The emotional anguish has rivaled the ever-accumulating physical pain in Brett Favre's 14th NFL season. He says he wants to be there when his wife Deanna, who learned two weeks ago that she has breast cancer and now is facing five months of chemotherapy treatments, needs support. But he still loves playing quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and he still does it quite well, and Favre said Wednesday that this most trying of seasons won't necessarily send him off into retirement. It might, he said. But then again, he added, it very well might not.
"Do I think about it? Sure, I think about it, especially during times like this,'' Favre said during his weekly news conference at the Packers' administration building. "But every time something happens, people want to jump on the retirement bandwagon. The more people ask me, the more I want to stick around just to stick it to 'em. But, as I stand here before you today, it will not speed up the decision. Now, a month from now, who knows? But I think it was three or four years ago that everyone was rushing in here to hear me retire . . . and here we are, still talking. I'll keep you guys [reporters] hanging.''
If it were only about the football, this would be a tough enough season for Favre. He proclaimed his team a Super Bowl contender before the season, and the Packers looked every bit like one when they opened with an eye-catching victory at Carolina in the season's first Monday night game. But that triumph has become less impressive with every subsequent defeat by the downward-spiraling Panthers, and the Packers followed with the first four-game losing streak of Coach Mike Sherman's five-year tenure before rallying with consecutive wins the past two weekends.
And then there are the injuries. Favre is feeling every bit like the 35-year-old quarterback that he is, and it has taken every ounce of his legendary grit and competitiveness to keep his NFL-record string of consecutive starts -- now at 196 straight regular-season games entering Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field -- intact. He has an increasingly sore left shoulder that pops out of place from time to time. He has been knocked from games by a badly bruised left leg and his third career concussion. He suffered what the Packers are calling a sprained right hand in Sunday's lopsided win over the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field. It made taking snaps painful and is limiting his practice participation this week. His hand is swollen and discolored. He didn't practice Wednesday and won't take any snaps in practice until Saturday, and Favre said Wednesday that this ailment was bothering him even more than a broken thumb did last season.
"It hurts more now than it did with the thumb,'' he said. "But two days from now, it'll probably be better.''
What won't be better in two days is the heartache that has been piling on since Favre's father, Irvin, died suddenly last December. Twenty-two days ago, Deanna Favre's younger brother, Casey Tynes, was killed when he crashed an all-terrain vehicle on Favre's property in Mississippi. A week later, Deanna was examined by doctors after feeling a lump and scheduling an appointment, according to Favre. The next day, her breast cancer was diagnosed, although the news did not become public until this week.
"Professional athletes are not immune to tragic circumstances and cancer, whatever,'' Favre said. "We as athletes sometimes think we are. This just goes to show we're no different than anyone else. I never find myself saying, 'Why me?' Or, 'Why us?' It takes too much time and it doesn't matter anyway because it is what it is and you deal with it the best way possible, and that's what we're trying to do.''
The calls and letters of support have poured in, he said. "It's almost too much,'' Favre said. "But in this case, too much is a good thing.''
He skipped a day of practice and was with his wife the day she received the news, and he said he wants to be around as much as he's needed in the coming months. Deanna reportedly underwent a lumpectomy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and has been told to expect a full recovery.
"The prognosis is good,'' Favre said. "But we're new to this. We've learned a lot in the past couple weeks. I understand the fear that people have had to deal with. Your first thought is, 'Oh, cancer. That's not good.' And it's not good. There is no good cancer. But, obviously, early detection is critical. In this case, it really is. It's treatable. We go through this as a family but it will be more difficult for her, obviously, and that scares me some. But we're fortunate. Unlike some people, we have caught it early.
" . . . The doctors say we're just in the early stages of this. There are different types of chemotherapy. From what we understand, it won't be as long as some other people. But it will be difficult. Whatever I have to do to support her and the kids, I'll do because football is very important, but it's not the most important thing. The last few weeks, she's said, 'Hey, you go out and play and do whatever. Go do your deal.' I would expect her to say that. I would say the same thing. But I also want to be there for her.''
