Why do we love watching Brett Favre?
It’s simple, really. We love watching Brett Favre because — and this is worth remembering as the Favre adoration turns to jilted-lover sourness and the career eulogies start rolling in around this time next month — that there are few things more thrilling to bear witness to in sports, as in life, than a sweetly completed pass between two human beings.
Musicians know this. They play together and communicate with each other wordlessly, physically, psychically, sonically. But that much is a clandestine holiness that often gets taken for granted even by the ones who participate in it, as if this rarified air of communication is available on a regular basis to all mortals. With sports, great passes are rare birds caught in flight, and celebrated by the tribe with a point of the finger and a “nice look.”
To make or catch a great pass is an intimate thing, like making love. Anticipation, connection, completion, celebration or cool cigarette. Think about it. Think about the great passes you’ve been part of — the Thanksgiving butter roll tossed to Aunt Mary over the outstretched hands of the kids’ table, the alley oop to the dude in the park, the toss of a bagel at work, the Hail Mary on the playground, the perfect behind-the-back laser from the mid-court sideline at Incarnation Grade School gymnasium to Jim Kenny, who blew the lay-up because he was laughing at the sheer bullet perfection of it but you’re not bitter about it after all these decades, no.
Think about how it felt. Like nothing else. One person has a ball or stick or a puck. One person makes a cut, through a lane or toward a sideline or down a rink. A glance is exchanged, or not. Peripheral vision becomes superhero sharp. A nod becomes a signal that something special is about to happen, something telekinetic, which is just another word for what basketball players call “dropping dimes.”
I learned as much from Minnesota Lynx star Lindsey Whalen during her senior year with the University of Minnesota. I did a cover story on her for City Pages, and her teammates testified that Whalen was adept at “spinnin’ rhymes and droppin’ dimes.” Over the course of a couple days, I went to classes with Whalen and hung with her at practice. We did two sit-down interviews, and one afternoon we talked about our love of great passers like Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, John Stockton and Stephon Marbury.
I asked her to recall for me her greatest passes. Her eyes lit up. Her voice went from jock-speak to excited artist-assassin as she spent the next 15 minutes squinting her eyes, using her hands, and regaling me with her personal passing highlights from high school, college and pick-up games. All of which came before her spectacular senior year, and her last play as a Gopher at Williams Arena: a bounce-pass between two defenders for a lay-up and a standing ovation as she backpedaled to the bench for the last time.
Which is what we’re about to see with Favre, as the great heartbreaker gunslinger rides off into the sunset. Again though, before that actually happens and before we the ravenous sports public doom the man to an eternity of failed ego-checks and bawdy statistics, let’s look at the film, the ESPY-winning film.
Sept. 27, 2009. The Vikings trail the San Francisco 49ers 24-20 with seconds left to play. Favre takes the shotgun snap from center, fades back in the pocket and eludes two rushing beasts, one of whom paws at the quarterback’s jersey, which billows and briefly exposes his torso. Favre sets his feet, cocks his arm, and throws a wicked spiral to Greg Lewis, but not to Greg Lewis, deep in the end zone.
Not to Greg Lewis, because Lewis isn’t there yet. Favre is throwing the ball to someplace he figures Lewis will be in a second or two. Lewis leaps in the back of the end zone, the ball hits both his palms in stride, he gets both his feet in bounds, touchdown.
In other words, Favre led him perfectly. Don’t believe me? Check it out on YouTube; give yourself some time, because I dialed it up about 30 times the other night and it never gets old.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.