The Full Nelson: Ending a streak to save a legend

Few things make me more proud than saying, “I’m a Green Bay Packers fan.” I feel it’s an honor and a privilege to grow up a Packers fan, and when the team sold additional stock a few years ago, my family bought one share for each of us. So not only can I say I’m a Packers fan, but I can say I own one share of the Green Bay Packers. Just typing this, I’m brimming. Positively brimming.

I also think Packers fans are the luckiest fans alive, and one of the many reasons is Brett Favre. Obviously he’s beloved in Wisconsin (my home state) and beloved by me. I was at a friend’s birthday party (Josh Rittberg’s, I believe) on the Sunday when Don Majkowski got injured against the Bengals and Favre came in. He hit a streaking Kitrick Taylor in the right side of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, and so the Favre Era began.

He hasn’t missed a game since that day, and his consecutive-games-played streak is a record for quarterbacks. Naturally, when he injured his knee two weeks ago, I was worried like all other Packers fans. When my roommate made fun of his injury at a time when the severity was still unknown, I threw a bottle at him (intentionally missing, but getting my point across). It was a stupid thing to do, but I couldn’t control myself. This was Brett Favre, and he was laughing.

Luckily, the injury wasn’t too serious. The Packers had a bye last week and Favre is listed as probable for Monday night’s game against the Dolphins. While I desperately hope he starts, because the Packers need him to win, I will say something that sounds blatantly wrong and even sacrilegious: I wouldn’t mind seeing Favre’s consecutive games played streak come to an end.

Before you give me the beating I deserve for saying such a thing, let me explain. I want him to play but I’m afraid the streak is taking on a life of its own.

Lou Gehrig was a legend. Without him, who knows if the Babe would have won so many championships. He was one of the greatest first basemen of all time, but today, people identify him by his consecutive games played streak.

Cal Ripken was a great player. He was the prototype for today’s tall, powerful shortstops. He won two MVP’s and should be remembered for many things, but he will only be remembered for breaking Gehrig’s streak.

Proof of this came at Game 4 of the World Series when Ripken breaking the streak was voted as the number one moment in baseball history. My first problem with that was that the streak wasn’t even a moment. A moment is spontaneous. It’s not something that can be planned for weeks in advance. Kirk Gibson was a moment. Not Cal Ripken.

My second problem was that I’ve never been that impressed by consecutive games played streaks. I know they have meaning and historical significance, but I think DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is a much greater accomplishment than Ripken’s consecutive games played streak.

All Ripken had to do was stay healthy and step on the field. I know that isn’t easy, but I think the only reason it won’t be broken is because managers today want to give their players a game off now and then. To be honest, I think that if each team had one good, young player try to break Ripken’s record, eventually one of them would do it.

I do think Favre’s streak is more impressive than Ripken’s because football players, especially quarterbacks, get injured more often. But I’m afraid that in years to come, people will elevate the streak’s importance. Once he’s retired, I fear the streak will be the first thing people refer to when they talk about Favre. Just like Gehrig and Ripken.

Certainly the streak speaks to Favre’s toughness, and his toughness is one his greatest attributes. But there are so many other things, so many more intangibles that people can’t lose sight of when they talk about his legend.

There’s the way he lifts his teammates up every game. There’s the way he runs the two-minute drill. There’s the way he bounces up after a big hit, and talks back to the defensive player. There’s the throws nobody, not Elway, not Montana, not Bradshaw and not the new great arm, Michael Vick, could make.

His three MVP awards and one Super Bowl ring mean more than the streak. His dive into the end zone to win the last game played at County Stadium means more than the streak. His 60-yard throw across his body to Sterling Sharpe to win a playoff game against the Lions means more than the streak.

But every week, they show the same stat: the consecutive games played streak growing. It’s at 164 right now. And while they’re right to show the stat, because it is truly remarkable, the stat is being talked about more and more every week. Its significance is growing, and it’s beginning to dominate his legend.

If Brett Favre doesn’t start this Monday, I’ll be crushed like every other Packers fan. I’d like to think that miniscule share of the Packers I own just happens to be some part of Brett Favre. If I could do anything to make sure he starts, I would. Trust me, you don’t want to be around me after the Packers lose. Just ask my mother.

If, however, number four doesn’t go out there Monday . if, somehow, number four doesn’t start against the Dolphins . at least the streak will die, and hopefully it will become a footnote, rather than the first note played, when people trumpet Favre’s great career.

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