CANTON, Ohio — Brett Favre played one of the best games of his career in some of the most difficult personal circumstances of his life on Dec. 22, 2003, when he threw four touchdown passes in a 41-7 win over the Raiders the day after his father died. As it turned out, that game and its aftermath held far more meaning than Favre had previously acknowledged.
During Saturday night’s acceptance speech for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Favre recounted through tears and a halting voice the story of the plane ride home from Oakland to be with his family to bury his father, Irvin, who had died of a heart attack.
“We had just won the game, and it was probably the best game I had ever played in, but that really didn’t matter,” Favre said, recalling a conversation on the plane with his wife, Deanna. “My father was short on praise and long on tough love. If he was ever to praise me, it was to always do better. Never did I hear him say, ‘Son, you’ve arrived. It was awesome. Great game. So Deanna says to me on the plane that your dad said to me that he couldn’t wait until you were inducted into the Hall of Fame so he could introduce you.”
Favre, whose father was also his high school football coach growing up in Kiln, Miss., said he had never thought about making it to the Hall of Fame before that moment.
“I had dreamed of playing in the NFL,” he said. “I thought about being Archie Manning. I thought about being my childhood idol, Roger Staubach, being Kenny Stabler. But I’d never thought of the Hall of Fame until that moment. So a new goal entered my mind. I said I will make it to the Hall of Fame so I could acknowledge the fact of how important he was.”
Favre fought back tears as he continued his speech, telling the audience, “This is tougher than any 3rd-and-15, I assure you.”
“He was a tremendous part of my life,” Favre said of his dad. “He taught me toughness. Boy, did he teach me toughness. He taught me teamwork. But then and there, I was determined, for selfish reasons, to get to this point, to acknowledge how important he was. I would not be here today without my father. There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever.”
Favre then recounted a story he said he hadn’t told anyone, even his wife.
“I remember waiting for my father to come [out of his coach’s office] so we could leave,” he said. “I heard my father talking to the three other coaches, and I assume I didn’t play as well as I had hoped [in a previous game]. My father said, ‘I can assure you about my son, he will play better. He will redeem himself. I know my son. He has it in him.’ ”
Favre said he “never forgot that comment he made. I want you to know, dad, I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself and make him proud. I hope I succeeded.”
Favre was given a standing ovation by the crowd, which was filled with Packers’ fans, as he choked back tears.
“I’m going to ask [Packers general manager] Ted Thompson and [coach] Mike McCarthy if I can play the first series tomorrow night,” Favre said, joking about playing in Sunday’s Packers-Colts preseason game. “I’m an extremely blessed man, playing a game I loved to much for 20 years, to have all the wonderful years. What a wonderful blessing. To share in that joy with you people tonight, what an incredible week.”
Favre was joined by seven others in this year’s class:
Former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy became the first African American head coach to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Dungy became the first black coach to win the Super Bowl, as his 2006 Colts won the first and only title in franchise history. Dungy went 127-65 overall, and his 54-42 record with the Bucs made him the team’s winningest coach all-time.
Dungy referenced the ups-and-downs of his career and his ability to recover from disappointment as the biggest reason for his eventual success.
“Don’t complain about lack of opportunities, look at the positives in every situation and keep moving forward,” he said.
Dungy also credited Steelers Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll with giving him the opportunity to flourish as a coach. Dungy had originally played for the Steelers as a safety, but returned to the team to begin his pro coaching career.
Former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison played 13 seasons for the Colts and retired in 2008 with franchise records for touchdown receptions (128), most career receptions (1,102) and most career receiving yards (14,580). He set the NFL’s single-season record with 143 catches in 2002 and retired with the second-most catches of any NFL receiver.
Harrison, a first-round pick out of Syracuse in 1996, paid tribute to Dungy during his Hall of Fame speech.
“What you brought to our team and to me was more important than anything,” Harrison said. “You taught us how to be teammates, but also how to be men.”
Former Rams tackle Orlando Pace, who grew up in nearby Sandusky, Ohio, was a dominant left tackle during his 13 NFL seasons. A first-round pick out of Ohio State in 1997, Pace was one of the key members of the team’s Greatest Show on Turf offense that was a key in the team’s Super Bowl XXXIV championship. His run-blocking was critical for Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, and his extraordinary blocking helped give quarterback Kurt Warner time to find receivers Torrey Holt and Isaac Bruce.
“At 13, I toured the Hall of Fame and was inspired that a kid from Sandusky could be here one day,” Pace said. “This became my first goal and now, here I am, 27 years later, standing in Canton, Ohio, accepting this incredible honor.”
Linebacker Kevin Greene enjoyed a 15-year career with the Rams, Steelers, Panthers and 49ers, finishing with 160 sacks, the third most in NFL history. He had double-digit sack totals in 10 of his 15 seasons, and was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s.
“The best a football player can do is exhaust his passion and go out on his own terms and have fun kicking peoples’ ([ehinds] with his brothers, entertain some folks, develop lifelong relationships and have enough health to play football with his children in the front yard.”
Stabler, whose bold and daring style helped the Raiders become a dominant team in the 1970s, was a seniors committee selection. During his 10 seasons with the Raiders, he was a two-time All Pro and four-time Pro Bowler. Stabler, nicknamed “The Snake” for his wild and sometimes reckless style on and off the field, led the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI over the Vikings, and was the Raiders’ leader in pass attempts (2,481), completions (1,486), passing yards (19,078) and touchdown passes (150) at the time of his retirement in 1979.
“Whatever that focus, concentration, competitiveness, he could just step it up a notch when you needed it,” said former Raiders coach John Madden, Stabler’s Hall of Fame presenter.
Stabler died in July, 2015, at age 69. Closer family members had become concerned about his deteriorating health situation near the end of his life, and his brain was donated for scientific research. It was discovered that he had the neurological disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Former NFL offensive lineman Dick Stanfel, who played for Detroit and Washington during the 1950s, was selected as the other seniors committee selection. Stanfel was honored as the Lions’ Most Valuable Player during their 1953 championship season. He was part of a blockbuster trade to Washington in 1956, where he was reunited with his college coach Joe Kuharich. Stanfel earned first-team All Pro honors in five of his seven seasons. Stanfel died in June, 2015 at age 87. Former Bills coach Marv Levy, who presented Stanfel at the ceremony, called him the “guard of the century.”
Former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who owned the team for 23 seasons, oversaw one of the NFL’s great dynasties. The 49ers won five Super Bowl titles on DeBartolo’s watch, and his hiring of Bill Walsh as head coach in 1979, as well as the drafting of quarterback Joe Montana the same year, proved to be franchise-altering moves.
Montana went on to win four Super Bowl titles and a Hall of Fame career, and he was succeeded by Steve Young, another Hall of Famer who won another championship.
“We did not see players as players,” DeBartolo said. “We saw them as men, sons, husbands, fathers and brothers with families and responsibilities. We weren’t just a family on Sundays. We were a family every single day. We had the best team on and off the field.”
DeBartolo suggested today’s NFL could use a more caring attitude.
“It’s about the respect and gratitude,” he said. “We have to do all we can to take care of one another, not just when the uniform is on, but when the uniform comes off, too.”
Favre’s first start was vs. the Steelers on Sept. 27, 1992.
He was the NFL’s all-time leader when he retired.
In his first game, his 35-yard TD pass to Kittrick Taylor beat the Bengals, 24-23, with 13 seconds left.