MANKATO – Brett Favre didn’t struggle when asked via e-mail recently to pick the one statistic he treasures most from the colossal stack of accomplishments he built through the course of a 20-season NFL career.
“Consecutive starts by far means the most,” Favre said. “Without it, the others never would have happened.”
On the NFL’s list of consecutive regular-season starts, Favre ranks No. 1 at 297. He will live the rest of his life insisting the record book should read 321 because of the 24 additional starts he made in the playoffs.
That’s an NFL ironman for you. Never willing to give away a start.
Thirteen players in NFL history started at least 200 consecutive regular-season games. Five of them are former Vikings, including Favre, the Packers great whose final 28 starts were posted in purple from 2009 to ’10.
Nos. 2-3 on the list are former Vikings co-captains Jim Marshall (270) and 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Mick Tingelhoff (240). Hall of Famers Alan Page (215) and Randall McDaniel (202) also represent the Vikings at No. 6 and No. 13, respectively.
“You look at the numbers that Brett and Mick and Jim Marshall put up and shake your head,” said Vikings center John Sullivan, the team’s current leader in consecutive starts with 57. “It’s amazing that they were able to play like that week in and week out because it’s not like they weren’t getting hurt. They were getting hurt, but they were just playing through it.”
Perhaps fittingly in the year Tingelhoff will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, the Vikings have a guy who leads all active NFL centers in consecutive games started. Sullivan’s streak of 57 will take the lead if former Texans center Chris Myers (128) remains an unsigned free agent on opening day.
“Those streaks happen on their own,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes there are injuries that you just can’t play through and it’s actually better for the team if you do miss time. And better for you personally.”
The Vikings’ 22 projected starters have a combined 273 consecutive starts. Eight of them are starting over at zero. Right behind Sullivan are left tackle Matt Kalil (48), defensive end Brian Robison (33), receiver Mike Wallace (32) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (26).
Leaguewide, Giants quarterback Eli Manning ranks No. 1 at 167. Older brother Peyton missed the 2011 season, ending his streak at 208, tied for 10th all-time.
“First thing you have to be is lucky,” Page said. “And No. 2, you have to be good enough to survive that long. And No. 3, you have to play well as a team.”
At one point in the 1970s, Marshall, Tingelhoff and Page were teammates who ranked 1-2-3 in consecutive starts in NFL history.
Streaks in today’s NFL are much more difficult to keep intact. Player safety is a major point of emphasis that didn’t exist years ago. And the culture is different as players have become educated on long-term consequences, particularly from head injuries.
“You’re not going to help the team win if you’re not out there on the field,” Sullivan said. “But at the same time, if you know you’re not up to your best, you have to be honest with your training staff and honest with yourself. It is all about what’s best for the team.”
Modern starting streaks are interrupted in other ways as well. From 2007 until early last season, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway played in 115 consecutive games. But there was one game in 2008 that he didn’t start because the defense opened the game in a sub package that didn’t include him. He entered the game on the second snap.
Favre played through a long list of injuries that were unthinkable for a quarterback before he came along.
“I think the broken thumb on my throwing hand is tops,” Favre said. “For obvious reasons and wearing a splint.”
Favre said he remembers watching the Vikings on television growing up in the ’70s. He said his pursuit of Marshall’s streak didn’t enter his mind until late in his career.
“At about year 15, I took notice because my body started feeling the effects,” Favre said. “Jim and I talked later when I became a Viking, and it was an exchange of mutual respect and admiration.”
Favre said there are a number of qualities and intangibles that go into ironman streaks. Luck being high on the list.
“There has to be a love for the game,” Favre said. “And a passion to play like no other.”