Souhan: These are tough times for iron men of the NFL

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 7, 2011 - 12:08 PM

Brett Favre is retired and Peyton Manning's streak is in dire straits.

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Brett Favre started 321 consecutive games (including playoffs) as an NFL quarterback.

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Bud Grant liked to say that a player's greatest ability was his "durability."

When tutoring young quarterbacks, Rich Gannon, the former Viking who became an NFL MVP with the Raiders, alters the message slightly. "I tell them," Gannon said Tuesday, "that their greatest ability is their availability."

The arrival of Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder means Minnesotans never again will search the skies for a private jet bearing Brett Favre. His indecisiveness won't be missed, nor will his unique form of interpersonal communication.

With the NFL season about to start, though, there is one reason to celebrate Favre, now and forever.

In an era during which too many athletes think of the disabled list as paid vacation, Favre treated games as sacred.

As Twins players regard the whirlpool like a finish line instead of a pit stop, and as Peyton Manning's amazing streak appears to be coming to an end, Favre's durability and availability made him rarer than an eclipse.

A neck injury likely will stop Manning's streak of consecutive NFL starts at 208, or 227 including playoff games. Favre holds the NFL record for most consecutive games started, at 297, or 321 including playoffs.

Third on the all-time list of consecutive games started by a quarterback is Ron Jaworski, at 116. Once Manning sits out Sunday, the longest ongoing streak will belong to his little brother, Eli, who has started 103 in a row.

While NFL statistics never will be as revered as baseball's most hallowed records, 297 (or 321) belongs on a pedestal in the pantheon right next to DiMaggio's 56.

"It really is amazing," said Gannon, who co-hosts NFL Radio's "The SIRIUS Blitz" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. "You study Favre, and Manning, and even Tom Brady before his knee injury, and there are common themes. Certainly, they're tough guys. They've been in one system their entire careers. Very rarely are they surprised by something that happens defensively.

"They're masters of their domain. They understand protections inside and out. When you put the film on, rarely do you see one of those quarterbacks get hit in the back of the head with a weak-side safety blitz."

Cal Ripken Jr. holds the longest consecutive games streak in baseball history, at 2,632. Lou Gehrig played in 2,130, and no one else ever played in more than 1,307 in a row.

Ripken, Favre and Manning share an obsessive nature. Ripken never wanted to leave the field. Favre was known in Green Bay for treating Aaron Rodgers more like a threat than a teammate, and Manning rarely rests during Colts games or practices.

"Peyton was one of three quarterbacks last year to take every offensive snap from center," Gannon said. "I played in four Pro Bowls with him, and he would say that it killed him not to take every rep in practice.

"I called him the 'Rep Hog.' If you go watch him practice on a Friday in Indy, he takes every rep."

Tony Dungy was the Vikings' defensive coordinator when Gannon played for the Vikings. Dungy later coached Manning as a rookie. Gannon remembers Dungy telling the Wally Pipp story, about the Yankees first baseman who took a day off and was unseated by Gehrig.

"I'm sure Cal Ripken's father told him the Wally Pipp story," Gannon said. "Peyton's a history buff, and I'm sure Tony told him that story all the time."

If Joe Mauer merely were injured, his bosses wouldn't worry about him so much. What alarms them is that, at 28, and with seven years and $161 million remaining on his contract, he displays little enthusiasm for playing the game. One source said he moves around the clubhouse like an old man who can't wait for retirement.

Favre played with joy, and he played hurt, and he played every week. Manning's injury, if not this entire Twins season, should remind us just how rare that is.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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