February 11, 2012

1992: Falcons Trade Brett Favre to Packers

On February 11, 1992 the Green Bay Packers traded a first round draft choice to the Atlanta Falcons to acquire QB Brett Favre. They still retained a first round pick – this was an additional choice, the 17th overall, which had been acquired from the Eagles.

“At first I was shocked, but now I feel like it is a great opportunity to come in and play, how soon I don't know,” said the 22-year-old Favre. “I wasn't playing, that was the only thing disappointing about Atlanta. I enjoyed the players and coaching staff. Now I have to start over again. Hey, that's the NFL.”

“The opportunity to acquire Brett Favre, in my opinion, easily outweighed the unknown quantity that might have been available to us in the 17th pick in the first round of this year's draft,” Packers general manager Ron Wolf explained. “This also gives us an opportunity to get started earlier on the 1992 season with a young quarterback.”

Favre led Southern Mississippi to two bowl wins, set school passing records of 8193 yards and 1234 attempts, and was MVP of the 1991 East-West Shrine Game. He had been taken by the Falcons in the second round of the ’91 draft, which was considered to be a steal at the time as scouts were already impressed with his size (6’2”, 220), strong arm, and overall skills.

During the preseason, he completed 14 of 34 passes for 160 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He was activated for three regular season games and had no completions in five attempts, with two of them intercepted. Furthermore, there were questions regarding his maturity and off-field lifestyle.

The Falcons, coming off a 10-6 record and operating out of a version of the run-and-shoot offense called the Red Gun, were committed to five-year veteran Chris Miller as the starting quarterback and Head Coach Jerry Glanville liked brash Billy Joe Tolliver as the backup, making Favre expendable in the third spot.

Green Bay, 4-12 in 1991, had a new head coach in Mike Holmgren (as well as a new general manager in Wolf), most recently the offensive coordinator with the highly-successful San Francisco 49ers. The starting quarterback that he inherited from predecessor Lindy Infante was Don Majkowski, the league’s passing yardage leader in 1989 who had struggled with a rotator cuff injury and erratic play in the two years since. The team also had veteran backup QB Mike Tomczak, who saw considerable action in ’91, and rookie ninth-round draft pick Ty Detmer, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Brigham Young.

Majkowski started the season behind center and the Packers lost their first two games. Favre was brought into the contest during that second loss, at Tampa Bay, with Green Bay down by 17-0 at the half. It was a tough trial-by-fire for the young quarterback, who caught a pass that was batted back to him for a seven-yard loss and ended up completing 8 of 14 throws for 73 yards with one intercepted in a 31-3 defeat. But when Majkowski was knocked out of action the next week against the Bengals, the result was much better as Favre stepped in and rallied the team from a 17-3 deficit to a 24-23 win, tossing two fourth quarter touchdown passes. From there he took over as the starting quarterback and quickly grew into the role. When it was all over, the Packers were 9-7, barely missing the playoffs, and Favre was selected to the Pro Bowl after completing 64.1 % of his passes for 3227 yards while tossing 18 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions. He also displayed the toughness that would become a trademark as he played despite a shoulder separation.

It was not an easy relationship between Favre and Holmgren – the head coach wanted his quarterback to be disciplined and play within the system. The gregarious Favre preferred to take a gunslinger approach and improvise. But over the next six seasons, from 1993 until ’98, after which Holmgren moved on to Seattle, the Packers accumulated a 66-30 regular season record, made the playoffs each year, and won two NFC Championships and one Super Bowl. Favre received MVP honors three years in a row (1995-97), when he was also a consensus first-team All-NFL selection, and was chosen for three more Pro Bowls (of an eventual 11). After Holmgren left, Favre remained with the Packers for ten more years - never missing a start on his way to a record 297 straight - and while there were no more championships, Green Bay qualified for the postseason after five of them.

As for the Falcons, they traded the draft choice they received for Favre to the Cowboys, who used it to draft DB Kevin Smith out of Texas A & M. Atlanta did get another first round pick - the 19th overall, from Dallas - and went with RB Tony Smith from Southern Mississippi. Kevin Smith started at cornerback and played eight years for the Cowboys, intercepting 19 passes. Tony Smith was a bust for the Falcons, playing for three years while used primarily as a kick returner.

Moreover, Atlanta went the opposite direction of the Packers, dropping to 6-10 in ’92. Chris Miller played well but suffered a season-ending knee injury halfway through the year and the team turned to Billy Joe Tolliver and 33-year-old veteran Wade Wilson the rest of the way. Beyond any problems at quarterback, the running game was poor and the defense even poorer. A year later, both Glanville and Miller were gone. While the Falcons would have some success during the period that Favre was in Green Bay, including winning a NFC title in 1998, the success was far more sporadic (four postseason appearances, none in consecutive seasons).