By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 12:12 AM
The melodrama never seems to end when it comes to Brett Favre. If it's not a cycle of retirement and un-retirement or a personal crisis playing out in public, it is the latest threat to the quarterback's durability record.
Through three teams, countless jarring hits and numerous injuries that have included even a broken thumb on his throwing hand, Favre has played on. There haven't been too many constants in the last 18 years in the NFL, a league known for its "any given Sunday" unpredictability. But there has been at least one: Favre playing quarterback.
He has started an NFL-record 291 straight games - 315 in a row, including the postseason - and has managed to put himself in the conversation, alongside baseball legend Cal Ripken, about the greatest iron men in sports.
Favre spent time during the week in a walking boot having a stress fracture and an avulsion fracture in his left ankle and heel diagnosed. But even with his midweek acknowledgment that he could give way Sunday to Tarvaris Jackson and his problems on the field and off it before the injury, those who know Favre best would be surprised to see him out of the lineup when the Vikings take the field at Gillette Stadium for their 4:15 p.m. kickoff.
"If there's any way, he'll play," said Antonio Freeman, formerly Favre's top wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers. "If there's any possible way he can help his team, he'll play. If there's any way he can wobble or limp or whatever, he'll play."
On Saturday, Favre told ESPN that his health had improved and that he expects to play.
Freeman was with the Packers in 2003 when Favre played with a broken right thumb.
"When he played with that broken thumb and he played at a high level, that was amazing," Freeman said. "We were all getting ready for [backup] Doug Pederson to play. Doug took all the reps in practice. It was only about three hours before kickoff when they decided to give it a try. . . . Michael Jordan had some of his best nights with the flu. I look at Brett the same way: iconic figure, a guy who will play through anything."
Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said he worked as a broadcaster in the first game that Favre played with his broken thumb, and called it "phenomenal" that Favre not only played, but played well.
"He threw the ball like nothing was wrong," Theismann said. "It ranks right up there with Reggie White having a completely torn hamstring and saying, 'The Lord will heal me,' and then playing."
Favre has suffered other significant injuries during his streak, including a midfoot sprain during a game in 2000, a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his left knee during a 2002 game and a concussion during a game in 2004. He played through pain in his right biceps late in the 2008 season with the New York Jets. He has played with elbow pain this season after undergoing offseason ankle surgery following a rugged loss to the New Orleans Saints in last season's NFC title game.
"Crazy things happen," said former NFL quarterback Trent Green. "Looking at my career, I had a guy dive into my knee. That also happened to Tom Brady. It happened to Carson Palmer in a playoff game. The hit on Tony Romo this past Monday night, that was just a pretty routine hit and the guy came down on his shoulder [leaving Romo with a fractured clavicle]. How many times has that happened to Brett Favre in 300 games? Obviously he has toughness and durability and an ability to play at a high level, but some of it also is luck."
Brady, the New England quarterback who will oppose the Vikings on Sunday, said last week that Favre is "as tough a player that there's ever been." Favre's 291-game streak, which dates from 1992, is the equivalent of 18.2 NFL seasons. Ripken's 2,632-game streak for the Baltimore Orioles covered 16.2 baseball seasons.
Ripken said his streak and Favre's are "very different in so many ways" but he admires what Favre has accomplished.
"It is hard to compare the two because the sports and seasons are so different," Ripken said in a written statement through a spokesman. "Brett's streak is remarkable and I can't fathom playing that many NFL games consecutively. He is a tough guy. Rarely in baseball do you take the big hits but it is a long season with few days off."
Ripken's toughness and unbreakable will to play whenever he was able could be traced to the tutelage of his father, one-time Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. Favre likewise points to lessons learned from his father, Irvin.
"My dad was always my football and baseball coach," Favre said at a midweek news conference. "I was like most kids. You fall down. You start crying. You want attention. I never got it from him. It was, 'You're not hurt.' And 99 percent of the time, he was right, and I just learned that you just get up and you play with it. That's just the way I was brought up and raised. . . . My mental state has always been after an injury, 'Give it a try.' "
Favre played in a 2003 game a day after his father suffered a heart attack and died. That is just one of several off-field dramas that have been on public display while he has kept playing on the field. He was treated for an addiction to painkilling medication early in his career. The 41-year-old grandfather has announced his retirement twice, only to return, and contemplated retirement again last offseason. He has said this is his final season.
If it is, it has been a trying one. Favre has thrown 10 interceptions during a highly disappointing 2-4 start for the Vikings. He is the league's 30th-rated passer and has been unable to recapture the on-field magic of last season, when he finished fourth in the NFL most valuable player balloting and nearly took the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
Favre also is being investigated by the NFL for allegedly sending improper electronic messages to a female employee of the Jets when both were with the team.
Favre has played on, saying repeatedly that his focus is events on the field. He said at midweek that he's proud of his streak but will end it if he doesn't feel he can play well enough to help the Vikings win.
"I kind of lost count a long time ago," Favre said. "I'm very proud of the streak, but it probably should have ended a long time ago. . . . If I'm able to play, I want to play the whole game and give us a chance to win. I know it makes for good TV - the streak, will it end, will this be the injury that stops him or whatever. Whether it ends this week or whether it ends at the end of the year, it ends and I will always be proud of it."
Green said he thinks Favre is beyond the point at which he would play simply to keep the streak going.
"As much as he would like to keep that going, I think he's at the point in his career where he doesn't feel like he has to keep it going if he can't play at a high level or if it's not in the best interests of his team," said Green, who had an 81-game playing streak ended by a concussion in a game with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006.
Theismann said Vikings Coach Brad Childress should step in and bench Favre. There were reports late in the week that Childress might do just that. Childress said after last Sunday night's loss at Green Bay, in which Favre threw three interceptions, that "it still goes back to taking care of the football." There has been speculation over the last two seasons that the pair's relationship has been strained at times.
"Right now it's in the best interests of the Minnesota Vikings for Tarvaris Jackson to play quarterback until Brett gets healthy," Theismann said. "I listen to Brett say, 'I hope I make the right decision.' But I don't think it should be his decision. It should be Brad Childress's decision. No athlete is ever going to be completely honest with you about how he feels. And not only that, but you lie to yourself as an athlete about how you feel and whether you can make it. But at this point, with Brett's physical condition, it shouldn't be up to him."
Childress said Friday that he probably would wait until shortly before game time Sunday to make a decision on Favre's playing status, and Favre was listed as questionable on the Vikings' official injury report.
Favre participated in Friday's practice on a limited basis after missing practices Wednesday and Thursday. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said he was preparing his team for the possibility that Favre could play Sunday.
If Favre does play Sunday, he almost certainly won't go about things timidly and something dramatic is likely to happen, one way or the other.
"Brett was always getting banged up," Freeman said. "He plays hard. He takes a lot of hits. . . . The guy just wants to play football. He doesn't want to go to training camp, but he wants to play football."