Kid at heart: Favre’s story inspires fans

His counterpart, Eli Manning, has grown up this postseason.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — If America’s game has a quarterback, it has to be Brett Favre. And if America’s game has a kid brother quarterback, it has to be Eli Manning.

Favre is an icon not only in Green Bay, where he has led the Packers to two Super Bowls in 16 mostly successful seasons, but throughout pro football.

While it has not exactly been a sentimental journey to Sunday’s NFC championship game — there is little room for sentiment in such a rugged sport — Favre’s trip back to the NFL’s pinnacle has at least been inspirational.

Who wouldn’t be uplifted by his tale? For the last two years, No. 4 has toyed with the emotions of everyone in his adopted state, plus the folks back in his native Mississippi: Would he retire or return? Were the off-field troubles and tragedies, from the deaths of his father and wife Deanna’s stepfather and brother to Deanna’s bout with breast cancer, enough to force him from the game he so clearly loves?

Each time, after weeks of pondering his future, Favre returned. Each of those seasons, the Packers were also-rans.

They’re anything but also-rans now, preparing to play Manning and the Giants for a trip to the Super Bowl. Favre owns nearly all the NFL’s significant passing records, and his consecutive starts streak is perhaps the most amazing of all: 274, including postseason.

Yet Favre remains a kid at heart and a kid at play. And grateful for where he has been, where he is now, and where he might be going.

“I would be lying if I said I was not enjoying it,” he said. “But it has been what, 11 years ... since we even made it this far. So I don’t want to say that I got to a point where I had forgotten what that was like, or my goals were not what they used to be, but in some respects it had kind of gotten that way.

“I didn’t get used to losing — we only had one losing season — but we were far removed, it seems like, from that. So the standpoint that we are back in it, this is my fourth opportunity in a championship game, what I will say is that I appreciate it. I don’t want to say that I savor the moment more, but four tries in 17 years, and to a certain degree that is better than most guys.

“But I am very proud of the fact that we have gotten this far.”

It’s somewhat stunning the Packers have gotten so far, if only because of where they were in early December 2006: 4-8. But they won their final four games of that season, then went 13-3 and manhandled Seattle in the snow globe of Lambeau Field last Saturday.

Coach Mike McCarthy has reined in Favre’s riverboat gambler alter-ego just enough that he had one of his most efficient seasons. His leadership is unquestioned, particularly in respect to a generally inexperienced supporting cast, including young wide receivers and running backs.

“Well, in the middle of the game I’m not thinking that,” lead runner Ryan Grant said of the legend of Favre. “There have been some times when people really bring it to my attention.

“But after the fact, after the game, maybe after a pass, I am thinking, wow, I am playing with Brett Favre, and that’s something special, and I’m definitely honored to be a part of it. But when we’re playing, he’s another quarterback. He’s a great leader for us and we just take advantage of it.”

Leadership was not a word often used in conjunction with the younger Manning, even though the Giants made the playoffs the past two seasons with him at quarterback. They lost in the first round both times.

Eli has the unfortunate dilemma of not being older brother Peyton, and having to play where the tabloids and talk radio fanatics cut no slack. New York has not been kind through Eli’s growing process.