Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007

Another good GB article

By Nicole
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Another good GB article November 22, 2007 | 10:18 AM I'm sorry to keep posting whole articles, but I really want people to read them. This is a really good look at a story that's already been told many ways. Yes, Brett Favre is older than the rest of the team. Yes, we have a lot of rookies that were literally children when Brett was a rookie. But the team makes it work and this article dissects that. From SI.com Chemistry teacher Favre's attitude, leadership keeps Packers unified GREEN BAY -- Here was Greg Jennings, already multi-tasking. With his left hand he was trying to play a game of dominoes with two teammates. With his right hand, he was gesturing to a writer (that would be me) who was asking him questions in the Green Bay Packers' locker room at Lambeau Field. "It's OK, I can handle it,'' said Jennings. "Dominoes is a pretty easy game.'' The conversation turned predictably to the Packers' (truly) greybeard quarterback, Brett Favre. ``He's more, I don't know, lively I guess, this year,'' said Jennings, the Packers' 2006 second-round draft choice last year out of Western Michigan and their most dangerous receiver. As Jennings spoke, Favre walked up behind him, leaning his ear toward the conversation, snickering. I started smiling. Jennings said, "Is that him?'' Then Favre took a seat with Jennings and assumed a serious posture, as if hanging on every word. "You can trust me,'' I said to Favre. The old man gestured at Jennings, laughing. ``It's him I don't trust.'' Let's put this tableau in context: At any level of sport, the single most important quality in assuring success is talent. The second is effort. The third is -- I don't know, pick a term: Chemistry, Teamwork, Synergy -- they've all been worked to death. We could take the rest of this column arguing that order. I've seen Hoosiers; I know that teamwork helped Hickory overcome all those better teams. But so did Jimmy Chitwood's jump shot. Let's just say for the moment that all three elements are mighty important and that it's difficult to win at a high level without all three working. My view is that the third (the teamwork, the chemistry) is the most difficult to achieve and doubly so in professional sports where unity is roadblocked by financial inequity (some players make 10-figure salaries, others six), divergent backgrounds (some players come from Lincoln, others from L.A.), race (self-explanatory) and age. Focus on the last of these. Brett Favre turned 38 in October. Jennings' 24th birthday was in September. You can choose any milepost to underscore this gap. My favorite: Jennings was in third grade when Favre was a rookie with the Falcons. And at the core of the Packers' resurgence is the melding of generations, specifically the melding of Favre and just about everybody else. Look at it through Jennings' eyes. A year ago he came to Green Bay and immediately got big props in training camp. He's fast and he can catch the ball. He's not afraid. He's one of the reasons why Favre raved last year about the young talent on the roster (and got ripped for it when the team was 4-8). Jennings caught 45 balls a year ago, for an average of 14 yards a catch, with a total of three touchdowns. This year, through 10 games, he has 27 catches, but for an average of 19.1 yards per reception, with six touchdowns. His improvement traces directly back to No. 4. (Another aside here: It's hard to travel around the NFL without getting a steady diet of Favre stories, many of them centering on his legendary right arm. Here are just two: • This past fall I asked Houston Texans' offensive coordinator Mike Sherman about Matt Schaub's arm strength. "Excellent arm strength,'' said Sherman, who was Green Bay's head coach from 2000 to '05. "Of course you've got to remember I was around the all-time arm, talking about Number Four.'' • A few years ago Archie Manning told me a story about one of Favre's first Pro Bowls. Manning was in Hawaii doing promotional work, watching the NFC work out. It was a loose practice, with players wearing just shorts and shirts. It seems Michael Irvin ran a casual down-and-out and the young Favre, throwing on rhythm, whistled a spiral right past Irvin's ear before Irvin got his head around to the ball. A couple inches' difference and we're talking fractured eye socket, broken nose and worse. "One of the coaches blows his whistle,'' recalls Manning, "and says, 'OK, everybody get a helmet on, right now.'') Jennings, meanwhile, says, "The thing Brett has taught me is how to be patient, with my route-running. I mean, he knows what's going on out there and for him, the timing on routes comes so easy at this point. He knows what you're supposed to do, but I didn't know what I was supposed to do.'' Example: Jennings described running a mid-range crossing route last year against a Cover Two look, where you've got two layers of coverage, vertically and horizontally, and balls can only be completed in the gaps between the layers. "Last year, I would go up the field and then just run across,'' says Jennings. "There are windows there, where Brett could see me, but I was running right through them. He's been teaching me to see what he sees when he looks down the field. Now I understand that I have to find those holes and not just go sprinting across the field. It's a process of maturing. And he's been a huge help.'' (Sports are full of age-related oddities, and if you are around long enough you will experience many of them. Even for writers. When I broke into the business I would interview the parents of athletes and it was like talking to my own parents. Slowly that changes. I remember meeting and interviewing the mother of onetime Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter and realizing that she was younger than I was. That was a jarring moment. Now I routinely interview athletes who were not born when I began writing). Back to live action: The Packers are 9-1 heading into Thursday's afternoon game in Detroit. You look at their schedule -- Detroit twice, Dallas, Oakland, St. Louis and Chicago -- and you think this outfit should go an easy 13-3 and maybe 14-2. They will be in the playoffs and they will probably get a first-round bye and then host a game at Lambeau. It's one of the great stories of the NFL season. Favre's influence extends from the huddle and the film room into the locker room on a daily basis. On the midweek afternoon last week when Favre was chiding Jennings, Favre was a constant presence in the locker room, bouncing from locker to locker, very much like a third- or fourth-year player. He looks older than the coaches and acts younger than the ball boys. On the field, Favre has given the Packers a feeling of invincibility. ``If we can get on the field, Brett is going to get us in the end zone,'' says defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. That, of course, is a confidence that cuts across all boundaries. Touchdowns don't discriminate. Nicole
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