|Monday, January 7
The record doesn't matter; the legitmacy does
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com
Brett Favre called a running play in the huddle on Sunday, then either audibled or didn't audible at the line of scrimmage to a naked bootleg, then rolled out unprotected and fell softly at the feet of Giants lineman Michael Strahan, then handed Strahan the ball in congratulations after Strahan had touched Favre down for what goes in the books as a record-setting quarterback sack.
The issue of the public's cranial capacity comes into play almost immediately here, after all. His post-game comments notwithstanding, you'd have to be daft as a duck to believe that Brett Favre meant anything other than to willingly hand over a sack to Strahan in the closing moments of Green Bay's 34-25 victory over the Giants.
So are you?
Let's look at this another way: Am I that thick? Or am I simply finding it incomprehensible that a person as naturally competitive as Favre would literally take a dive in order to get a professional peer a record as relatively inconsequential -- and clearly unearned -- as the sack mark?
It gets awfully difficult at a time like this to ponder the greater implications of Favre's action, because, frankly, there aren't many. No one is going to snap awake in the Barcalounger today and suddenly conclude that Favre is some sort of sellout; everything else on the man's resume argues passionately otherwise.
Likewise, if the nature of NFL record-keeping has been degraded by Sunday's doings, it's not really so's you'd notice. In this era of hyper-charged statistical noodling of all sorts, there are so many numbers flying around that Strahan's 22½ sacks don't necessarily resonate with the viewing public; most people already knew he was a fine bull-rusher and didn't need to see Mark Gastineau's 17-year-old sack record fall to affirm it.
One could look at what happened, in fact, and conclude that Favre simply was saluting a person whom he considers a worthy adversary. In that light, it would be viewed as the statistical equivalent of Favre helmet-butting an opponent after being taken down on a wicked hit, as if to say, "Nice. Keep bringing the good stuff."
And that would be fine, had Strahan not been given 15 previous NFL games (and nearly all of the 16th game) to lock down that one extra sack he needed to get past Gastineau's mark of 22.
But since he didn't lock it down, since Strahan had not yet come by this record honestly, then we have something different here. We have a low-level fraud. And the only appropriate response to the "record" is to ignore it entirely.
Michael Strahan's competitive season ended with 21½ sacks. His gift season included one extra sack. The years go past so quickly; someone please remind us: Did quarterbacks lay down for Gastineau in 1984, or did he have to earn his 22 takedowns?
While Favre was busy afterward insisting that he had switched his call from run to bootleg at the line of scrimmage, not a single member of his offensive line was supporting the notion. That included tight end Bubba Franks, the person nominally responsible for blocking Strahan on the play.
Favre said he changed the play at the line, as he has done many times this season. Strahan, telling the only truth available to him, said, "I just react to what happens." Yet even Strahan had to know he'd been awarded the record by a committee of one.
You can argue that Michael Strahan deserved to have the sack record, but you cannot argue that he earned it. A very proud Green Bay offensive unit saw to that for more than 57 minutes of game action on Sunday at the Meadowlands. The Packers kept Strahan away from Favre. What they didn't know was that Favre, in the end, wasn't going to mind the takedown if it came from Strahan.
Favre had joked the week before the game about working a "deal" with Strahan to get the record if the Packers led late in the game, but no one who knows Favre took it even remotely seriously. Favre is a player who relishes nothing more than the genuine thrill of straight-up competition. The Favre that most people think they know, in fact, is the player who would have done everything within his power to prevent Strahan from setting the record, then praised the pass-rusher to the hilt afterwards.
That's the Favre the world expected to see on Sunday, and for most of the game it is the one they saw. What came after, there at the end -- that's the part that should be ignored.
Oh, it happened; it certainly happened. Doesn't mean you have to recognize or celebrate it. It's nice that Brett Favre thinks so much of Michael Strahan. It'd be nicer if they played the game and let the friendships sort themselves out afterward.
Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.