In Meaningless Game, Brett the Jet and New York Fans Begin Meaningful Relationship
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
I first saw him 150 miles away, north of Baltimore at the Maryland House off Interstate 95, in the Roy Rogers line. He was a hard-featured man of maybe 40, and he wore the green-and-white No. 4 jersey of New York's newest sports star. This poor fan would ultimately schlep 5 1/2 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic to see five completions over 15 snaps, to see Brett the Jet's preseason debut.
Folk heroes, especially the kind who zing footballs for a living, make people do the zaniest things. Like spending $12 million on someone's celluloid past instead of truly weighing his 38-year-old future.
But this is New York, and this is Brett Favre, and for a few scintillating moments Saturday, in a game that did not count, the city that never sleeps and the quarterback who refuses to retire seemed perfectly compatible.
A standing ovation greeted the trot out to the field for his first snap. It took Favre one rocky possession before the old signs emerged -- the telegraphed handoff to the tailback, the laser dump-offs to backs and ends, the looming and real physical danger when Favre waited and waited before he either got crunched, which he did once, or averted calamity.
The touch was there, too, on that quick post pattern to Jerricho Cotchery and the four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller that brought the Meadowlands to its feet again. Favre celebrated and then spent most of the game next to Eric Mangini, his new coach, who was content with 5 of 6 completions and a half a quarter of work.
Jason Goode might have caught a short-gainer from Colt Brennan in the last minute and change and scampered 33 yards, and the Jets might have missed a gimme field goal to keep the Redskins unbeaten in the preseason under Coach Jim Zorn. Yet most of the masses had already departed an hour before, long after Favre made their night by merely taking the field.
"I feel like I'm a Jet," Favre said afterward, surrounded by a throng of reporters. "It sounds a little funny, but believe me I feel comfortable here. It's still a bit awkward, but I don't know how else to tell you. I feel like I'm here for a reason. Like I told the guys, I feel like I'm here for one reason."
Poor Eli Manning; the kid beats Favre and Tom Brady in the winter, brings the Big Apple a Lombardi Trophy and by mid-August he's suddenly the second-most popular player in his own stadium. The crowd at the Meadowlands was sparse and quickly thinned out. But among that lot were dozens of kids in the parking lot, lofting spirals over grills in their Favre jerseys, happy to call the graying former legend of Green Bay their own.
Ten days ago at a news conference, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg bestowed on Favre cheesecakes, a MetroCard worth $4 in subway fares and a massive Broadway street sign. The ticker-tape parade was nice, but none of the New York Giants remembered being treated that well seven months ago.
"The guy got introduced like he was the president," Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce recently said. "He got a Broadway sign, and he's in the paper every day. So now they have to deal with it. I think he is going to realize the media is a little different than in Green Bay. He can't control it."
Pierce is right. As much as Favre can now bask in his comeback attempt with the Jets, at some point a planeload of columnists will return from Beijing, and all the praise heaped on Michael Phelps will need some kind of counterbalance. Their back-page editors will demand it.
After all the hyperbole before and after the trade from the Packers to the Jets, Favre said he just wanted to "get this game over with" and wanted to make it clear of his intentions in New York. "I've been booed at Lambeau Field," he said. "I don't want that to happen here."
Favre does not have to be perfect on a team that won four games a year ago. But he can't get away with throwing the late-game pick in the Meadowlands the way he did in Green Bay; he has no body of work here, no history to soothe the savage fan's constant worry -- that Favre left Green Bay and came out of retirement for the wrong reason: To merely see if he could still play, not whether his skills could backpack another franchise to a Super Bowl.
That's got to be everyone's worst fear for Favre, the idea that he's more interested in the Legends Vindication Tour, winging passes from all angles, being Brett in the most improvisational of ways, instead of just finding a way to win football games.
Maybe that kind of analysis and introspection can wait till late October, or at least till the Jets open the season at Miami. Maybe Favre deserved the genuine applause and excitement that came his way Saturday night, in a sparsely filled NFL stadium, in the middle of the Olympics, in the middle of Michael Phelps mania, where grown men in No. 4 jerseys, stuck in Roy Rogers lines, still believe America's No. 1 sports story begins and ends with Brett the Jet.