Commentary

Three ways Favre can fit in as 'one of the guys'

We wish the Jets luck in making Brett Favre just "one of the guys." Favre can make it easier on himself and his teammates by learning lessons from Montana and Gretzky, Seth Wickersham writes.

Originally Published: August 15, 2008
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine

One of the funniest clips in recent memory features Brett Favre, in his red New York Jets practice jersey, jogging around the field in a laissez-faire way because he fumbled.

But even funnier is coach Eric Mangini's explanation, which he tried to deliver straight-faced: "He's one of the guys. You put the ball on the ground, you have to run. And that's the way -- when we talked about it -- he wanted it, and that's the way I wanted it."

Nice try. Just going out on a limb here, but after signing with the Jets, most players didn't have a private audience with Mayor Mike Bloomberg … much less leave that meeting with a Broadway street sign, a $4 subway card and an empty key ring to be filled with the key to New York City once the Jets play in a Super Bowl. Just saying.

Favre hasn't been one of the guys for years. His offseason presence at the Green Bay Packers' Organized Team Activities -- regardless of their importance or uselessness -- was sporadic. During at least his last two years in Green Bay, he didn't even dress for games with his teammates, instead disappearing to a private room and showing up on the field, ready to go.

Favre didn't even really try to be one of the guys. He's said over and over that he simply didn't reach out to as many teammates as prior years. It was nothing personal. Life had changed, that's all. He was in his late 30s, and they weren't. His Packers teammates might have wanted a Brett Favre Moment, but Favre tried to save those moments for game days and for his family.

Now the Jets -- not to mention the tristate region -- want Brett Favre Moments, starting Saturday night when they play host to the Washington Redskins.

If you're a Jets fan, you're hoping those moments don't come at any more expense than the draft pick that's already been dealt. Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum have worked very hard for two years to promote a disciplined, team-first mentality. But in a quick move, they dismissed the quarterback who epitomized their program, (Chad Pennington, for Favre. Favre isn't a me-first type, but let's just say he's special and knows it.

Clearly, Favre is an upgrade. But how Mangini handles Favre -- and vice versa -- could be career-defining for the 37-year-old coach, almost two years his quarterback's junior.

Mangini's not alone. Coaching Favre might be the biggest challenge for the Jets' smart, talented staff. The coaches have been most successful at selling their system to players by convincing them to do their job and not everyone else's -- be one of the guys, basically. Favre is exceptional at doing his job, but he's also capable of freelancing, which has resulted in some gaffes but also some of the greatest moments in NFL history. And guess what? Favre, rivaled only by John Elway as the greatest-ever dirtball quarterback, isn't changing.

This business of a fading legend switching teams and suiting up for one last run can be tricky. It can energize a team and a fan base, but it can also create a dynamic that undermines the coach.

Related
The Jets adventures with Brett Favre as their starting quarterback begin Saturday in Washington. Follow the journey.
• Chadiha: O-line might hold real keys
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• Watch: Favre and Coles
• Watch: Cotchery on Favre

Even in pro sports -- actually, especially in pro sports -- players lose respect for a coach when there are blatantly different rules for players, especially when it comes to on-field performance. If the legend plays awful without consequence, it shifts the balance of power and undercuts the team-first concepts that most coaches preach. Look at what happened when Michael Jordan, with his handpicked coach Doug Collins, came out of retirement for the Washington Wizards. Jordan played terribly many nights, chucking without fear of sitting.

Remember when the Jets would release only "unofficial" depth charts in alphabetical order because every job was up for grabs? That's gone. Favre's job is safe, even if by Week 1 the soon-to-be 39-year-old scraps the offense that he's had three weeks to learn for his sandlot version. Most of the guys don't have that type of power.

Favre, by all accounts, seems to be getting on well with his new teammates. If he wants to endear himself even more, here are a few tips:

1) Joke: When Joe Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, he constantly would give receiver Tim Barnett a hard time about Barnett's pointy, supersized ears. Suddenly, Barnett wasn't in awe of Montana's presence. He was thinking of comeback lines.

2) Defer: The smartest thing Wayne Gretzky did upon becoming a New York Ranger was not automatically assuming the role of team captain. The Rangers belonged to Mark Messier, and Gretzky wisely -- and for the first time in his life -- became a subordinate. Gretzky earned respect on his new team instead of assuming it.

3) Hustle: Might want to jog a little faster during those laps.

After all, everyone's watching.

Seth Wickersham is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a columnist for ESPN.com.

Seth Wickersham

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs. Email him and follow him on Twitter at @sethwickersham.

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