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December 06, 2001

How to make an NFL QB
By Dan Patrick

As Cade McNown heads down to Miami for "My NFL Career: Take Two," I thought I would check in with Brett Favre. Favre is about to enter what could be his 10th straight 3,000-yard season. He's come a long way and done a lot in Green Bay for someone who started his NFL career as a second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons.

Brett Favre
Brett Favre celebrates during the Packers' 35-21 Super Bowl XXXI win over the Patriots.
In an era in which draft picks -- and especially first-round quarterbacks -- are expected to step in and help immediately, the journey taken by Favre is a realistic (albeit difficult to reproduce) blueprint for how to make an NFL quarterback.

Brett Favre has played in two Super Bowls, with a record of 1-1. He is a three-time NFL MVP. Obviously, a lot of his accomplishments are based on his physical and mental abilities and plain hard work. But take a look at the other factors and you see a virtual incubator for quarterbacking success in the NFL.

Draft status: Falcons' second-round pick in 1991. No press conferences, no huge contract, no pressure to save the team. He was active for three games and only played in two. That's barely getting your feet wet. And that is not what most young quarterbacks in the league experience. Ask McNown. Or Ryan Leaf. Or Akili Smith.

Situation: In 1992, Favre gets traded to the Green Bay Packers. By his own admission, he was not ready to contribute because he had not played much and was learning a new offense. Still, Don Majkowski got hurt in Week 3 that year and Favre has been the Packers' quarterback ever since.

Favre openly admits that his fast start bought him some time. He had 111 straight passes without an interception and finished the year with a team-record 64 percent completion rate. He was a Pro Bowl alternate. But he knows deep down that if he had not made some plays early, the Packers would have looked elsewhere and he would have always wondered if he had been given enough of a chance.

Offense: Favre started out in Mike Holmgren's version of the vaunted West Coast offense. You may have heard that Joe Montana and Steve Young fared well in that scheme. Through hard work, compromise and talent, Holmgren and Favre became a classic coach-QB tandem. Many quarterbacks play their whole careers without finding an offense and a coach that really suits their skills and demeanor. Favre did and made the most of it.

Coaching: Aside from Mike Holmgren, Favre has been coached and taught in Green Bay by Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. All three are now NFL head coaches. That caliber of coaching is crucial to an NFL quarterback, especially a young one. Again, Favre had a favorable situation and made the most of it.

It's clear that there is a lot to learn from studying Brett Favre's career. He admits that it might have gone differently had he been a No. 1 pick or if he had not shown enough in those first few games in Green Bay to make Holmgren think he had something. It's funny to think that a Hall of Fame career might have been missed if a few of the intangibles had been different.

The landscape is littered with talented college quarterbacks who just didn't cut it in the NFL. And there are a lot of reasons why that happens.
And remember that it wasn't always easy for Brett Favre. He's had his share of off-field distractions and problems, too. That's another way he was lucky. He had the right people and structures around him to battle some problems that have taken down many athletes.

Favre also admits that the pressure on today's young QBs is different than it was when he broke in. Today, immediate results are demanded in most cases. So when you think of Andre Ware, David Klingler, Rick Mirer, Ryan Leaf or Heath Shuler, try to remember the whole picture. The landscape is littered with talented college quarterbacks who just didn't cut it in the NFL. And there are a lot of reasons why that happens.

So here's hoping that Cade McNown gets a decent chance in Miami. And here's hoping that Favre's former backup, Aaron Brooks, can star in New Orleans and be another shining example of how patience can pay off in the NFL.

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Patrick: Outtakes with Peyton Manning (uncut)

Dan Patrick page: 2001 archive

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