<
>

Favre hungry for Super Bowl return

DEPERE, Wis. -- Brett Favre can't understand the controversy. He stated an opinion about the threat of a Javon Walker holdout and now he's fielding verbal shots from critics around the league in general and Donovan McNabb in particular. To him, it's puzzling.

"I never commented on any other player in this league other than Javon, and if you go and talk to Javon, he's fine, and I'm fine, too," Favre said. "I never had any ill feeling toward him. I just talked about the way he handled it and his agent handled it. I know everybody deserves to be paid. I told him my opinion is my opinion. You agree with it or you don't agree with it. That's fine."

Walker put aside the issue once the two met in the locker room the first day of training camp. Those outside the Packers' organization haven't. As for those, like McNabb, who took a position against Favre earlier this week on "Quite Frankly" with Stephen A. Smith, Favre can't understand why others are making judgments and taking positions on things going on in his locker room.

"What I want to do is make this team better," the future Hall of Fame quarterback said. "Other players chime in and pop off about comments about teammates, but what are their comments doing? It's the same thing. I never meant to create all this whatever. All I'm concerned about is helping this team win and doing this with all my guys."

Favre, for example, spoke out for a Bubba Franks contract to get done by management. Same topic. Different circumstances. Franks is an unsigned transition player and can't practice with the team until he signs a contract. Walker has two years remaining on his rookie contract. What people aren't recognizing is that Favre is putting more into this year than most. He's at his lightest weight in years, finishing one recent, hot practice weighing 212 pounds. During his Super Bowl days, he weighed 238 or 240 pounds.

For the first time, Favre recognized a slight drop-off in one aspect of his game. His arm is fine, but his feet aren't as strong as he would like. Usually, Favre does his best in the cold weather when his arm outguns the weather and elements. But he has lost a little confidence in his feet.

"There are times maybe I drop back and a guy comes free and instead of trying to make him miss and make a play, maybe I will dump it off," Favre said. "I don't trust my feet anymore. I don't trust my ability to escape."

So he lost weight and improved his leg strength in order to run a little more than in the past.

Whether Favre retires after this year or two years from now, he is trying his best to keep the focus on the goal of getting back to the Super Bowl this year. But there is a lot going on on the business side that could become a distraction if players let it. First, you have Walker's efforts to get a new contract. That's old news. On the current docket is the uncertainty surrounding the future of coach Mike Sherman after the season. He's in the last year of his contract.

Ahman Green is in the last year of his contract. Center Mike Flanagan's contract is up after the season. The list goes on and on. Favre thought more about walking away from the game than ever during the offseason. He worried about the health of his wife, Deanna, who is battling breast cancer. But her condition has improved. With the support of his family, Favre was given the green light to return.

He doesn't want to be slowed by the yellow lights of contract problems or distractions that can take away from the performance of the team. To Favre, it's all about the finish -- the finish of this season and having a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

"This whole offseason was not so much about deciding to come back because it was more about if I did come back that I wanted to be totally committed," Favre said. "The issues with my wife the last two years have been a struggle. But I've been able to get through it and I played well. But I don't know how committed I was to the team."

All Packers fans care about is whether Favre commits to playing each season -- because they, too, worry about the days after his departure. With Favre, the Packers always have a chance. He has been a constant for 14 years. He'll throw for close to 4,000 yards annually. He'll complete 61 to 64 percent of his passes. He'll throw for 30 touchdowns. He's the consummate pro, but that hasn't been good enough in Favre's eyes because, despite three consecutive NFC North titles, the team hasn't had success in the playoffs.

Even worse, Green Bay has lost two home playoff games. So to do his part, Favre trained harder than ever this offseason. Favre still has a cannon for an arm, but he worked on bringing the youth back into his legs. The NFL is a marathon, and Favre wants to be strong crossing the finish line.

"It's hard on the outside to look in and see what I see," Favre said. "I threw for 4,000-and-some yards, but I could have had a better year. There were plays that should have been made. Maybe I am asking too much of myself. I want to make sure at the end of this season when I look back -- unlike the last couple of years -- I did everything I could do."

That's why he wants Walker as his ally, not his enemy. A year ago, Favre gave fatherly advice to Walker to help him evolve to the point where he could ask for elite wide receiver money. Like any Packer, Walker plays in the shadow of Favre's legend. But Walker, coming off a 1,382-yard Pro Bowl season, is ready to take his place among the NFL's top group of skilled players.

"I look back on the improvements of last year being just confidence," Walker said. "Nobody really knew about me. I know what I can do."

Like Favre, Walker had his best offseason of training. He added extra work in Phoenix. To get a new contract, he hired agent Drew Rosenhaus, and that turned into a negative publicity move. It's not as though the Packers care who represents a player, but Rosenhaus got involved in a holdout for cornerback Mike McKenzie that led to a trade and a lot of bitterness. In the end, the trade of McKenzie to the Saints hurt the talent base of the team.

"I think the Walker situation was more of a media thing because of the Mike McKenzie thing of last year," general manager Ted Thompson said. "It involved the name Drew Rosenhaus. The Packers' fans like their Packers. They don't like people messing with their Packers team. They felt like -- maybe incorrectly -- Drew Rosenhaus was messing with their team. Still, from the organization standpoint, it wasn't a distraction."

Walker, in fact, might have grown a lot in the process. He plans to be more vocal this season, but in a positive way. Though he's not mad at anybody, the 2005 Javon Walker will be a mad Javon Walker.

"I'm playing this year with a grudge on my shoulder," Walker said. "I feel like I'm just mad in a positive way. That's why when I'm out there, there is going to be hell to pay for certain people. There are a lot of things going on. It's nothing negative. There are no personal issues. When you think of wide receivers like Jerry Rice and others, there is a side that you can't be so nice. You've got to think you can get every ball."

Favre likes that kind of attitude.

On Thursday, the Packers practiced against the Bills, and Favre, believe it or not, didn't have a great practice. His throws, though strong, were a little off. Days like that motivate him even more.

"I'm so used to success and doing something in the playoffs, and we haven't done that and I'm a big piece in that puzzle," Favre said.

"My career has always been that I could get it in there," he said. "Most quarterbacks wouldn't have attempted some of the throws I made. Most quarterbacks I've played with wouldn't have tried plays like scrambling to the left and throwing to the right. They can't do that. I've had way more good than bad."

It's all about this year for Favre and the Packers. The future is now.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.