Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Long It's Been: Since Brett Favre Did Not Play

Last night, in a game played at Ford Field in Detroit because the Metrodome in Minneapolis was rendered unplayable by snow caving in the roof, the New York Giants defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 21-3.

The Vikings' quarterback, at the start and throughout the game, was Tarvaris Jackson. Not Brett Favre.

Favre started for the Green Bay Packers on September 20, 1992, and started every game for them, home and away, regular season and postseason, until January 20, 2008, the 2007 NFC Championship Game, which he lost to the Giants in spite of the game being at Green Bay's Lambeau Field in "Packer Weather": Very cold, and snow blowing all over the place. (Then again, the Giants are not unfamiliar with such weather.)

He then spent the 2008 season with the New York Jets, and moved to the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. After the '07, '08 and '09 seasons, Favre teased everyone with talk of retirement. "Will he or won't he?" So far, he won't. But last night, December 13, 2010, the streak came to an end at 297 games – 321 games, if you count the Playoffs.

The record-holder for most consecutive games played is Jeff Feagles, who played for several teams, reaching the Playoffs with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Seattle Seahawks and the Giants, including their Super Bowl XLII team, making him the oldest Super Bowl participant ever, almost 42 years old (a record since broken by Matt Stover of the Indianapolis Colts). He played in 283 straight games, and extended it to 352 before retiring after the 2009.

But Feagles was a punter. The record-holder among players who actually faced constant serious contact was another Viking, defensive end Jim Marshall. He began his NFL career in 1960 with the Cleveland Browns, joined the Vikings as an expansion team in 1961, and played every game in the franchise's history, including 4 Super Bowls (all lost) until he retired after the 1979 season. His total was 270 straight, 289 counting the Playoffs. He is in the Hall of Fame.

Favre's streak ran 18 years and almost 3 months. Here's an idea of how long it's been:

Favre succeeded Don Majkowski as the Packers' quarterback. Other quarterbacks then active included Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon – all now in the Hall of Fame. The Dallas Cowboys of Aikman, Emitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones hadnt yet won a Super Bowl – though they soon would.

Of the 30 teams then in the NFL, 10 were still sharing a stadium with a Major League Baseball team. This includes the Packers, who were still playing 3 home games a season at Milwaukee County Stadium. It does not, however, include the Denver Broncos, who were sharing Mile High Stadium with the Triple-A Denver Zephyrs and would, in a few months, be sharing it with the major league Colorado Rockies. Or the Miami Dolphins, who were about to start sharing Joe Robbie Stadium with the Florida Marlins. So it was really 12.

The Rams and Raiders were both still in Los Angeles. (Well, the Rams were in Anaheim.) There was no NFL team in Oakland, St. Louis, Carolina, Jacksonville, Baltimore or Tennessee. There was a team in Houston, but it wasn't the Texans. Most Clevelanders hadn't yet realized what a jackass Art Modell was.

Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman and Don Hutson, who, between them, had invented the professional passing game, were still alive. Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski and Mel Hein were still recently dead. Ray Lewis, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were in high school. Drew Brees was 13, Tony Romo 12, Eli Manning and Troy Polamalu 11, Ben Roethlisberger 10, current Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers 9, Mark Sanchez and Clay Matthews 6, Tim Tebow 5, and new Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton 3.

The San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Oilers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints had never reached a Super Bowl. Nor did the Indianapolis version of the Colts. Nor did the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers, who, in September 1992, did not yet exist. They have since. (The Chargers did win an AFL title. The Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, had won 2.) The Rams, Bucs, Broncos, Ravens, Saints, the Indy version of the Colts and the New England Patriots had never won one. They have since.

The Washington Redskins were the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Minnesota Twins were the defending World Series Champions. The universities of Miami and Washington split the polls in the last college football season, and Duke University had just won back-to-back National Championships in basketball. The Chicago Bulls and Pittsburgh Penguins were 2-time defending World Champions in their sports. Evander Holyfield was about to win the 2nd of his 3 fights with Riddick Bowe, and reclaim the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Tom Coughlin of the Giants was the head coach at Boston College, Rex Ryan of the Jets was an assistant at Morehead State University, Mike D'Antoni of the Knicks was coaching a team in Milan, Italy, Terry Collins of the Mets was a coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates, John Tortorella of the Rangers was an assistant with the New Haven Nighthawks, Jack Capuano of the Islanders was an assistant with the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, Joe Girardi of the Yankees was catching for the Chicago Cubs, Avery Johnson of the Nets was playing for the San Antonio Spurs, and John MacLean was playing for the Devils rather than coaching them.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Canada. The World Cup has since been held in America, France, Japan, Korea, Germany and South Africa.

