Commentary

Favre miracles started long before Green Bay

Originally Published: March 4, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Before Brett Favre made playing in the snow look like so much fun, before he'd ever been paid to wear Wranglers, before he'd won a Super Bowl and made the nation fall in love with his swashbuckling style … before any of those things, he worked one of his first miracles right before my disbelieving eyes.

The date was Oct. 14, 1989. The place was Cardinal Stadium, the old Triple-A baseball joint that the University of Louisville Cardinals used as their football home. The opponent was Southern Mississippi, and the Golden Eagles' quarterback was a junior named Brett Favre.

I was a 25-year-old reporter for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, and my assignment was to spend an entire game day with Cardinals coach Howard Schnellenberger. We met for breakfast at 6 a.m., and I shadowed his every step -- right up until Favre ruined his day.

Brett Favre
Allen Steele/Getty ImagesBrett Favre threw for 7,695 yards and 52 TDs for Southern Miss from 1987 to 1990.

The score was tied at 10 and, in the days before overtime, appeared destined to end that way. Louisville, which was 3-1 and coming off a breakthrough 8-3 season, blew a chance to win by missing a field goal. Southern Miss took possession on its own 21-yard line with nine seconds to play.

Favre had just begun to establish his reputation, having led a last-minute touchdown drive to upset Florida State earlier in the season. But this was Mission: Impossible. We thought.

Favre took the game's last snap and almost immediately was flushed to his right by Louisville defensive lineman Ted Washington -- certainly not the last time the two future longtime NFL players would meet in the backfield. But Favre slipped out of what appeared to be a sure sack, set his feet and showed off the arm that would throw for more NFL yards than any other.

Favre sent a blistering spiral toward a clot of players at midfield. Standing on the sideline near Schnellenberger, I could hear the smack of the ball upon the helmet of Southern Miss receiver Michael Jackson.

The next audible sound was the collective panic rising in the Cardinal Stadium crowd as the ball caromed directly into the hands of Southern Miss receiver Darryl Tillman. In full stride. Tillman sprinted from just past midfield all the way into the end zone for the winning TD. Southern Miss 16, Louisville 10.

That 79-yard bomb was more than a little fluky. But for football fans outside the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it was a first glimpse at the nascent Favre mystique.

The mixture of Southern Miss ecstasy and Louisville agony is now a blur, but I distinctly remember Schnellenberger, in his black suit coat, trudging off the field through the celebrating white jerseys of the visitors. Shortly after we got inside the Louisville football complex, he announced that my tagalong experience was over.

Over the years, Schnellenberger accumulated a lot of company -- of coaches who had their day ruined by Brett Favre.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.