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Sending Healthy Signals Favre Has Head Held High One Year After Hitting Low

He’d been playing golf on a misty morning at the exclusive Upper Montclair Country Club, shifting smoothly from long-drive contest to a practice round without having to say a word.

When he finally stopped and found himself trapped by a large group of reporters, he noticed his rust-colored golf shirt was dripping wet. Trickles of sweat were developing on his forehead, and as he went to wipe off the perspiration with the back of his right hand, he caught a glimpse of golf great Ray Floyd over his left shoulder.

“Hey Ray, how’re ya doin’?”

“Pretty good kid,” responded the senior golfer. “And you?”

“My golf game is suffering right now. I need some help with it. It’s a good thing I play football for a living.”

That Brett Favre had only poor golf to complain about after taking part in the “Quarterback Scramble” at the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic, a PGA Senior event, was extraordinary for the two-time National Football League MVP.

A year ago, Favre had to cancel his appearance at the tournament as he announced that he was checking into a rehabilitation clinic to deal with his addiction to pain-killers.

It was the lowest point in Favre’s life. He had become addicted while dealing with an ankle injury and trying to cope with the fame that sneaked up quickly on the native of the small town of Kiln, Miss.

Yet, in one short year, Favre was able to return to the golf tournament he had been unable to play in. He returned with another MVP award, the most celebrated member of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

Life is good again. This time, Favre has been able to cope with success.

“Believe it or not, everyone wants to think everything has changed, whether good or bad, because of my decision to seek help,” said Favre. “It went well. I don’t want to say that what I went through made me a better person or player, but it didn’t hurt. That was actually a tough time. This is pretty easy now.

“I don’t regret that announcement. It’s something I had to do. If we went out and went 3-13 on the season, I might have regretted it. I knew we were a good team and that we’d have a good season.”

He is on the verge of scoring the richest contract in NFL history, an average of at least $8 million a season. Negotiations have been ongoing, but Favre isn’t worried.

“We’re talking and we’re getting closer,” said Favre, who is scheduled to earn $3.9 million in 1997 and $4 million in 1998 under his current contract. “Whether we get it done now or during the season makes no difference to me. I’m not hurting. It’s not a huge issue in my life. If I get it, I’ll still be the same player I am right now.”

But his life is changing dramatically. He always has been in demand, but now, if he doesn’t watch himself, he could be making too many appearances, and that could be detrimental to his preparation for the season.

“I’ve done a lot more traveling than I did last year,” said the charismatic quarterback. “There are simply a lot more opportunities out there available to me. If I wanted, I could be gone every day doing something from now until the start of the season. But you have to pick and choose and do the things you really want to do. You have to be careful about overloading your schedule because you have to stay committed to your off-season program. We all have to make sure that football is our main focus.”

Patriots have his respect

During his round of golf, Favre could not move from hole to hole without a large group of fans surrounding him. Some were shouting words of encouragement, and others, dressed in their No. 4 Packer jerseys, were hoping for an autograph. Favre would flash his tough but genuine smile and every so often oblige by putting his very expensive signature on a photograph or ball, many of which assuredly would be resold for profit.

“Everybody wants to talk about the Super Bowl and what happened and why and that’s OK,’ he said. “It’s a little draining at times, but it beats the alternative.”

Favre still hears some criticism that the Packers’ triumph was incomplete because they didn’t go through Dallas before beating the Patriots. He makes no apologies and disagrees that beating Dallas would have made the Super Bowl victory sweeter.

“They’ve had our number, so why would I want to play them?” he said. “If you win a Super Bowl, believe me, that’s quite an accomplishment and I believe it reflects on us as the best team in football and the team to beat. The most important thing is that we beat the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. That’s the bottom line.”

Despite bold comments during Super Bowl week guaranteeing a Packer win, Favre said he respected the Patriots and he thinks they can rebound with another excellent season.

“Any time a team gets to the Super Bowl, they have to be a solid team,” said Favre. “If you break down the game, you’ll see they gave us quite a battle before Desmond (Howard) broke a couple against them.

“I think they’re an exciting team which has a great chance to get right back in the mix because they have a young, talented team. I know a lot of players would like to prove they won because of their talent and not just because of Coach Parcells. There was a lot of attention given to that during the Super Bowl. I can’t say whether it distracted them or not. Only the Patriots can answer that. But they looked like they were ready to play. A couple of big plays went against them.”

Favre thinks the Patriots will perform well under Pete Carroll, considering that Bill Parcells laid the groundwork for excellence before departing for the Jets.

“The players have to learn a new system, and that will take some time,” he said, “but you’ve got great players like Drew (Bledsoe) and Curtis (Martin), and their defense is aggressive with Willie McGinest and Chris Slade and Ted Johnson.”

Mission is to maintain

Favre has been talking to his teammates about the perils of “the year after,” of the dreaded letdown. It’s imperative to remain mentally tough.

“I hope we don’t try to do anything different than we have in the past,” said Favre. “That’s when you run into trouble - when you say, ‘OK, now we’re going to do something different.’ Why? We won it last year. Let’s keep going with what got us there.

“I know it’s going to be harder because the schedule is tough. I know and realize how hard it is to repeat. If we keep the right attitude and approach our off-season the right way, which I think we are, we’ll contend again. We have the talent.”

Except that Howard, their standout returner whose TD runback on a kickoff was the key to the Super Bowl win, has gone to the Oakland Raiders as an unrestricted free agent.

“I don’t think it hurts, but it doesn’t help,” said Favre. “We knew it was going to happen. When you win, a lot of players ask for more money, and with the tight salary cap, it’s hard for a team to keep everyone. It’s hard to find players like Desmond. But maybe Antonio Freeman and Don Beebe can fit the bill. I think we’ll be OK.”

Favre believes the Packers can emulate the San Francisco 49ers and maintain a level of excellence for the next few years. The confidence the Packers gained through winning should make that level attainable.

“Once we made the playoffs this year, there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to win it,” Favre said. “We learned from last year and the ugly feeling we had when we seemed to be awed by Dallas. That feeling is gone. Now other teams are awed by us. I’m not predicting anything. It’s so far away. I’m just looking forward to the start of the season so I can stop embarrassing myself on the golf course.”