Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre has played his last two games with the knowledge that his wife, Deanna, had breast cancer diagnosed and will undergo chemotherapy treatments over the next five months.
Eight days after his wife's brother, 24-year-old Casey Tynes, was killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident on Favre's property in Mississippi, Favre and his wife were told about her condition on Oct. 14. Three days later, the Packers defeated the Detroit Lions, 38-10. They followed that with a 41-20 trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
The news about Favre's wife, which the quarterback's mother disclosed to the family's hometown newspaper in Mississippi on Monday, adds to an unusually large list of tragedies, illnesses and injuries that have befallen the Packers since they were knocked out of the playoffs in January. But after a four-game losing streak that dropped their record to 1-4, the Packers have won two games in a row and, as they prepare to play in Washington for the first time in 25 years on Sunday, seem to have regained their form.
As usual, Green Bay's attack is being led by Favre, who has faced the Redskins twice in his career, though never in Washington. Despite personal tragedies, a concussion and nagging injuries to his shoulder and throwing hand, Favre is on track for another top year, having thrown for 1,718 yards and 13 touchdowns with just six interceptions through seven games.
In addition to the death of his brother-in-law, Favre's father died last December. Two Green Bay team executives died this past summer, a coach underwent emergency angioplasty this month and the team has suffered a series of injuries.
Deanna Favre was recently released from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York after undergoing a lumpectomy and has been told to expect a full recovery, Brett Favre's mother, Bonita, told the Gulfport (Miss.) Sun Herald.
"Brett was relieved to know that the situation is not as bad as it could have been," his brother, Scott, told the newspaper. "We think they got [the cancer] out."
Favre has not commented publicly about his wife's condition. He was not available yesterday, a day off for the Packers, but team spokesman Jeff Blum said the quarterback will address questions about his wife's condition today.
Blum indicated that a small number of Favre's teammates knew of his wife's illness, as did Coach Mike Sherman, several assistants and a few other team officials.
Favre missed practice the day he learned about the diagnosis, but news of his wife's illness was not announced until the quarterback's mother spoke to the newspaper, located near the family's home in Kiln, Miss.
"The family has been through a great deal and we will get through this," Bonita Favre said. "We would like to thank everyone for their prayers and support. We're a strong family, and with the help of the Lord, we'll get through this."
Brett and Deanna Favre were childhood sweethearts, married in 1996 and have two daughters. Deanna runs her husband's foundation, which has contributed more than $1 million to help disadvantaged youngsters in Wisconsin and Mississippi.
Favre, who turned 35 on Oct. 10, faced a family tragedy at the end of last season with the sudden death of his 58-year-old father, Irv. In addition to the death of his brother-in-law, Favre has battled injuries this season. He has suffered a concussion and, in Sunday's victory over Dallas, he injured his right hand, which remains sore after striking an opponent's helmet. He also has an injured left shoulder. Still, Favre has played in 198 straight games and is expected to start Sunday at FedEx Field.
For the team, the game will mark the halfway point of a season of professional loss. Shortly before training camp, Mark Hatley, vice president of football operations and Sherman's right-hand man, died of a heart attack, and soon afterward longtime scout John "Red" Cochran died, also of a heart attack.
The day after their third straight loss on Oct. 11 at Lambeau Field, offensive coordinator Tom Rossley underwent emergency angioplasty. Sherman has been forced to call plays in the last two games, and the Packers have scored 79 points and gained 914 total yards in the victories over the Lions and Cowboys.
They're 3-4, the same record they had in 2003 before winning seven of their last nine games to qualify for the postseason for the third time in Sherman's four years.
"You're not hoping to go out there and score 40 points every week," Favre said after the Dallas victory. "But there's no reason we can't put up our share of points."
Rossley was in the press box Sunday against the Cowboys, the same perch he will occupy this weekend. Sherman has said he will reassess those duties after the Redskins game, when the Packers enter their bye week. Rossley indicated that he would have no problem continuing with the status quo. "If there's a spark," he said, "then the last thing I want to do is put out the spark."
The Packers' turnaround may also have received a spark the Saturday night before the Detroit game, when Sherman apparently gave an impassioned speech at a team meeting. "I'm not going to say what it was, but it was good," Favre said. "We had to look in the mirror and take responsibility for what had taken place the last few weeks. Sometimes for a coach, motivation is a big thing. You'd hate to think that's one of the reasons we won the game. It's hard to believe in pro football that guys need to hear something like that to play hard."
Up until the last two weeks, there had mostly been bad news for the Packers on the field, dating from their elimination from the playoffs in January, when Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb converted a fourth-and-26 situation into a first down with a 28-yard pass to set up a game-winning overtime field goal that kept Green Bay from advancing to the NFC title game.
There was a protracted holdout from training camp by veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie, who said he wanted out of the organization. He returned but missed two early games with a hamstring problem, then was traded on Oct. 4 to New Orleans for a second-round pick and third-string quarterback J.T. Sullivan. There was more controversy on Oct. 7 when scout Marc Lillibridge was arrested and charged with second-degree sexual assault.
The team lost 340-pound defensive tackle Grady Jackson with a dislocated kneecap in the playoffs. A major force as a run-stopper, Jackson was out of the lineup until last week. Without him, Green Bay gave up 245 yards rushing to the New York Giants and 222 yards to Tennessee, though the Packers tightened up considerably with him back against the Cowboys, giving up only 66 yards on the ground.
This week, the Packers may have to play with two rookies in their secondary. Safety Darren Sharper, the veteran leader of the defense, sprained a ligament in his left knee against the Cowboys and will be listed as questionable when Green Bay resumes practice today. Veteran cornerback Al Harris also will be questionable after spraining his right knee against Dallas.
Rookie Joey Thomas, a third-round pick, likely will play if Harris can't start. The Packers have one rookie at the other corner, inserting first-round pick Ahmad Carroll into the lineup when McKenzie was traded.
Fourth-year player Bhawoh Jue likely would take over for Sharper. On Monday, Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera was also on crutches with a sprained ankle.
Rivera has a 90-game starting streak, and may be able to play as the team looks to maintain its momentum.
"What we've been doing the last couple weeks is what we're capable of doing," Favre told the Green Bay News-Chronicle. "Will we continue to do it? I hope so. It makes it easier to come to work. Easier to watch film."