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Power Plays The biggest surprise in the first round of the NFL playoffs was the emphatic statements made by the four winning teams


Packing Heat
With Brett Favre firing fastballs again, Green Bay can't be taken

Last Friday, two days before the Packers played the San Francisco
49ers in an NFC wild-card game at Lambeau Field, Green Bay
quarterback Brett Favre dropped back to throw a pass in practice.
The receiver, Bill Schroeder, ran 20 yards downfield. Just before
Schroeder broke to the sideline, Favre's rocket of a right arm
launched a spiral so hard and so tight that it looked like a
laser beam. As Schroeder took his first step to the sideline with
a cornerback in tight coverage, he shot his hands in front of
him, and the sound of the ball meeting his gloves was like that
of a Tyson right hitting a heavy bag. Later Schroeder went up to
Favre and asked, "Would you say this is the best you've ever
thrown the ball?"

Favre, 32, considered the question that night, over a mountainous
dinner of buffalo wings, fried chicken, garlic mashed potatoes
and key lime pie at the Green Bay restaurant that bears his name.
He has thrown nearly 6,000 passes in 11 NFL seasons. A year ago
he missed most of training camp with tendinitis in his right
elbow, yet now he throws like Randy Johnson every day in
practice, even when he's feeling his years. Last Thursday his
shoulder ached, and he worried that he might be coming down with
a sore arm. Still, on Friday he was flinging the ball around,
making his wideouts wish they wore catchers' mitts.

"Ain't nobody who can outthrow me," he says. "That's not
bragging. It's the truth. I throw every pass like I'm in a game,
because there ain't but one way to throw it. That's why I am
what I am today, and these receivers gotta get used to it.
That's how you play winning football."

That's also why the Packers are still alive, looking forward to
a matchup with the NFC's almighty and top-seeded Rams this
Sunday in St. Louis. In Green Bay's 25-15 win over the 49ers,
Favre completed 22 of 29 passes for 269 yards and two
touchdowns, with one interception. He was at his best when the
game was on the line. With 10:57 to play, the score tied at 15
and Green Bay facing third-and-eight from its 26, wideout Donald
Driver ran a 14-yard seam route up the right side. Favre was a
little high with one of his fastballs, and Driver leaped to make
a tough catch, which led to Ryan Longwell's 45-yard field goal.

Then, after cornerback Ty Williams's interception stopped the
49ers as they were driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown,
Favre delivered a pair of critical third-down completions. On
the first he rifled the ball to wideout Antonio Freeman on a
crossing route that went for 37 yards. On the second he found
his first two options covered, scrambled to his right and lashed
a line drive into Driver's gut for the first down. On the next
play Ahman Green clinched the win with a nine-yard touchdown run.

The rejuvenated arm and a change in lifestyle are good reasons
that Favre is playing as well as he did from 1995 through '97,
when he won a record three straight league MVP awards. That
should concern the Rams, even with all their weapons. For
nothing in the NFL is more dangerous than Favre's fastball. Just
look at Schroeder's glove, which Favre split open in practice
last week. Or Driver's broken middle finger on his left hand
with the pin in it. Or--well, let Freeman, who's been catching
Favre's passes for seven years, explain. "Look at my hands," he
said after Sunday's game, holding up fingers that looked
swollen, curved or distended at the knuckles. "Brett's sprained
or dislocated seven of these fingers over the years. He only
knows one way to throw."

"This week I had that aching feeling in my shoulder, but it went
away," Favre says. "What keeps some people out days or weeks
might keep me out for a day."

What's helped Favre, too, is that he's taking better care of
himself off the field. Early in his career a typical football
day would be capped by a late night out with teammates. "I'd
feel like crap the next day," he says. "I see other people I
know living hard, the way I did, and I can't believe what I used
to be."

Now a typical day in Favre's life, he says, would be like his
Wednesday of last week. "I took [12-year-old daughter] Brittany
into the breakfast the Packers serve for the players, and then I
drove her to school. I came back for meetings, and I went home
for lunch. Two or three days a week, I go home to eat lunch with
[two-year-old daughter] Breleigh and [wife] Deanna. Then it was
back for practice. That night I watched TV--The Discovery Channel
or TLC or Animal Planet--and read to Breleigh. Then, like Deanna
and I always do, we watched World's Wildest Police Videos. Great

Breleigh has changed everything. "Life is so much better, I
can't believe it," Favre says. "She's got me wrapped around her
little finger. I love it. We lose to Tennessee a few weeks ago,
and I walk in the door that night and she says, 'You played a
good game, Daddy. You've got a good team.'"

Favre might need a similar welcome home this weekend. The Rams,
with Kurt Warner at the helm for the past three years, are a
scoring machine, averaging 32.7 points a game. Favre knows what
he could be in for, but he can't wait. An hour after the win
over the Niners, a smile crossed his face. "St. Louis could shut
me down," he said. "I've been shut down before. But I'm not
afraid. I'm fearless. In a game like this you've got to roll the
dice a little."

And bring your best fastball.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AL TIELEMANS Coming through Green, the NFL's fourth-leading rusher during the regular season, helped put the finishing touches on the Packers' win over the 49ers.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Live arm Favre was at his best in the second half against the Niners, passing for 226 of his 269 yards.