EARLY IN 2000 Dan Marino had three offers to play an 18th NFL season—enthusiastic overtures from the Steelers, his hometown team, and the Vikings, an offensive powerhouse, plus a tepid invite to return to the Dolphins. Pittsburgh and Minnesota believed Marino had one more playoff run left in him. He did too. But neither deal felt right because he didn't want to move his family or tarnish the legacy he'd built in Miami with one season of mercenary work. Nor did he want to return to a team he felt didn't truly want him back. Had he played another year, he would have pushed his record passing numbers even further into the stratosphere. But, Marino says, "I never thought about that."
In the first few months of this year Brett Favre had to decide whether to play a 16th season in Green Bay or to retire. The discussion with his family came down to whether he still wanted to play (he did), whether he felt he could still perform well enough to win (he did), and whether there was anything else he wanted to do with his life at the time (there was nothing immediate). Coming off a season in which he had passed for more yards than all but five quarterbacks and finished on a four-game winning streak, the call wasn't that tough. As for the 135 pass attempts, seven touchdown passes and 3,862 passing yards he needed to break Marino's career records (8,358 attempts, 420 TDs and 61,361 yards), says Favre, "We never talked about numbers one time."
In a stats-crazy sports world, we should appreciate not only the numbers put up by Marino (13, above) and Favre—who last year eclipsed Marino's career mark for completions (4,967)—but also the dignified way in which they went about attaining them. As someone who knows both men well, Marino as a colleague on HBO's Inside the NFL and Favre from chronicling his career for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, I can tell you with conviction that they care far more about wins and losses than touchdowns and interceptions. Favre has told me stories about how his father, Irvin, also his high school coach, instilled in him a winning-is-the-only-thing mentality. I saw Marino, after breaking the alltime passing-yardage record in a loss to the Patriots in 1995, being handed the stat sheet from the game as a memento and tossing it disgustedly into his locker. On that day, to Marino, stats were for losers.
Marino never won a Super Bowl ring, so his records have special meaning to him—in particular, the one for TD passes, and you sense a bit of melancholy in Marino with Favre on the verge of breaking it. The Packers' quarterback, who on Sunday completed 23 of 42 passes for 206 yards but no touchdowns in a 16--13 win over the Eagles, is more pragmatic. He sees 31-year-old Peyton Manning in his rearview mirror, 142 touchdown passes behind Marino, and knows he'll likely hold the record for only a few years. Despite their disregard for numbers, what follows is a statistical review of Favre's long march to overtake Marino.
FAVRE ON Marino
"When I watched Dan over the years, I thought he was the best—his arm, his leadership, the way he commanded his team on the field....We all learned from him. I don't care how many touchdowns I throw or how many yards I throw for, I will never look at myself as his equal. If he respects me as a player, that means more to me than any numbers I'll ever put up."
MARINO ON Favre
"Brett's right—you don't play this game for stats. You play this game, and this position, to win. The stats Brett and I put up come with being consistent over time and doing everything you can to help your team win."
HARDWARE: ADVANTAGE FAVRE In addition to winning three NFL MVP awards (1995, '96, '97) to one by Marino ('84), Favre is one up on the Hall of Famer in the coveted Super Bowl ring department (below). Favre got his in a 35-21 win over the Patriots in XXXI.
ONLY AT SI.COM An exclusive pictorial history of Brett Favr's career, including his 10 greatest moment.
Measures of Greatness
Where Favre ranks all time in regular-season stats and regular season plus postseason.
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HOW QB FARED AFTER DEPARTING GREEN BAY
Lost both starts for a St. Louis team that went 4--12 in 1998
Saints' alltime leader in TD passes (120); second in passing yards (19,156)
Led Jags to AFC title game in '99; has 31,826 career passing yards
Only NFL start in final appearance, in '02; CFL vet returned to Canada in '03
Eagles, 49ers, Browns, Lions
Best run: 4,478 passing yards and 22 TDs total for Eagles in '96 and '97
Has thrown for more than 18,000 yards in Seattle; reached Super Bowl XL
Lost starting job to Favre in '92; made eight starts in four years elsewhere
Won four of 14 starts; did not throw a pass in three of last four years in NFL
Longtime backup played second fiddle to Favre and Marino (1993)
Rams, Giants, Cardinals
Two-time NFL MVP led St. Louis to two Super Bowls, winning one
Heisman winner got his shot in a Steve Spurrier experiment and went 2--2
Yards of Favre's longest completion, a TD throw to Robert Brooks on Sept. 11, 1995, against the Bears (one of 10 passes for 99 yards in NFL history).
Yardage on Favre's first NFL completion, while a Packers backup on Sept. 13, 1992, against the Bucs. The receiver? Favre himself. The ball was batted into the air and caught by Favre, who was tackled for the loss.
Consecutive games played, from Sept. 13, 1992, through Sunday, the longest streak by an NFL quarterback and third longest for all players excluding kickers. Favre has started 238 straight.
quarterback who started for the 31 other NFL teams during Favr's run of consecutive starts
Straight seasons playing every one of his team's games. The only non-NFL player in North American major team sports with a longer streak than Favre's is baseball's Cal Ripken Jr. (16 seasons, Baltimore Orioles).
Touchdown passes at Lambeau Field, the NFL record for a quarterback in one stadium.
Consecutive regular-season games with at least one touchdown pass, from Nov. 4, 2002, to Nov. 29, 2004. It is the second-longest NFL streak, behind Johnny Unitas's 47 games.
Consecutive seasons with 20 or more touchdown passes, from 1994 through 2005, an NFL record. He threw for 19 TDs in 1993 and 18 TDs in '06.
Games with four or more TD passes, second to Marino's record of 21.
Total regular-season and playoff games with at least 300 passing yards, including a career-high 402 yards against the Bears in 1993.
Statistics compiled by David Sabino
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DAVID N. BERKWITZ
WALTER IOOSS JR.