Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre is one of the greatest to ever play the game. The 11-time Pro Bowler won three NFL MVP awards and led the league in touchdown passes four times. Even more to the point, he is undoubtedly the greatest player in Green Bay Packers history — the definition of a franchise player.
Yet Favre might never have ended up in Green Bay if it weren’t for the efforts of former Packers’ general manager Ron Wolf. Wolf attempted to acquire the young Favre several times, before finally succeeding. Here we take a closer look at the franchise-altering story of one front office executive’s surprising faith in an unproven quarterback.
A failed bid to get Brett Favre with the Jets
Wolf took over as the Packers’ GM in 1992, per Pro Football Reference. In 1991, the year Favre was drafted, Wolf was serving as assistant to the general manager for the New York Jets. Favre, of course, ended up falling to No. 33 in the 1991 NFL draft — one of the worst draft oversights of the pre-Tom Brady era.
Wolf was one of the few executives high on Favre in the draft, even going so far as to rank him No. 1 overall. The only problem was, the Jets didn’t even have a first-round pick. Instead, their best pick according to Fox Sports was No. 34. Wolf desperately tried to engineer a trade to move up ahead of the Atlanta Falcons. That trade never materialized, and the Falcons ended up taking Favre at No. 33.
Ron Wolf trades for Favre to join the Packers
That gave Wolf the perfect opportunity to get a look at Favre — then just a backup quarterback — warming up before the game. But according to ESPN, Wolf got caught up talking to a group of reporters and never managed to get a look at Favre throwing. That didn’t matter to Wolf, whose belief in Favre remained unwavering.
In February 1992, Wolf engineered a trade that send a first-round pick to the Falcons in exchange for Favre. Few commentators realized at the time just how momentous that trade would prove, both for the Packers and for the NFL at large. Yet there was just one more problem before the trade could become official.
Favre fails his physical
Wolf’s outsized enthusiasm for Favre didn’t diminish after the draft, or after he’d taken a position as the Packers’ GM. On the contrary, Wolf remained determined to get Favre on his team whatever the cost. Conveniently, the Packers were scheduled to play a game against the Falcons just four days after Wolf took over.
A normal part of the acquisition process in the NFL is to submit incoming players to a routine physical. In the majority of cases, players receive a clean bill of health and the trade can be officially completed. Yet on occasion the physical will reveal an underlying medical condition that can jeopardize the trade. That was exactly what happened in Favre’s case.
His physical with the Packers resulted in his being diagnosed with a condition known as avascular necrosis, per ESPN. This disease involves a less than normal blood supply to a socket, and can often lead to the need for hip replacement surgery. Avascular necrosis was the condition that caused the premature end of Bo Jackson‘s football career.
The diagnosis was a significant red flag. Team doctors felt it could become an issue in four or five years. Per Fox Sports, they recommended failing Favre’s physical and therefore negating the trade. But Wolf wouldn’t hear of it. He overruled the doctors, passed Favre’s physical, and allowed the deal to move forward, thus securing the quarterback who would become the franchise’s all-time cornerstone player.
Not surprisingly, Favre has always held a special place for Wolf in his heart, with ESPN quoting him as saying that his long-time GM “was always kind of like a grandfather to me.”