With all the hubbub about Brett Favre's alleged phone call he supposedly made to Mike McCarthy because he reportedly might want to play again, some of the sad rips on our Hall of Fame quarterback are resurfacing again, from none other than our own fan base.
This is perhaps the worst part of this whole experience, as the media blows a non-story out of proportion, it also serves to make Packer fans turn on Brett as if he is the one who overhypes everything he does. Even if he did make a call to McCarthy, he did it privately, not through the press (as it seems some are presuming he did in some selfish, attention-seeking bid).
But, as the insults and criticisms come bubbling back to the surface, there is one old wound that has never really healed, one that just rubs my fur the wrong way.
"Favre has been a terrible quarterback in the playoffs for the latter part of his career."
This accusation is usually followed with a proud compilation of playoff statistics, which clearly show that Brett Favre has been a Bad Playoff Quarterback since the year 1998, as opposed to being a Good Playoff Quarterback before then.
Therefore, with the Packers just a field goal away from the Super Bowl last year, we should be happy to keep Brett Favre on his tractor, because even if we made it back into the playoffs, Brett Favre will have a bad game there.
Now, out-of-context statistics aside, there are some other things that, when you look at it, really make this a poorly-hashed out statement.
Why don't we comment that Reggie White isn't as good in the playoffs today as he was back in the 1990's? Why don't we complain that Dorsey Levens chokes in the playoffs compared to his glory days?
Oh, that's right. They aren't on the team any more.
Yes, the quarterback is always a flashpoint for evaluating a team's success, but let's get serious. Brett Favre has been the only constant on this team from 1992 through 2007. As he has taken snaps, the guy he hands the ball off to has ranged from Vince Workman to Edgar Bennett to Darick Holmes to Ahman Green to Ryan Grant.
The surrounding cast has changed drastically, sometimes from one season to the next. When Brett Favre was in his MVP days, he was surrounded by an effective running game, reliable receivers, and a dominating defense. When you play on a team like that, you get to throw less often, throw higher-percentage passes, and usually against looser coverage because they have to honor the running game. When you play on a team with a shaky defense and an inconsistent running game, you have to pass more often, often from behind, taking more risks against a defense that knows the pass is coming.
In the early 2000's, when the criticism for Favre's playoff struggles seemed to start, he had an almost completely new surrounding cast from his last Super Bowl appearance in 1997.
And there is where the biggest difference lies. In the mid-90's, Favre was surrounded by veterans with playoff experience, a gifted head coach, and a stable of assistant coaches who went on to become head coaches in their own right. When the Packers entered the playoffs, they knew how to, as a collective group, put the team in the extra gear that a true playoff team needs to have. Guys like Reggie White, Santana Dotson, Don Beebe, LeRoy Butler, Keith Jackson, and Dorsey Levens didn't disappear when the going got tough. They raised the bar.
And so did their head coach.
What's funny to me is that once Mike Holmgren left the team in 1998, this team seemed to fall completely on the shoulders of Brett Favre, when really, it never had before. Favre was never the vocal leader of the team in the locker room (not when you had Butler, White, and Eugene Robinson in there).
Yet, no one seems to connect that the exact moment Brett seemed to have struggles in playoff games coincided with the moment Holmgren left, and Favre was left to work under the miserable tenure of Ray Rhodes (who would publicly thank Favre when he pulled out the game for him) and the mishandling of Mike Sherman (who also tended to stand on the sidelines and wait for Brett to win the game).
The same folks who bring up that Brett Favre loses in the playoffs are usually the same ones who complain that Favre is regarded as "the Packers". Therein lies the conflict: Favre isn't the Packers, no matter how much Peter King and John Madden want you to believe that, and he also isn't the only one who doesn't show up for playoff games.
In 2005, I did a statistical study of the six playoffs games that Favre had played in up to that point in the post-Holmgren era, which can be read here. In summary, in only the St. Louis game did Favre truly let the team down statistically. In every other game, Favre played to the level of the rest of the team. If they played on par with their regular season statistics, so did Favre. If they struggled, so did Favre.
In other words, the Sherman era was marked with teams that tended to fizzle in the post-season, not just the quarterback. That type of choking can't be placed on one player, but on the preparation of that team to execute in the playoffs. And more times than not, as the team posted a 2-4 playoff record under Sherman, they weren't ready.
Without even pulling up the stats, you can see the dead-on comparison this past season in the playoffs. Against the Seahawks, Favre had a fantastic game. But then, so did nearly every other player on that team. Ryan Grant ran like a man possessed. Atari Bigby looked like he was an All-Pro. The Seahawks were completely outmanned in every facet of the game.
But against the Giants, Favre had a mediocre day, statistically, with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. On some days, that's more than enough to win, especially if your running game generates yardage and your defense does its job.
But few other players showed up against the Giants like they had done the previous week. Grant was non-existent, gaining only 29 yards rushing. Atari Bigby, the reigning hero, was invisible with only one pass defensed and no big plays. And, of course, Al Harris was treated like a rag doll by Plaxico Burress for 154 receiving yards.
As a team, the Packers struggled, and in particular, the rushing game completely disappeared, leaving the offense to win or lose the game completely on Favre's shoulder. The Giants had two 60-yard rushers that day, and two rushing touchdowns.
Certainly, Favre can take some extra accountability due to his position, his reputation, and his salary cap figure. But, in the long run, this is a game that is won or lost as a team, regardless of what John Madden and Peter King say, and the team lost this game.
So, why does that become "Favre's Playoff Record" in discussion? Why don't we say that Brett Favre essentially won all those games himself in the mid-90's? "His" playoff record was 9-5 under Mike Holmgren. Was there anyone else on those teams that would also deserve any credit for helping win those games?
My contention has always been that Favre's playoff performances are greatly impacted by the coaching and the team around him. When he was with Mike Holmgren and surrounded by hungry, disciplined veterans, he did well. When he was with Mike Sherman and surrounded by young players who didn't seem prepared for playoff football, he didn't do as well.
Mike Sherman ain't Mike Holmgren, and Darrell Bevel ain't Andy Reid or Steve Mariucci.
When Vince Lombardi left the Packers, was Bart Starr as successful in the playoffs under Phil Bengston? Oh, wait...the Packers never made the playoffs under Phil Bengston, did they? And Bart Starr, considered by most to be the greatest quarterback of all time, especially in the playoffs, couldn't make it back to the playoffs.
Was that Starr's fault? He was only a year removed from Super Bowl II...why didn't he get the team back into the playoffs, at least? He was surrounded by many of the same talents he had while under Lombardi. Shouldn't Starr, the highly regarded quarterback, have done more to get his team that one step further?
Certainly, in 1968, Starr's statistics were among the best of his career. After that, they went into steep decline. But Bart Starr's playoff record after 1967 is 0-0. Do you think perhaps there was a difference between Vince Lombardi's coaching and preparation versus Phil Bengston's coaching and preparation?
Could you imagine the ESPN mentality of the media going after Bart Starr in 1968 and beyond, the way they have gone after Favre?
In conclusion, this latest non-story has ignited the Favre Critics to launch salvos at Brett, really for no reason at this point. Favre is being called selfish, a drama queen, an attention-seeker, a distraction, and potentially, a GM-killer.
But, if you're going to call him a bad playoff quarterback, think twice. It isn't his playoff record, it's the team's playoff record. The example of Ryan Grant's disappearance and Al Harris's dubious performance in the NFC championship proves that you need more than a quarterback to win in the playoffs.
And, hopefully, we all realize that when Aaron Rodgers takes his first snap as a starter in the playoffs.