Favre said that he and his wife are dealing with the situation "probably like anyone else who's had to go through it. It's a shock at first. And once you get over that, then you go on from there. You deal with it and treat it the best way possible, and hope for the best. . . . I'd say we're both doing better. I'd say initially she was probably doing better than I was. She's a lot tougher than I am. She's hanging in there.''
The Favres knew they didn't have the option of keeping Deanna's battle with cancer from generating headlines or being fodder for radio call-in shows, and he isn't complaining about being in the spotlight even when it is uncomfortable.
"It is a private deal,'' he said. "But after 14 years, I've gotten used to private things being public. Whether I like it or not, that's the way it is. Is it fair? Sometimes not. But we deal with it the way we've dealt with everything. You accept it. Just like the news, you accept it. . . . There were a lot of people who knew about it beforehand. To get frustrated about people talking about it . . . wouldn't do any good. For the most part, throughout the challenges I've faced or my family has faced, it's been positive. People have done nothing but support us.''
Favre and the Packers are playing their best football of the season, rolling up 79 points while winning their last two games to improve to 3-4 -- the same record they had after seven games last season before Favre led them on a late charge into the playoffs, staying in the lineup with his broken thumb and playing one of the best games of his career to engineer a key victory in Oakland on "Monday Night Football'' on the day after his father died.
"It's a difficult enough job, week in, week out,'' Favre said. "This makes it a little more difficult. But I take a tremendous amount of pride in what I do. I always have. At times like this, I maybe even take more. I've always risen up to the challenge to do it week in and week out. It remains to be seen if I can continue to do that. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't. Sometimes life is difficult. At some point, we all have to go through difficult situations. I'm not the only one who has ever had to do it, so I don't consider myself out of the ordinary. I love doing what I do. Even when I'm dealing with these personal issues, I still love doing what I'm doing. As long as I continue playing, I would expect to continue playing at a high level.
" . . . You don't want anyone to feel sorry for you or whatever. It's a production business, and if I don't produce, they're going to find someone else: 'Sorry for what you had to go through, but life goes on.' I still love doing what I do, so you rise to the occasion.''
Packers' Defensive Backs Improving
The Packers seem increasingly optimistic that cornerback Al Harris and safety Darren Sharper, who have strained knee ligaments, will play against the Redskins. Harris, who has a strained medial collateral ligament, probably will practice Friday. If he has a setback, the Packers will start two rookies -- Ahmad Carroll and either Joey Thomas or Jason Horton -- at cornerback Sunday. Sharper, who has a strained posterior cruciate ligament, might try to practice Friday, and he could end up splitting time Sunday with Bhawoh Jue.
Green Bay guard Marco Rivera didn't practice Wednesday because of a sprained ankle. If he can't play Sunday, the Packers plan to move right tackle Mark Tauscher to guard and use Kevin Barry at right tackle.
Reid Says Eagles' Offense Won't Change
Coach Andy Reid vowed Wednesday that the Philadelphia Eagles won't change their offensive approach if they're without tailback Brian Westbrook for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Financial Field. Westbrook suffered a cracked rib and a strained rib-cage muscle during Sunday's overtime triumph at Cleveland and will need four to six weeks to heal fully, and the Eagles seemingly expect to be without him at least for the Ravens game and a Nov. 7 contest at Pittsburgh. Dorsey Levens and Reno Mahe would fill in, and the Eagles likely would have rookie fullback Thomas Tapeh ready as an emergency tailback.
"We're fine with the running backs we have if Brian is unable to go,'' Reid said. "We're not going to change the offense. We're going to do what we do, and the other guys would be expected to fill in and execute the plays.''
