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Brett Favre's Rocky Start Almost Derailed Legendary Football Career


Besides the Olympics, there's another big sports story this weekend - Brett Favre's induction into the Hall of Fame. There are good reasons. He spent 20 years as an NFL quarterback, 16 of them with the Green Bay Packers, three-time MVP, Super Bowl winner. But Favre's earliest years didn't forecast this kind of career.

Rob Demovsky wrote about Favre's unlikely rise to stardom this week for ESPN.com. He joined us from Canton, Ohio, the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And I asked him about the injuries Favre sustained before he even got into the NFL.

ROB DEMOVSKY: Before his senior season at Southern Miss. University, he was involved in a car accident. And they actually had to go in and remove 30 inches of his intestines. Now, he was still able to play as a senior. And then, as he was preparing for the NFL draft, players go to all star games after the season, where NFL scouts can watch them. And he sustained a hip injury that actually scared off quite a few NFL teams. They didn't think he'd be able to play more than a couple of years in the NFL.

CORNISH: Favre spends his first year with the Atlanta Falcons but not as a starter. What happened?

DEMOVSKY: Well, he was the third-string quarterback. But he was never able to impress coach Jerry Glanville because Brett missed meetings. He liked to go out and enjoy the Atlanta nightlife. Jerry Glanville actually said that he went to several bars where he knew Favre would hang out and asked them to stop serving him because it was interfering with his ability to basically learn how to be an NFL quarterback.

CORNISH: So what made the Green Bay Packers finally take a look at him? You write that they hired a new general manager, Ron Wolf. But this first year in Atlanta doesn't sound like an exciting one.

DEMOVSKY: No. Ron Wolf, before he got hired by the Packers, was a scout for the New York Jets. And he rated Brett Favre as the number-one player in the 1991 NFL draft. And so when Wolf got the job in Green Bay late in the 1991 season, he told the team president that he was going to trade a first round draft pick for this quarterback, even though Favre was the third-stringer in Atlanta.

CORNISH: And in here, you have Favre quoted saying, thank goodness he didn't look at my waistline and say, I'm not going after this guy. So how did Favre turn it around?

DEMOVSKY: Well, he was paired with a coach named Mike Holmgren, who had worked with Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco, two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. And Mike Holmgren was able to get Brett to understand that within an NFL team, there are certain rules that have to be followed. Eventually, Mike Holmgren was able to harness all of that spirit that Brett Favre had and turn him into an MVP quarterback that led the Packers to their first Super Bowl title since the Vince Lombardi era.

CORNISH: And the rest, as they say, is history. But in the final years in the league and into retirement, Favre did have, you know, a major slip up off the field, in that he was accused of sexual harassment by at least three women. How did this affect his legacy?

DEMOVSKY: Well, I think that in terms of football, those decisions, whether he's Hall of Fame worthy, have never really factored what happened off the field. But publicly, Brett Favre definitely took a public relations hit. Now, you should know this about him. He was a guy who, unlike a lot of athletes today, was willing to live his personal life out in the public - his addiction to Vicodin pain killers in the '90s, his wife Deanna's battle with breast cancer, his father Irv passing away on the night before one of his greatest performances. So when this happened, I don't know that it caught people by surprise in the sense that everything Brett Favre did seemingly ended up in the public eye.

CORNISH: Rob Demovsky is ESPN's Packers reporter. He's in Canton, Ohio, for this weekend's Hall of Fame enshrinement of Brett Favre. Rob, thanks so much.

DEMOVSKY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.