- Paul Battaglis/AP
Brett Favre was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he was also very much a gunslinger and few people were ever going to accuse him of being a “game manager” or tactician.
Favre confirmed this view of his playing style when he told a great story at a 2016 coaching clinic at Louisiana State University, via NOLA.com. According to Favre, he did not learn one of the most basic football concepts until well into his NFL career – the concept of a nickel defense.
The nickel defense – where a defense takes out one of the standard three linebackers and inserts a fifth defensive back – is a standard football defense, and has long been used in situations where a pass is likely. Favre had no idea what the term meant until his fourth NFL season, when he finally got the courage to ask a teammate, second-year backup quarterback Ty Detmer.
“I think we were in my second year in Green Bay and we’d drafted Ty Detmer. … I would always sit in these meetings, and if you don’t know what’s going on, the trick is to act like you do. I’m the starting quarterback and (head coach Mike) Holmgren would be up there and, he’s like ‘Look, guys,’ he’s writing ‘nickel defense is in. We’re going to do this. We’re going to attack it that way.’ And I would always be sitting there and going ‘I hear this nickel defense all the time and I’m not real sure what it is.'”
It is worth noting at this point that Favre would have been in his third NFL season, his second season as a starter, and in the midst of his second Pro Bowl season.
It also turns out it was even worse. Favre didn’t know what a “dime” defense was either (two extra defensive backs) and may not have even known what a “34” defense was, which is one of the most basic forms of football defense (three defensive linemen and four linebackers).
“Then [Holmgren would] throw me for a loop when he says ‘Long yardage situation, dime comes in.’ And I’m like, ‘Dime? What the hell is dime?’ Then he would say ‘Over-under front, and you got this, you got 34,’ and I said ‘Who? What?’ But I was afraid to ask, because I’m the starter.”
Finally, Favre got up enough courage to ask somebody in his fourth season, Detmer’s second.
“So after about our second year [together], finally I said I just gotta know. So, I said, ‘Ty, I gotta ask you a question.’ And Ty was about as goofy as I was. He says, ‘What’s that?’ I said ‘What’s a nickel defense?’ He gets real quiet. He says ‘Are you serious?’ I said ‘yeah, I’m serious.’ He says ‘Well, they basically take out a linebacker and bring in a DB.’ I said ‘that’s it?’ He said ‘That’s it.’ I said ‘Who gives a s—?'”
The story is fun in and of itself. But it is also interesting because so many college quarterbacks are judged on how well they can read defenses and here is a future Hall of Famer who couldn’t read even the most basic defenses.
Of course, Favre also went on to win the MVP the following year, so maybe learning what a nickel D was put him over the top.
Here is the video, via NOLA.com.