To fully appreciate Sunday's epic showdown between MVP quarterbacks Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, you need to know about training camp, 1994.
The Green Bay Packers' training camp, that is, where Favre, Warner, Mark Brunell and Ty Detmer all were working under soon-to-be genius Mike Holmgren. This overload of quarterbacking talent was no accident. Holmgren, the coach, and Ron Wolf, the general manager, collected them like bric-a-bracs.
Favre was in his third Packers season, one year away from the first of his three MVP awards.
Warner was an undrafted rookie from Northern Iowa, one year away from Arena League celebrity.
As the story goes, anyway, during one practice, Holmgren instructed Warner to go in and take a few snaps. Warner refused. Holmgren insisted. Warner refused.
Not long after, Warner was gone, one of the ubiquitous training camp cuts that goes unnoticed and unmissed.
Now, seven years later, Warner has bookend MVP awards of his own. He's the trigger man for the Greatest Show on Earth -- that's the St. Louis Rams' prolific offense -- and he'll face Favre and the Packers for the first time since 1994 in Sunday's NFC semifinal.
Warner hasn't been allowed to talk much since taking a forearm to the throat in the Rams' regular-season finale Jan. 6, and this week he apparently developed amnesia, too, because he didn't remember the incident.
"I'm sure that it probably happened early on in my stint, because Mooch (Steve Mariucci, then Green Bay's quarterback coach) has mentioned it also, but I don't remember it, sorry," Warner wrote in an e-mail exchange with a St. Louis reporter.
Fat chance Favre would forget. He's spoken of it before, and when the subject was broached in a news conference this week, he was hazy on the details, but he remembered. And in his self-deprecating way, Favre defended Warner's actions.
"I don't think it was a scrimmage, I think it was seven-on-seven," he said. "It's been so long ago. I've been in that situation before where I didn't know the plays and was asked to go in. Being my dumb self, I go in. If you don't know what to do, just take off running.
"He's smarter than I was. He decided not to go in. He's gone on to bigger and better things."
Fast forward to Sunday and see the role reversal. It's Warner, the reigning MVP, in the driver's seat for this tantalizing matchup, with Favre chasing behind. The 14-2 Rams are staggering 10-point favorites to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Never in NFL history have two quarterbacks with this much MVP hardware -- they've collected five of the past seven awards -- played against each other. Beyond playoff implications, it carries import for another reason. If Warner wants to separate himself from Favre in the quarterback hierarchy, he needs to win this matchup, and the Super Bowl, too.
Then he'll have two Super Bowl rings to Favre's one. Without question, though, these are the two best quarterbacks in a shallow talent pool.
Warner dismisses any significance beyond the game, naturally.
"I have absolutely no hard feelings and nothing to prove to anybody from the Packers," he wrote in the e-mail interview. "They gave me a shot, I wasn't ready and I am the most blessed man in the world to be where I am right now. If I would have made the team (in 1994), I would still be on the bench and nobody would know a thing about me -- they have one of the best QB's to ever play the game and I don't think he has missed a game since I left -- so in a way I am glad I didn't make it there."
These two quarterbacks produce similar results, but in an entirely different way. Listen to Rams guard Adam Timmerman, who spent the first four years of his NFL career blocking for Favre in Green Bay before signing with St. Louis as a free agent in 1999.
"I'd say that on the field, Brett is going to be unorthodox and make plays happen that way, and Kurt is going to drop back in the pocket and be right where he is supposed to be and throw the ball that way," Timmerman said. "You never knew where Brett was going to be.
"I would say that Brett had a little more of the walk into the huddle and take charge type of thing, but Kurt will walk in and call the play and just expect everybody to do their job. Kurt is a little more soft-spoken. As far as arm strength, Brett could throw it right through the wall and Kurt could throw it right over the wall. I can't think of too many similarities. They are totally different, but they are both great at what they do."
Favre gained renown for passes that whistle because they're thrown so hard. Warner has carved his niche with pinpoint accuracy.
"Where he puts the ball for guys to catch them just amazes me," Packers Coach Mike Sherman said.
Rams Coach Mike Martz heaps similar praise on Favre, saying it's his fourth-quarter demeanor that stands out. "His assertiveness and how he takes charge of the team is to me probably the most impressive thing," Martz said.
That assertiveness was clearly evident in Green Bay's 25-15 wild-card win over San Francisco. After a quiet first half, Favre erupted to complete 16 of 21 throws for 226 yards and one touchdown in the second.
Even defensive players develop a fondness for Favre's flinty style of play.
"Favre's a great quarterback -- you don't win three MVP's not being a great quarterback," said Rams linebacker London Fletcher. "He is also a great football player. You will see him out there throwing blocks for receivers on reverse plays. Like you see most quarterbacks just try to get in the way a little bit, he is really out there trying to block somebody. I appreciate the way he plays the game."
In 11 NFL seasons, Favre, 32, has thrown for 287 touchdowns, 172 interceptions and 38,627 yards. In his four seasons, Warner, 30, has winged 98 touchdowns and 53 interceptions with 12,651 yards.
"To put up those numbers is amazing," Favre said.
(Optional add end)
There is another set of numbers that Favre will have to overcome if the Packers are to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997. Green Bay is 3-8 playing in domes the past five years and just 3-4 on the road in the playoffs under Favre. Winning on the turf of the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis will require Favre at his best.
"It's probably because of interceptions, fumbles, sacks and penalties," he said of the Packers' record indoors. "For whatever reason, we haven't handled it very well. One game that comes to mind was New England in the Super Bowl, and we handled that well. Hopefully, we can play that way again."
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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