Barack Obama was the president. Of the Harvard Law Review. Actually, he was already graduated from Harvard Law School, and was a few days away from marrying Michelle Robinson. The President of the Untied States was George Bush. The father, not the son. The son was working on the father’s campaign – well, as much as he’s ever "worked" on anything. Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas and 6 weeks away from beating Bush the father in the Presidential election. Dan Quayle was Vice President. Although we may now owe him an apology: He was never as dumb as Dubya, or Sarah Palin.

Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, were still alive. (So were Jimmy Carter, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan – who, at this writing, are still alive today.)

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo. The Mayor of New York City was David Dinkins. The Governor of New Jersey was Jim Florio. Former New York Governors Malcolm Wilson and Hugh Carey were still alive. So were former New Jersey Governors Richard J. Hughes (though only for a few more weeks), William T. Cahill, Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean, who at this point was president of Morris County's Drew University. So were former New York Mayors John Lindsay, Abe Beame and Ed Koch. (Carey, Byrne, Kean and Koch are still alive.)

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was Tom Foley of Washington. The House Minority Leader was Bob Michel of Illinois. Future Speakers Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Nancy Pelosi of California and John Boehner of Ohio – and perhaps others we don’t know about yet – were already serving in the House. The Senate Majority Leader was George Mitchell of Maine, and the Minority Leader was Bob Dole of Kansas, who had already run for President twice without getting the Republican nomination. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were already in the Senate. So were soon-to-be Vice President Al Gore, John Kerry and John McCain. Sarah Palin was about to win her first political office, City Council in Wasilla, Alaska. Only 3 of the current Justices of the Supreme Court were on it then: Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

The new winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was Rigoberta Menchú, the controversial Guatemalan activist for indigenous peoples of Central America. The Pope was John Paul II. The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney, and of Great Britain John Major, who led the Conservative Party to victory for the 1st, and, as it turned out, only time. Elizabeth II was Queen of England, but her 40th Anniversary on the throne was tainted by the breakup of the marriage of Charles and Diana and by a fire at Windsor Castle.

England moved from its old "Football League Division One" to its "English Premier League," with Leeds United winning the last title of the old League, and Liverpool winning the FA Cup thanks to Ian Rush (no surprise there) and Michael Thomas (big surprise, since his goal beat Liverpool for Arsenal to win the League 3 years earlier). And 1992 was also the year soccer’s European Cup was first won by Barcelona, and it became the UEFA Champions League that fall.

Rudy Giuliani was in private law practice, and between runs for Mayor. Chris Christie was also practicing law, although not yet a partner. George Pataki and David Paterson were serving in the State Senate in New York, while Donald DiFrancesco and Richard Codey were also serving as such in New Jersey. Jim McGreevey was in the State Assembly and was about to be elected Mayor of Woodbridge. Eliot Spitzer was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. Jon Corzine was a bond trader for Goldman Sachs. Michael Bloomberg was building a media empire. Andrew Cuomo was Chairman of the New York City Homeless Commission.

The price of a stamp was 29 cents. A subway ride in New York was $1.25. The average price of a gallon of gas was $1.05, a cup of coffee was $1.60, McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $4.00, movie ticket $4.15, a new car $16,950, and a new house $144,000. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 3327.05.

There were portable telephones, but they were still pretty big. There was an Internet, but few people had heard of it. There was no PlayStation, no Bluetooth, no Smart Phone, no Netscape, no Tablet Computer, no Wikipedia, no iPod, no Skype, no MySpace, no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter, no Tumblr, no iPhone, no Pinterest, no Instagram, no iPad.

Major books of 1992 included The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, Jazz by Toni Morrison, Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan (who, clearly, still had her groove going), The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! By Mordecai Richler (a great study of how the Province relates to the rest of the country), Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray, and the debut of the Goosebumps series of horror novels for young adults – as if young people in that era needed any more things to frighten them. Trust me, I know.

Speaking of which, 1992 was also the year Stephen King published Dolores Claiborne. And Douglas Adams published Mostly Harmless, which turned out to be his last book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. None of the books in the Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire series had yet been published.

Major movies of 1992 included A Few Good Men (baesd on the play written by Aaron Sorkin, including Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth!" diatribe), Scent of a Woman (finally getting Al Pacino his Oscar), The Bodyguard (and, despite the belief of the Kim Fields character on Living Single, it was not a comedy), In the Line of Fire (another bodyguard film, with Clint Eastwood saving a fictional President from John Malkovich), Unforgiven (which may turn out to be the last great Western movie, and may be Eastwood’s best film), and the original, quite campy version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Kristy Swanson.

