McGinn Files: The Rise of Brett Favre, Part I

Before he was a 3-time MVP and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Brett Favre was just a kid from Southern Miss who could throw a football over them mountains. (He might've been a tick hungover, too.)

The McGinn Files is a series looking back at selected players from NFL drafts since 1985. The foundation of the series is Bob McGinn’s transcripts of his annual pre-draft interviews with general managers, personnel directors and scouts over the past 37 years.

Thirty years ago, the scouting of college football players wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is today. That was never more apparent than at Southern Mississippi, which in the spring of 1991 had a rifle-armed, raw-boned quarterback of intrigue awaiting the NFL draft.

Brett Favre played without distinction in the Senior Bowl and then somewhat better the following week in the East-West Shrine Game. But, in Palo Alto, where he was forced to go the distance for the East team, he suffered a hip injury when an offensive tackle and a defensive end fell on him simultaneously. Favre jammed the socket in his right hip, and 10 days later at the NFL Scouting Combine, was excluded from running and jumping although he did participate in the throwing drills.

“I was staying with a couple guys in an apartment back in Hattiesburg working out and finishing my classes,” remembered Favre in an hour-plus chat with Go Long. “That was a different day and time then. You didn’t have cell phones. There was no social media. There was no email.”

Thamas Coleman, a veteran coach at Southern Miss, acted as the school’s liaison with the NFL people. “When I got a call, it was usually from Thamas saying such-and-such is here to work you out and if you’d come on over in the next hour,” said Favre. “Or somebody wants to interview you. I can’t tell you how many times guys, quarterback coaches or scouts, would come in.”

The one-stop-shop pro day was at least a decade away from taking place at Southern Miss.

One afternoon, a representative of the Pittsburgh Steelers was in town. Favre thinks it might have been Bob Schmitz, one of their area scouts, but he isn’t sure. Coleman said the visitor wanted to see him throw as well as run a couple 40-yard dashes.

“I said, ‘OK,’” recalled Favre. “Well, I had been out all night drinking and I was not feeling very well, but I was, like, ‘Hey, whatever, you know?’

“So I go out and meet with him. We sit on the field, talk a little bit. We hit it off right away. I bet he was saying, ‘This is my kind of guy.’”

The scene was 33,000-seat M.M. Roberts Stadium, which had a grass playing surface. They decided the 40’s would be first. Favre had done little running because of the sore hip, but he dutifully got down into a three-point stance and ran as fast as he could.

“Five flat,” Favre remembered the Steelers’ official calling out. “I said, ‘Dang, no way. Hell, I ran a 5-flat.’

“I said, ‘Hold on a second.’ I went over by the bleachers and I threw up. I came back over there and he said, ‘Either you haven’t been running very much or you stayed out late.’ I probably reeked of alcohol. I said, ‘How ‘bout both?’

“He said, ‘Hey, I feel you. I’ve been there before.’ He said, ‘Let’s get one more.’ I did like 4.95.

“Now my fastest 40 time officially was 4.7. In high school, they wanted an official time for me when recruiters would come in. I never got timed by a college coach or recruiter. In high school, I think we did. My dad probably was the one that timed us. But at least we had it on paper.”

On another day in Hattiesburg, Coleman had arranged a joint appointment for Ron Nay, an area scout for the New York Jets, and Ted Tollner, the quarterbacks coach for the San Diego Chargers. They were waiting on an auxiliary field not far from M.M. Roberts.

“I remember that workout like yesterday,” the 81-year-old Nay said last month. “We’re standing out there and he comes wandering across the field. He’s got on those deck shoes, like you wear on a boat, Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt. Got his watch on.

“Ted says, ‘You want to get your cleats? You want to warm up and run?’ Normally, a quarterback as good as him would have wanted to warm up and have two or three receivers. He goes, ‘I’m ready. All I’m going to do is throw passes.’”

Attempting to set the record straight, Favre said his choice of footwear for throwing workouts that spring was “flip-flops, most likely.”

Nay continued: “He had a kid with him, like some kid from the dorm he asked if he wanted to catch a couple passes. He was a scrawny little kid. Then he throws to the guy. Never misses, of course, and looks good.

“When he got done throwing he said, ‘Do you want me to run a 40?’ I said, ‘If you want to you can.’ But who cared? A guy who could throw like he could throw and as tough as he was, that wouldn’t have meant a thing to me.”

Favre concedes that his workout routine and attire at the time were “a little unorthodox.” Then again, everything about him was and would be unconventional until his 20-year NFL career would conclude with his enshrinement alongside other immortals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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