Growing up I watched football, but wasn’t a huge fan like I am now. I followed the Packers, because that’s what all Wisconsinites do. But I never really fell in love with the Green and Gold until January 26, 1997.
I was only five years old then, but I remember that day and that game vividly. I remember Reggie White’s three sacks and Desmond Howard’s back-breaking kick return. But what I remember most is the smile on the face of a guy who wore number four in the first quarter. I remember the pass to Andre Rison and Brett Favre running around the field like a small child. And to see that childlike wonder, that love for a game is what drove me into football fandom and eventually football playing and writing and broadcasting.
And with this momentous day here, with Brett Favre home again where he belongs, I feel like it is only appropriate that I share my memories of the man who was the key part in bringing Green Bay back to prominence in the NFL. No matter what your viewpoint on him is after how everything ended, you cannot deny his love for football and his impact on NFL history.
Brett Favre, for all his flaws, was “the Man” for almost 20 years. He played every game like it was his last and he always left it on the field. He sacrificed his body to get the throw off or to throw a block, or to make a tackle after one of his numerous head-scratching picks. But more than the numbers, the touchdowns, and the wins, he brought joy. He brought love and passion and the energy that the Packers and the NFL needed.
Even more than that he brought a human quality and different sense of humility to the league. He admitted that he had problems, which was a refreshing breath of fresh air for a league that was hailing the troubled Cowboys as “America’s Team.” Brett took on his problems head on and overcame them while staying in the smallest market in the league.
And on that day, that Super Bowl day, he let his joy show with that spring around the field after finding a troubled, journeyman receiver for the biggest touchdown of his career. That day made a fan out of me, and he only added to my admiration of him with later games.
Only two other games can compete with Super Bowl XXXI for my favorite Favre moments. The first one was when he broke the all-time touchdown record with a throw to Greg Jennings against the Vikings, but that is a distant third. The game that almost won out, and what might be the most legendary performance of all-time was against the Oakland Raiders. Just a day after his dad and coach died, Brett went out with a heart full of sorrow, the opposite of his attitude in any other game, and played the best game of his life, throwing four first half touchdowns in a game that had grown men crying and little kids like me looking on in awe.
But even that game still cannot top Super Bowl XXXI, where he created numerous fans of football, including me. I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t sit down and watch that game with my family, probably writing about soccer or curling or something else. So thank you Brett for your joy, and your passion and your energy that you left on the field. You deserve every minute of cheers and adulation tonight upon your return to Green Bay. Welcome home again. We missed you.——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.