Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rick Cleveland: We knew #4

In Mississippi, we knew Brett Favre long before he started an NFL record 321 consecutive games, long before he threw 508 NFL touchdowns, and long before he threw for nearly 72,000 yards.

We knew No. 4 before became a three-time NFL MVP, before he was an 11-time Pro Bowler, before he played through injuries that would have required hospital care for normal humans, and before he was generally recognized as the toughest hombre in sports.

We knew The Gunslinger before he made a difficult recovery from painkiller addiction, before he came out of retirement twice, before the rest of the country marveled at a grandfather playing with the zeal of a kid in his backyard, and before he was appropriately selected for Saturday's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I'll be honest: I had no idea Brett Lorenzo Favre would accomplish any – much less, all – of this when I first saw him play as a 17-year-old, virtually un-recruited freshman at Southern Miss.

But on that first Saturday afternoon, nearly 29 years ago, I did know this much: Favre was different, and he was special.

The rest of the football nation this week celebrates Favre's professional career and that's as it should be. Here, we also remember Favre from back when nobody outside Mississippi knew how to spell, much less pronounce, his name. So here are my five favorite Favre pre-NFL moments, beginning with that first game at The Rock when USM trailed Tulane in the third quarter and Golden Eagle fans were booing a lackluster offensive performance.

• Sept. 19, 1987: USM had been blasted by Alabama in its opener and was in big trouble against Tulane. Enter Favre, 17 years old and hung-over from a late night of beer drinking (he didn't expect to play). The plan had been to red-shirt Favre. The plan was scuttled. On his first play from scrimmage, Favre took a short drop and fired a rocket to wide receiver Chris McGee. McGee really had no choice but to catch it. The ball just sort of embedded in his gut. Favre went on to throw two touchdowns, including the game-winner to McGee in a 31-24 victory. Not bad for a hung-over 17-year old.

• Sept. 24, 1988: This was the telling moment in USM's 10-2 season Favre's sophomore year. The Golden Eagles trailed East Carolina 42-38 with seconds remaining. Driving against the clock, Favre scrambled around to his left, then spotted Alfred Williams open 40 yards down and all the way across the field. Favre unleashed a 45-yard fastball. Williams turned around just in time to catch it inside the East Carolina 10. USM then scored the winning touchdown and Williams was asked afterward how he knew to turn around. “I heard it,” Williams said. “You usually can hear Brett's passes coming. They whistle.” OK, then.

• Sept. 2, 1989: Favre and the Eagles were huge underdogs on the road in Jacksonville, Fla., against Bobby Bowden's sixth-ranked Florida State Seminoles. Again, USM was driving in the final seconds, trailing 26-24. Facing third and goal, offensive coordinator Jeff Bower convinced head coach Curley Hallman to call a play-action pass instead of a safer running play. FSU, expecting a run, sold out. Favre completed the game-winner. Said Bower, “I wouldn't have called that play with any other quarterback.”

Oct. 14, 1989: Going against the Louisville Cardinals at Louisville, Favre faced another last-minute situation. Nine seconds remained. The score was tied at 10. USM had the ball at its own 20 after Louisville missed a field goal. Favre scrambled out of the pocket to his right, stiff-armed 330-pound Ted Washington, a future NFL All-Pro, to the ground. Then, from his own 12-yard line and on the run, Favre launched a missile. Wide receiver Darryl Tillman caught it at the Louisville 18 and pranced into the end zone. The ball traveled 70 yards. Tillman caught it in stride. Final: USM, 16-10.

Sept. 8, 1990: John Wayne, move over. Favre entered his senior season, looking frail and gaunt, the result of an automobile accident that almost killed him. To save his life, surgeons removed 30 inches of his intestines. Six weeks later, Favre was 30 pounds under his normal playing weight. Facing Alabama at Birmingham's Legion Field, he somehow willed USM to a stunning, 27-24 victory.

So, yes, we saw Favre before anyone else: the huge arm, the grit, the fearlessness, the flair for the dramatic and his pure joy at playing the game. We were blessed.

Rick Cleveland is a syndicated columnist and historian at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. His email address is


Anonymous said...

If you are paying for Cleveland's column Kingfish I'd stop and use the money elsewhere. It is being carried by so many 'outlets' I'm sure it is only a matter of time before I'll see it in the Coffee News at Wendy's. Cleveland is making money but I doubt your eyeball ROI is worth the money considering the oversaturation from his 'syndication'.

Anonymous said...

Assuming he is paying, it's his money and he can spend it as he pleases.

Anonymous said...

I just want to see more Felix Vail stories.

Keith Clingan said...

I was the sports editor in Picayune when Brett was a senior in high school and saw him play for his dad at Hancock Central. You would have been surprised to see how he turned out because the Hawks were mostly a running team and rarely threw the pass. The real credit has to go to Jim Carmody and the USM staff for taking his raw talent and making him a Hall-of-Fame member.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the story. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

@ Keith Clingan

Carmody and staff didn't see it coming. The incoming freshmen were lying around at an early practice session when the scout team coach wandered over and asked if anyone had any QB experience. Favre, who was signed as a linebacker/safety raised his hand. The scout team coach asked him to run a few plays against Carmody's #1 defense. Favre shredded them. The scout team coach sent someone to get Carmody. Favre continued to eat up the #1D. That's when things started happening.

Anonymous said...

Carmody clearly helped develop Farve. He was a highly underrated coach and one of the best USM ever had... much better than Collins and most of the others.

Anonymous said...

8:58, I'm sure you'd be eating this shit up if Favre played in Oxford or Starkville.

Ferris Booler, member of the 1937 Noxapater Tiddly Winks State Champions and MS Sports Hall of Famer said...

Rick is a good writer. If you don't love his braggadocious columns about how he knew that Favre was special when he saw him first step onto a field, or how he palled around with John Stennis, or how he hung out with Willie Mays, then you just don't get it and are stoopid.

I, for one, just ADORE when Rick (who is a good writer) discusses a guy who coached the Baldwyn High team to a 1948 state championship. How could anyone not be entranced by such?

I'm glad that we have such a good writer as Rick dashing off vanity pieces to promote his position at the HoF and to revel in his personal memories that mean f*** all to everyone else.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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