McGinn Files: The Rise of Brett Favre, Part II

There's never been a player like Brett Favre and there never will be again. Bob McGinn relives the surreal highs & lows with the man himself... and gleans more stories you've never heard before.

Miss Part I? Catch up right here!

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. We start with this two-part series.

After showing promise in a scrimmage against the Seahawks in Portland, Ore., (Ron Wolf was on hand to watch), Brett Favre started two of the Falcons’ four exhibition games but failed to impress. His final exhibition statistics included a 41.1% completion mark and a 64.8 passer rating.

Less than a week before the Sept. 1 opener in Kansas City, Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville and June Jones, the assistant head coach on offense, suggested to personnel chief Ken Herock that the Falcons trade for quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, who had been the Chargers’ second-round pick in 1989. On Aug. 28, Herock acquired him for a fifth-round choice.

When Herock met the team at Arrowhead Stadium for the opener on Sept. 1, he was stunned to see Tolliver lined up as No. 2 and Favre as No. 3.

“I asked what this was all about,” recalled Herock. “(He said), ‘Well, we just think Billy Joe’s ready to play.’ He hadn’t even practiced and he’s No. 2. After that, Brett was a total f----- that first year. A lot of the players would tell you the same thing.

“He got pissed off. He starts drinkin’, carryin’ on, runnin’ around. He gained a lot of weight. Out of shape. Late for meetings.

“I’d go out (scouting) several days and come back on Friday. All I’d hear on Friday was about ‘your boy.’ They’re telling me he can’t even run the scout team. I even looked at some practice tape and he stunk.

“Jerry and June just wouldn’t accept (Favre) and made a fool of him. Making a joke of him. They joked (that) the whole f------ plane would have to go down before I put you in.”

On Dec. 7, the day before a game against the Rams on the West Coast, the Falcons were conducting a walkthrough at empty Anaheim Stadium.

“I can still hear Jerry,” Herock said. “’Hey, ‘Mississippi,’ let’s see how strong your arm is.’ Brett’s on the sideline. He throws the ball and it hits the press box up there. Nobody else could come close. Jerry goes, ‘Mississippi,’ that’s about the only thing you’ll hit.’ They treated him like the clown of the team. What it amounted to is, I’m going to show Ken Herock that he doesn’t know what the f--- he’s doing.”

Active for three games during the Falcons’ 10-6 season, their second-best record in what was a wretched 25-year history, Favre went 0 for 5 with a pair of picks in his two regular-season appearances.

“I tried everything with Brett,” Glanville told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2015. “He needed to grow up. I even flew in his parents to try to help me with him. But I couldn’t get him to function. Sooner or later, one guy can’t be bigger than the organization.

“In all my years of coaching, he is the only player that wasn’t in the team picture. Brett knew he screwed up when he missed that. I tried. I probably should have worked harder with him.”

In a conference call with Atlanta reporters in January 2003 before the Falcons-Packers NFC wild-card playoff game, Favre was asked about his forgettable first season. “I don’t have any beefs with anybody from Atlanta,” he said. “I can’t blame them for getting rid of me, to be totally honest with you. I’m sure I didn’t help my cause by trying to drink up Atlanta.”

After the Falcons were eliminated at Washington in the NFC divisional round, four men met to discuss Favre: Herock, Glanville, Jones and Taylor Smith, the executive president and son of the owner.

“Jerry says, ‘This guy can’t play,’” Herock remembered. “June says, ‘Well, he doesn’t fit what we’re doing in this (Red Gun) system.’ They’re telling me all these negative things. I didn’t see anything that I could defend him in any way. I saw what was going on in practice. I say to myself, ‘You could be wrong.’ So I conceded when they said this guy’s gotta go.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll try to trade him. I’m still saying this guy can be a great player.’ I wanted it known that if he goes on to become successful you two guys f----- up. Not me.’”

When Herock put the word out in NFL front-office circles that Favre was available, he said the only team that expressed interest was Green Bay.

In November, the Packers fired Tom Braatz as executive vice president of football operations and, just seven days later, hired Wolf to be general manager with total authority over all football decisions. Green Bay’s first game under Wolf was in Atlanta on Dec. 1, four days after he signed a five-year contract with annual compensation of about $400,000.

Wolf and Herock had worked together with the Raiders and Buccaneers. In the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium press box long before kickoff, Herock offered the hint that Favre might be on the trading block in the new year.

“At that very moment, I just knew I would do whatever it took to bring Favre to Green Bay,” Wolf wrote in his 1998 book, “The Packer Way.” “The coaches were lukewarm about trading for him but I wasn’t swayed.”

The two old friends bargained back and forth on what the compensation for Favre should be. Eventually, they agreed on a first-round draft choice. The Packers kept their first of two first-round draft choices for 1992; that was No. 5, which was used to select cornerback Terrell Buckley. The Falcons received the No. 17 selection, which had been obtained by Braatz in a draft-day deal the previous April. Ultimately, they traded No. 17 to Dallas for No. 19, which they used to choose running back Tony Smith.

Herock grew up outside Pittsburgh. He was 14 in 1955 when the Steelers released quarterback Johnny Unitas, their ninth-round draft choice that year, late in training camp. Within a few years Unitas was in the midst of his all-time career with the Baltimore Colts.

“Johnny Unitas was my worst nightmare,” said Herock. “I didn’t ever want Johnny Unitas to happen to me, and it did. I gave up on Brett Favre.”

With a trade agreement in place but nothing official, Wolf appeared before the Packers’ seven-man executive committee to explain the trade. Bob Harlan, the team’s second-year president who hired Wolf, accompanied him.

“I told them he was going to wear No. 4 and be like Lou Gehrig, who wore that number for the Yankees,” Wolf remembered. “They listened. They had no idea who I was talking about. I’m talking about a guy who can’t even get in the team picture. I’m sure after I left they raked Harlan over the coals. ‘Who the hell did you hire here? Some nut from New York?’

“I put my whole career on the line. I gave a No. 1 for him.”

The deal wasn’t done yet.

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McGinn has covered the NFL continuously since 1979. Won Bill Nunn Memorial Award in 2011 for long and distinguished coverage of pro football.