Swanson also appeared in The Program, starring James Caan as a beleaguered college football coach, filmed at the University of South Carolina, including its Williams-Brice Stadium. The James Bond film series was in its interregnum between Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. Michael Keaton was still playing Batman, while Dean Cain was getting ready to succeed Christopher Reeve as Superman.

Michael Douglas, about to be 48 years old, was starring in Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone. And Catherine Zeta-Jones, about to turn 23, was starring in the British TV series The Darling Buds of May, and sang "For All Time," a minor hit on the British charts, which was recorded for a concept album titled Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of Spartacus – which was apparently never filmed, unlike the 1960 version of Spartacus, starring Catherine’s future father-in-law, Kirk Douglas.

The James Bond franchise was in transition, as legal issues prevented Eon Productions from releasing a new film until 1995, at which point Timothy Dalton was finally replaced by the man that Eon had wanted in 1986, but he couldn't get out of his commitment to play Remington Steele: Pierce Brosnan.

Johnny Carson had just handed The Tonight Show off to Jay Leno. The Arsenio Hall Show was booming, partly thanks to having Bill and Hillary Clinton as guests on June 3, and partly due to Arsenio's handling of the Los Angeles race riot in late April, including an appearance by Mayor Tom Bradley. The Sci-Fi Channel debuted. NBC dropped Saturday morning cartoons in favor of Saved By the Bell. TV shows premiering include Barney & Friends, MTV's The Real World, Melrose Place, The Larry Sanders Show, and one of my all-time favorites, Mad About You. Shows that closed included The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Who's the Boss?, MacGyver and Night Court. Seinfeld aired "The Contest," effectively proclaiming Jerry Seinfeld to be master of the domain of televised comedy.

The big movement in music was grunge, led by Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. Paul Simon became the first major musical artist to tour South Africa after the end of apartheid. David Bowie married Somali fashion model Iman, who had once been married to basketball star Spencer Haywood. This marriage may have been the first one where a supermodel married a man who was thinner. Whitney Houston married Bobby Brown.

Two weeks after Favre's streak began, Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, yelling, "Fight the real enemy!" "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men broke the record for most consecutive weeks as the Number 1 single in America, set in 1956 by Elvis Presley with "Don't Be Cruel." Whitney would break that record with The Bodyguard's version of "I Will Always Love You" the following spring. Dr. Dre was about to release The Chronic, which would introduce the world to Snoop Dogg – or Snoop Doggy Dogg as he was then known. Elvis Presley was about to be featured on a stamp. Frank Sinatra was recording Duets, and Bob Dylan was about to release Good As I Been to You.

When Brett Favre's streak began, Alecia Moore was 13 years old and not yet Pink. Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys were 11. Britney Spears was 10. Stefani Germanotta (the future Lady Gaga) was 6. Taylor Swift was 2. Kevin Jones was 5, Joe Jonas was 3, and Nick Jonas was 4 days old. In addition to Nick, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were newborns. Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber hadn't yet been born – in fact, Miley's father Billy Ray was still riding the crest of his shaky flaky song "Achy Breaky Heart." Few people outside Southern California had heard of any of the Kardashians, Kris had just married Bruce Jenner, and Kendall and Kylie hadn't been born yet.

In that autumn of 1992, Hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida. A scientist, Dr. Mae Jemison, became the 1st African-American woman in space – and would soon become the 1st real-life former space traveler to appear on a Star Trek series. Pope John Paul II formally apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for its persecution of Galileo Galilei. (Gee, maybe Sinead should have said something about that.) Czechoslovakia's national legislature voted to split the country into 2: The Czech Republic and Slovakia, effective the following New Year’s Day.

In 1992, Jack Wilshere, Taylor Lautner and twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse were born. In the fall of that year, when Favre's streak began, actors Anthony Perkins and Cleavon Little, singers Roy Acuff, Eddie Kendricks and Roger Miller, Cold War heroes Alexander Dubcek and Willy Brandt, and legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber died.

September 20, 1992. Brett Favre would not miss a game for 18 years and nearly 3 months. And now he has.

And you know what? The world hasn't come to an end.

Peyton Manning now has the current longest streak, having started 205 straight games, 223 counting the Playoffs, since September 6, 1998. The old record belonged to Ron Jaworski, the Polish Rifle, of the Philadelphia Eagles, 116 straight (123 counting Playoffs) from 1977 to 1984. (Yes, that Ron Jaworski, the one now on ESPN and known as Jaws.) Tom Brady of the New England Patriots had a streak of 111/128 from 2001 to '08. Joe Ferguson of the Buffalo Bills had one of 107/110 from 1977 to 1984. And Peyton's brother Eli extended his own streak last night, becoming only the 6th NFL quarterback to make 100 straight regular-season starts, 107 counting the Playoffs.

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