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The streak ends

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Every Sunday he was there, starting on Sept. 27, 1992. Freezing rain, sleet, blowing snow. Nothing stopped Brett Favre.

Through separated shoulders, concussions and sprained knees, broken thumbs, torn biceps and twisted ankles, he played.

He began as the fresh-faced hero of the Cheeseheads, then became their Super Bowl champion and MVP, until the Green Bay Packers wearied of his on-and-off retirement and cut him loose. He has worn two different uniforms since then — Jets and now Vikings — and he’s had surgery after the past two seasons.

Still, he’s been there, on the field, for every game.

Until now.


During his 297 straight starts, Favre captured many records for a quarterback:

career touchdowns

career interceptions

career completions

career passing attempts

career yards passing

A stretch of 297 straight starts, 321 counting playoffs, ended yesterday because of a shoulder injury that not even the indestructible one could overcome. It goes down as one of the most incredible streaks in all of sports — one that began back when Peyton Manning was in high school, when Steve Young was the league’s best quarterback and when only the most die-hard of fans had ever heard of the second-year quarterback from Southern Mississippi.

"Ahhh, I feel bad for him," said Vikings season-ticket holder JoAnn Brown, who drove 12 hours to see the game against the New York Giants in Detroit, where it was moved after the Metrodome roof collapsed from heavy snow Sunday. "I wish he could’ve just got out there for the first play and just tossed the ball once to keep the streak."

It’s uncertain if Favre will play again in this, his third comeback season from a brief retirement.

But for 18-plus seasons, with the game and the position he plays getting more dangerous by the year, Favre stayed out there. Every week. Injuries couldn’t slow him; neither could a broken heart. He played one game in 2003 after the sudden death of his father and again the next year after his wife, Deanna, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The toll it has taken has shown, and not only through the growing palette of gray beneath the 41-year-old quarterback’s helmet.

Passes that once found the hands of receivers were getting picked off more and more. Seasons that ended at the Super Bowl were coming up an agonizing game or two short — sometimes ending, literally, with an interception, as they did last season in Minnesota and in 2008 with Green Bay, both in the NFC championship game.

Regardless, the man known as much for his skill as his stubbornness, as much for his greatness as his grit, will always have his special place in history.

He’ll be right alongside Cal Ripken, perhaps the ultimate modern-day sports iron man, who played 2,632 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles, a record that spanned 17 seasons — one fewer than Favre’s. But Ripken, of course, never had a 270-pound opponent stick a helmet in his ribs from the blind side.

"Brett has had an incredible career and his consecutive games streak is remarkable," Ripken said through his spokesman, John Maroon. "As a football fan I cannot fathom his accomplishment, and I appreciate his dedication to and passion for the game."

Ricky Rudd started 788 straight races in NASCAR. A.C. Green played in a record 1,192 straight NBA games with four teams over 15 seasons. Doug Jarvis played in 964 straight hockey games for the Canadiens, Capitals and Whalers.

Then there are the wondrous streaks that have little to do with longevity: Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Byron Nelson’s 11 straight PGA Tour wins come to mind. Favre’s "297" belongs on that list — maybe at the top.

"There’s no comparison in my mind," said Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, a 16-year veteran himself. "Just the physical abuse a starting quarterback takes over the course of a season and the course of a career is just beyond comprehension."

Before Favre, the record for most consecutive games started by a quarterback belonged to Ron Jaworski, set in 1984. Favre surpassed that record in 1999 and doubled it seven years later.

"I think about my streak of 116 games, and all the injuries I had to play through," Jaworski said. "To go to 297, with the players now, bigger and stronger and faster, what he’s had to play through during that streak has been just unfathomable."

Manning holds the second-longest streak at 205 games. He would need to keep it going for another 5 1/2 years to surpass Favre.

Since Favre’s streak began, 239 other quarterbacks have started in the NFL, according to STATS LLC. That’s an average of 7.4 per team — if you count all 32 teams; back when Favre’s streak started, there were only 28 teams.

"There’s no human explanation for it," Collins said. "It’ll never be done again."

The streak was a tribute to Favre’s insistence on staying true to the code in football that no matter what happens today, there’s always next week.

And then there wasn’t.


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