Reid said he's not overly concerned about Westbrook's durability despite the third-year pro's string of injuries, including a torn triceps tendon that kept him out of last season's playoffs and contributed to the Eagles' loss in the NFC title game for a third straight year.
"I just feel bad for the kid,'' Reid said. "He doesn't want to miss any time. Things happen, particularly at that position. He'll be fine as time goes on.'' . . .
Reid said that Ravens cornerback Deion Sanders, who had two interceptions and a touchdown Sunday in Baltimore's win over Buffalo, is playing well in his nickel role after returning from a three-year retirement.
"He knows how to play the position and he does it well,'' Reid said. "However much speed he's lost from when he was in his prime -- and it's not much, from what I see on film -- he makes up for it with smarts.''
Shanahan Fires Back
Denver Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan showed reporters a four-minute film Wednesday depicting offensive linemen on other teams using blocking techniques similar to those used by the Broncos when they've drawn regular criticism from opponents accusing them of dirty play. The criticism resurfaced this week after Denver right tackle George Foster broke the ankle of Bengals defensive tackle Tony Williams with a low block during the Broncos' loss at Cincinnati on Monday night. Foster dived at Williams's lower legs, using a "cut'' block that is legal as long as a defender is not being blocked high by another offensive player at the same time (which is an illegal "chop'' block).
Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday that the block was legal but improper. The tape that Shanahan showed to reporters Wednesday included a play on which Steelers guard Alan Faneca used a cut block.
Shanahan told reporters that all teams use the technique, and added: "I was a little offended with Bill Cowher's statement because they do it. So those types of things do occur.''
Other coaches have sided with Cowher this week, with the Bengals' Marvin Lewis and Seattle's Mike Holmgren saying that Foster's block was legal but unnecessary.
The Broncos could have their own tactics used against them this weekend. They face their former offensive line coach -- Alex Gibbs, now with Atlanta -- when they host the Falcons on Sunday.
Dolphins Get Ball
Miami was awarded center Jason Ball, the former San Diego starter cut by the Chargers on Tuesday, off waivers. The Dolphins released defensive end Ronald Flemons to create a roster spot. . . .
The Dolphins placed defensive tackle Tim Bowens on the injured reserve list. He'd played two games after missing five games because of back problems, but the injury flared up and it's possible he might be forced into retirement. . . .
Jacksonville signed linebacker Jason Gildon, a former Pro Bowler for Pittsburgh who failed to make Buffalo's season-opening roster, as a prospective pass-rush specialist. The Jaguars have a shortage at defensive end after losing three players -- Paul Spicer, Lional Barnes and Brandon Green -- to season-ending injuries. . . .
Carolina placed wide receiver Steve Smith on the IR list, officially ending his season because of the broken leg he suffered during the opening loss to the Packers. The Panthers originally had left open the possibility of Smith playing late in the season. . . . The Panthers will be without Stephen Davis for Sunday's game at Seattle because of the tailback's ongoing knee troubles. With backup DeShaun Foster on the IR list, Carolina again will be forced to use converted fullback Brad Hoover as its featured runner. . . . The Panthers today released safety Jarrod Cooper and signed wide receiver Micah Ross
Bills Coach Mike Mularkey named Willis McGahee the club's starter at tailback, ahead of Travis Henry. . . . St. Louis signed Tod McBride in its latest attempt to bolster its depth at safety. . . . Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair missed Wednesday's practice because of a family matter. His status for Sunday's game against the Bengals remains unclear after he aggravated his bruised sternum last weekend.
Boldin Return Nears
Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin practiced Wednesday and appears likely to play for the Cardinals at Buffalo on Sunday. He has been sidelined all season by a knee injury after setting an NFL rookie record with 101 catches last year. . . .
The strained muscle in the right forearm of 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay didn't heal during San Francisco's bye week. He didn't practice Wednesday but probably will play Sunday night at Chicago. . . .
Bears Coach Lovie Smith officially named rookie Craig Krenzel his starter, demoting Jonathan Quinn.