I saw Brett Favre at a restaurant once, and for a second I couldn't believe I was looking at Brett Favre. He had no entourage. He had no fancy outfit on. He had no air of importance about him. He looked, and acted, like a normal guy.
A decade later, as I report on his retirement, I can't help thinking of that night.
In this age of the celebrity, in this age of pampered stars and coddled athletes, Brett Favre's life and career are remarkable. Despite his otherworldly talents, despite setting nearly every NFL career passing record, Brett Favre always managed to stay grounded. He always managed to stay a normal guy.
Sometimes he was almost too normal. He's dealt with problems, and he's made mistakes.
In 1996, he became addicted to the painkiller Vicodin. In 1999, it was alcohol, which almost ruined his marriage. He kicked both the drugs and the booze, and along the way formed a foundation, the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation, which helps disabled and disadvantaged kids. He also saved his marriage, and stood by as his wife battled breast cancer. The two formed another foundation to fight cancer. This year, he convinced tough, beer-drinking Green Bay Packer football fans to wear pink, to raise breast cancer awareness.
Favre also showed us how to handle tragedy. When Hurricane Katrina flooded his home state of Mississippi, Favre went to work. Since the hurricane, volunteers from his adopted home town of Green Bay have made more than 20 trips south to rebuild damaged homes.
In 2003, Favre's father, his first coach, died unexpectedly. Two days later, a grieving son took the field and honored him with one of the greatest games in NFL history.
In the rough, often injury-prone world of professional football, Favre played in a record-setting 275 consecutive games. That's 16 years. He never missed a start.
Brett Favre also never missed a chance to set an example.