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The College Upset That Put Brett Favre on the Map
AP Photo/Charles Kelly

When we think of Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, he is in a Green Bay Packers uniform at Lambeau Field, but he burst onto the scene during a huge upset in his days at Southern Mississippi.

Playing for a smaller college football program that was an Independent made it less likely Favre would be discovered and earn a chance at winning national awards, until he opened his junior season with an upset against a top-10 team in Florida State.

Brett Favre College Career

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Today, we know Brett Favre as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and a Super Bowl champion, but in the late 1980s, he was a small-town quarterback from Gulfport, Mississippi and on the Hancock North Central High School football team, which barely threw the ball. He only received an offer from Southern Miss because his father played baseball there.

But the country would learn his name pretty soon after he would make his college football debut for the University of Southern Mississippi in 1987. He played against Tulane after heavily drinking the night before and puking during warmups.

During his freshman season, he threw for 1,264 yards and 15 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, a ratio that seems to fit the old gunslinger quite well.

“When we ran on the field, he went over to the wall and bent over and ralphed,” teammate Chris Ryals said. “Just vomits his guts up right there. He looks like he’s about to drop warming up. He’s sweating bullets, white as a sheet.”

He had a much better sophomore season with 2,271 passing yards and 16 touchdowns with only five interceptions en route to a 10-2 record. That season did include a 49-13 loss to the Florida State Seminoles at home in Hattiesburg.

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His junior season in 1989 would start completely different, though. Almost a year later, the Golden Eagles would travel to Jacksonville and play the Seminoles to begin their seasons. FSU began the season as the sixth-ranked team in the country and looking to win their 12th consecutive game.

The Upset That Sparked a Legendary Career

It was a close game throughout, but Favre put together a 58-yard drive in the final minutes to take the lead. Even though they only needed a field goal to take the lead, the young quarterback was trusted to throw a play-action pass with 23 seconds remaining when an interception would end their chances of a huge upset.

Today, it is almost unfathomable for Favre to be trusted after some of the late-game blunders that cost his team, such as an interception while playing for the Minnesota Vikings against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game for a spot in the Super Bowl.

But with just 23 seconds left, Favre hit Anthony Harris for a two-yard touchdown to go ahead on a team that beat them by 36 points just a year earlier. Just think about what the country would think of a quarterback who led a small program to a win over a program that had been competing for national championships today.

“This may not be the biggest win in USM history, but it certainly has to rank near the top and there’s no doubt it’s the biggest in my career,” head coach Curley Hallman said. “I can say that without hesitation.”

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Although his stats may not jump off the page, Favre led Southern Miss to maybe the biggest win in program history, beating the Seminoles, 30-26. He completed 21-of-39 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns. He wouldn’t put up crazy stats for the rest of the season, either, finishing his junior year with 2,588 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. They would finish the season with a 5-6 record.

Favre experienced a setback prior to his senior season after a serious car accident left him with internal injuries. He missed the season-opener of the 1990 season, but was back on the field a week later when Southern Miss upset 10th-ranked Alabama in Birmingham.

With some pretty big victories at the college level at a small program, NFL teams took notice. In the 1991 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected Favre with the 33rd-overall pick in the second round. The only quarterbacks selected before him, each first-round picks, were Dan McGwire to the Seahawks and Todd Marinovich to the Raiders.  He only stayed in Atlanta for his rookie season before arriving in Wisconsin, his home for the next 16 seasons.

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Brett Favre NFL Career

During his time with the Packers, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings, Favre was selected to 11 Pro Bowls, named a First-Team All-Pro three times, and won the NFL Most Valuable Player award three consecutive years — the first player to win the NFL MVP three straight times. He was also named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year four times. This was all on top of the fact he was one of toughest football players in league history as well as setting passing records, both good and bad.

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Before Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees began breaking many of his records, Favre was on top of the leagues record book as a passer with the records for touchdown passes, interceptions, pass completions, and pass attempts.

Like in college, he also had some team success 12 seasons making a playoff appearance and two Super Bowl appearances. He beat the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers en route to Super Bowl XXXI, where they played the New England Patriots, winning 35-21. He met the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 49ers the following season before playing the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII the following season, losing that one 31-24.

All of this led to Favre being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016 and was also named to the 1990s All-Decade Team and NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

The importance of the upset over FSU can’t be overstated, though. If he doesn’t lead the Eagles to a win, he may have never received the recognition and been drafted as high as he was.

It was the perfect start to a legendary career with so many amazing moments like his win against the Oakland Raiders the day after his father died or the fact his first completion was to himself. But he is also player that teams like the Chicago Bears were happy to see retire.

MORE: Michael Irvin’s ‘White House’ Was Once the NFL’s Biggest Party Pad

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