King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Brett Favre is great and his consecutive-start streak is a wonder, but he's got years to go to catch that most iron of men, Jim Marshall.


Salon Staff
December 1, 2004 1:00AM (UTC)

The Packers' 45-17 moidalizing of the Rams Monday night was the 200th consecutive start for quarterback Brett Favre, who threw three touchdown passes to cap what had been declared Brett Favre Day in Wisconsin by the governor.

Favre passed Ron Jaworski's previous quarterback record of 116 straight starts almost half a career ago, but his remarkable achievement in reaching the five-finger milestone of 200 has sparked a lot of debate in fan land about which is greater, or more impressive, or however you want to put it: Favre's streak or Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,632 consecutive baseball games.

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It's a trick question, really, a debate that ignores an iron man whose longevity dwarfs them both. But we'll get to Jim Marshall in a minute.

It's almost impossible to get the apples and oranges to line up so that we can compare the consecutive-game streaks of a quarterback and a shortstop, and sure enough it seems to me that whether you think Favre's streak or Ripken's is more impressive says more about whether you prefer football or baseball than it does about which is the greater achievement.

I'm sort of agnostic on the matter.

The numbers don't really matter. If you think 200 straight games at quarterback is greater than 2,632 straight at shortstop and third base, where Ripken played for the last two years of his streak, you probably think the same about 150 games, or 100, or maybe even 50. Shortstops don't take the pounding that quarterbacks do, aren't as vulnerable to serious injury. And as the team leader, a quarterback doesn't have the ability to coast through a game or two nursing an injury, the way an infielder can.

And if you think Ripken's streak is more impressive, you'd probably still think that if Favre played another 100 games. Quarterbacks take a pounding, but they only have to show up once a week for 16 weeks. Favre has certainly taken practice days off over the years. Ripken had to be there six or seven days a week for 26 weeks.

There's nothing about 200, other than it being a nice round number, that should call up comparisons to Ripken's 2,632. Favre's streak represents 12 and a half years' worth of games, while Ripken's, which lasted from 1982 to 1998, represents more than 16 full seasons.

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We can compare Ripken's streak to more than a century of modern baseball and nobody, not even Lou Gehrig, is within 500 games of him -- a little over three years' worth. But Favre, who is 35, has compiled his entire streak in a relatively new era in which a set of rules serves to protect the quarterback from injury. He's way out ahead of the field, but the field is a lot smaller.

Even Jaworski, who was active from 1974 to '89, played much of his career without benefit of most of the innovations designed to save the necks of signal callers. And as Favre reached his 30s, the NFL's cement-hard artificial surfaces were being replaced by modern fake turf that's much easier on players' bodies.

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With those rules as much a part of the game as third down, here comes Peyton Manning, who rarely takes a sack, is 28 years old, and is on course to pass Jaworski's consecutive-start string early next year. It should be noted, though, that Manning plays on one of the league's few remaining cement-hard surfaces.

None of this is to take anything away from Favre, a magnificent player who's so easy to like it's possible to listen to TV announcers shout hosannas to him every week without growing to hate him.

But the answer to the question of whether Favre's streak or Ripken's is the greatest is an easy one: Neither. It's Jim Marshall's.

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Marshall started 270 straight games at defensive end, and he played in 282 in a row. That's every game, every year, for 20 years, one with the Browns and 19 with the Vikings. That's four years longer than Ripken's streak, eight years longer than Favre's.

If Favre keeps going, he'd tie Marshall's consecutive-start streak in the first game of 2009. Then he'd need to play in 12 more games to tie Marshall's record for consecutive games played. At that point, around Thanksgiving 2009, Favre will be 40. Favre is still a fine quarterback at 35, but there's no way.

And Marshall didn't just show up. He played in four Super Bowls and two Pro Bowls and was a leader of the Vikes' great "Purple People Eaters" defense. The Vikings front four of Marshal, Alan Page, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen stayed together for eight years. Marshall was overshadowed by Page and Eller, but he probably should be in the Hall of Fame.

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Marshall even played in every exhibition game. Remember that in those days the NFL played a coma-inducing six-game exhibition schedule. Counting those and postseason games, Marshall played in 409 straight!

Quarterbacks are uniquely vulnerable to injury, it's true, but it's not as though defensive ends are out there playing patty-cake. That's a pretty rough job too. Favre is in a class by himself, at the moment, as an iron-man quarterback, but quarterback is just one position. Does anyone know who holds the consecutive-game streak for baseball catchers, a much more grueling position than shortstop?

"I never played quarterback, so its hard to say whether what Favre's done is tougher than what I did," an admiring Marshall told Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers last week. "I really cant say. I honestly dont know."

I don't know either. But I have my opinion. Tell you what: Let's talk about this some more if Favre's streak is still alive in 2009.

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Previous column: BCS Whack-a-Mole

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