The Pro Football Notebook

December 14, 2010 7:18 AM

"297" A New Magic Number

FavreRipken.jpgWhen I wake up each morning, a number greets me--"2131". It's a headline from the Baltimore Sun that Cal Ripken autographed for my wife after he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak. Though Ripken went on to extend the streak to 2,632 before removing himself from the lineup for a game against the New York Yankees in 1998, the number "2131" is engraved into the culture of baseball in Baltimore and ultimately nationwide. The NFL has a new number now. Brett Favre finally let the verdict of his body be the ultimate arbiter and his consecutive games streak ended last night at 297 games.

It was time for the streak to end. I write as a Favre fan, not one of his many critics and the hits he took this year were just becoming too much, from the bloodied face in New England to the shoulder injury against Buffalo that finally ended it. At his age he can't move well enough anymore to cushion the blows of those hits. It was after the New England game that I began to be convinced that to like Favre was to want for him to walk away with his body still intact for the remainder of his life. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the only thing that could've made yesterday better was if the NFL would have moved the Vikings-Giants game to Lambeau Field instead of Detroit, and let the streak end where it began. I understand the league can't do that--this wasn't a meaningless game and ironically the Packers are one of three teams who could have used a Minnesota win last night (the Eagles and Bears being the others). But it would have made for great theatre.

Ultimately the end of a run like Favre's is not to mourn, but to celebrate. To pay tribute to a career that redefined durability and toughness. And with all due respect to the Vikings and Jets, that tribute has to focus on what Favre achieved in Green Bay. The two most "conventional" moments in his career are in the 1996 Super Bowl against New England. He threw a deep post for a touchdown to Andre Rison and was next seen running around like a little kid at Christmas. The other was in 2003 when he played a Monday night game in Oakland the day after his father died and lit up the sky with four touchdown passes for a sympathetic national audience. Beyond that there are countless moments, filled with plays that spanned the gamut of amazing--both the ones that were brilliant and the ill-advised ones that left you scratching your head. It was all part of the Favre mystique. And now "297" is a part of that mystique.

I'll conclude with my two favorite Favre moments. Both were games I attended at the old County Stadium in Milwaukee, where the Brewers used to play and the Packers used to play three home games a year. The first one was in 1992. Green Bay was 3-6, Favre was in his first year as a starter and it looked the latest edition of a Packer organization that had done next to nothing since Vince Lombardi left down. Favre pulled out a come-from-behind 27-24 win. Green Bay won five more after that and only a last-game loss in Minnesota cost them a playoff trip. But the Favre era basically began that day. The other game was two years later in the final game Green Bay would play in Milwaukee. The Packers faced a must-win spot against Atlanta with both teams on the playoff fringe. Trailing 14-10, Favre launched another late drive and finally scored the winning touchdown in the waning seconds on a dive into the end zone.

The only question left is this--will there be a healing of the schism that exists between Favre and Packer Nation? I'm convinced the answer is yes. Time heals all wounds and the reality was that in 2008-09 the needs of player and team diverged. One can debate endlessly whether the quarterback or the general manager is responsible for the bad blood but I think anyone who's not on record with their thoughts at this point is too far behind the curve to have an argument admitted. Favre will eventually be inducted into the Packer's team Hall of Fame, my guess is that he'll appear for the induction and the events of the last two years will start to drift away. And there will be a lot of green-and-gold in the audience in Canton five years from now when Favre takes his final place in football immortality, the number "297" going with him.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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