Majkowski's misfortune paved way for Favre's meteoric rise

2/11/2009 - NFL Brett Favre Green Bay Packers + more

As you watch the endless video clips of Brett Favre's career, you'll wish you were Don Majkowski.

He's got the audio -- in surround sound.

"I heard and felt Lambeau Field erupt," Majkowski said Tuesday.

More than 16 years later, the sound and feel still is fresh. Majkowski still recalls everything about that September day in 1992. Unknowingly, Majkowski was sitting on a seismic fault off Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay, his career about to be swallowed up and his name about to become the answer to a trivia question.

He'd been taken to the trainer's room after tearing up his ankle early in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers medical staff discovered some pretty severe ligament damage and was still working on Majkowski long after the Packers had come in for a glum halftime break.

Out on the field, Favre, who had taken over for Majkowski, was in the middle of fumbling four times and fans were chanting for the young quarterback to be replaced by Ty Detmer. Majkowski didn't hear any of that. There were no televisions in the training room at the time, but the walls weren't thick enough to block out what happened with 1:07 left and the Packers trailing 23-17.

Favre completed a 42-yard pass to Sterling Sharpe. A couple of minutes later (with 13 seconds remaining on the game clock), Favre hit Kitrick Taylor with a touchdown pass for a Green Bay victory.

"All I knew was that something incredible had just happened," Majkowski said.

Majkowski, and the rest of us, had no idea how incredible. That moment was the birth of a legend. Before retiring Tuesday, Favre would go on to appear in two Super Bowls (winning one), become the first player in history to win three consecutive MVP awards and set a record by starting 253 consecutive games (275, if you want to count the postseason). Favre has started every game Green Bay has played since the day Majkowski went down.

"It's the most incredible streak in the history of sports," Majkowski said. "I mean, I appreciate the Cal Ripken streak. But we're talking about the NFL, where it's tough to make it through one season or even one game."

As long as Majkowski made the baseball reference, let's ponder another one. It would be easy to call Majkowski the Wally Pipp of football and forget him unless you're talking about Favre or Lou Gehrig. But that wouldn't be fair. Majkowski already knew his days with the Packers were numbered, though he had no clue whether Favre could even play in the NFL.

The man Green Bay fans called "Majik Man" had his moments. His 1989 season (4,318 passing yards) was one of the finest in NFL history. He led the Packers to a 10-6 record and was an All-Pro. But Majkowski tore the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder the next season and was never quite the same. He got benched in favor of Mike Tomczak in 1991, and the Packers sent a first-round draft pick to Atlanta for Favre after that season.

Majkowski opened the 1992 season as the starter, but he was realistic. He knew he wasn't the long-term solution in the eyes of general manager Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren, who were trying to rebuild the Packers.

"But I can't say that I knew right away Brett was going to be the guy, either," Majkowski said. "I mean, at the first minicamp, you could see he had a tremendous arm. But Brett was totally different back then. He was immature and very green, and you just had no idea how he'd develop."

With Holmgren and future head coaches Jon Gruden and Steve Mariucci on the Green Bay staff, Favre developed quickly. Majkowski left in 1993 and spent two years with the Indianapolis Colts. He finished his career in 1996 after two more seasons as a backup, with the Detroit Lions.

These days, Majkowski lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Kelly, and two children. He runs a real estate company. He has no regrets that his misfortune cleared the way for Favre's emergence. On the contrary, Majkowski is quite proud of his place in history.

He has a spot in the Packers Hall of Fame and has worked as a radio and television analyst in Wisconsin, although he had to stop, at least temporarily, early last season because of an ankle problem that made travel difficult.

Although Favre once took Majkowski's job, the two have remained very close friends through the years. Before Majkowski's last broadcast in 2007, he strolled on the field before a game against Chicago. He walked up to Favre.

"I asked him if everything had sunk in yet," Majkowski said. "He said, 'Not really.' I'm glad he'll have time to let it sink in now. It is such an honor and a privilege to be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers because they have the best fans in the world and it's just such a unique place. It's really hard to fully understand it."

That honor and privilege now falls to Aaron Rodgers. So what advice does the man Favre replaced have for the guy who's about to replace Favre?

"I know Aaron pretty well, and he's a great kid," Majkowski said. "He'll do fine, but he can't put too much pressure on himself. He's had the luxury of sitting for a few years and learning from the best quarterback ever, and he hasn't been forced to play too soon and be the savior. That all works to his advantage. But he also has to remember he can't go out there and try to be Brett Favre. There's only one of those."

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.