On December 22, 2003, one of the darkest days in Brett Favre’s life became one of the brightest nights of his professional career, and it unfolded before a huge national audience on Monday Night Football. The Green Bay Packers (9-5), in the thick of the playoff hunt, were set to face the Oakland Raiders in Oakland. And the night before, Favre’s father Irvin died while driving in their hometown of Kiln, Mississippi.
“For about five minutes there was some indecision on whether or not I was going to play,” Favre said. “It didn’t take long for me to say, ‘You’ve got to play in this game.’”
So he told his teammates in a meeting that Sunday night that he would not be leaving his football family.
“I do not wish this on anyone,” Favre said. “My dad has been to every game from fifth grade, and he coached me in high school. You never expect it to happen like that. I'm going to miss him. He was so instrumental not only in football, but in life.”
Favre took the field with a very heavy heart as his teammates and millions of viewers wondered how a man confronted with one of life’s worst experiences would perform.
Aided by magnificent plays by his teammates, who rallied behind their leader, Favre and the Packers torched the Raiders in an almost surreal display of football perfection. Every pass Favre threw felt predestined for a receiver’s hands — short underneath routes, darts into narrow windows and multiple bombs, including a 43-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker, a jump ball that Walker outmaneuvered double coverage to reel in.
On this night, there was no way Favre's receivers would let him down.
“I talked to the receivers before the game and told them ‘Anything he throws, we catch,” said Packers wideout Donald Driver. “I don’t care what it is — behind us, over our head, if we have to get on a ladder or jump on a guy’s shoulder, we’re going to catch the ball.”
Favre and the offense took their first snap on their own 20 yard line at 12:53 in the first quarter.
“I was so worried that I would lay an egg in that game,” Favre recalled. “Butterflies is an understatement. It’s the most nervous I’ve ever been.”
His first pass went for a loss of two and Ahman Green rushed for 16 yards before Favre heaved a 47-yard pass to Robert Ferguson, setting up a subsequent roll-out to his left where he backed up and spun a perfect ball to tight end Wesley Walls, who fully extended in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown with safety Derrick Gibson bearing down.
“I just said, 'I love you,” Walls recalled. “He played an amazing game for us, and we all felt we had to do the same for him. Sometimes in special circumstances, you make special plays. I think it's fair to say we were inspired by Irv.”
From the depths of Favre's grief arose incredible inspiration that lifted the team and a player who merely wanted to not lay an egg. Certain games have an aura where viewers can sense and see that something special is happening. This was one of those games.
By the time the first half was over, Favre had thrown for 311 yards (with eight completions of 20-plus yards) and four touchdowns with a 158.3 passer rating. In other words, perfect.
“You couldn't draw up a script better than that,” Packers coach Mike Sherman said. “You hoped he'd play that type of game but the chances of that happening, unless it's Brett Favre, are unlikely. This guy put together a career day.”
“I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play,” Favre said. “I love him so much, and I love this game. It's meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I didn't expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight.”