last season) at the NFL
scouting combine in February and also by Williams's admission
that after he got back down to 225 for an April workout, he
swallowed 11 doughnuts. They were further taken aback when the
5'10 3/4" back polished off a rich Cajun dinner and followed it
with four desserts at a get-acquainted dinner before the draft.
So O'Neil insisted on one of the league's strictest weight
clauses: The club can weigh Williams regularly from March
through December, and when he's at 240 pounds or more, New
Orleans can fine him $25,000, up to $100,000.

Next Year's No. 1 Pick?

After meeting prized Louisville quarterback Chris Redman at a
banquet last year, Brett Favre invited him to play in his
tournament. The 21-year-old Redman wound up winning the
closest-to-the-pin contest, putting his tee shot two feet from
the hole on the par-3 12th. The payoff: a $16,000 bass fishing
boat. Before Redman accepted his prize, however, Favre suggested
that he check with the NCAA to make sure he wasn't putting his
college eligibility in jeopardy. Redman's dad, Bob, whipped out
a cell phone, called the NCAA and got the O.K. for Chris to keep
the boat. (The NCAA allowed it because the tournament was open
to the public.)

A fifth-year senior who has started 27 games at Louisville,
Redman has passed for 8,894 yards and thrown for 55 touchdowns.
A great season would make him a leading candidate to be the
first pick in the 2000 draft. Scouts think the 6'3", 225-pounder
has a stronger arm than Tim Couch, the Kentucky quarterback who
went to the Browns with the first pick in last month's draft.

NFL teams should love Redman's toughness, too. He broke his
throwing hand in the first half of an eighth-grade game but
refused to leave the game until it was won. Last year he took 12
stitches under his chin without Novocain at halftime of a game
and played two quarters of another with a sprained medial
collateral ligament in his left knee.

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL A focused, alcohol-free Favre is eager to regain the form that made him a three-time MVP.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Williams looked like his old self at an April workout for NFL teams.