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Meredith and Favre: Two originals fade away

You can never tell about quarterbacks. Two of the most inscrutable made their exits this month. Don Meredith died and Brett Favre finally fell apart.

Meredith was the Dallas Cowboys' first franchise quarterback before they were America's Team or the other 90 percent of America hated them. He and Favre couldn't have been more different.

Favre, or his concussed carcass, had to be dragged from a frozen field in Minnesota a week ago after the Chicago Bears' defense pounded on his 41-year-old body. It was the ultimate in a jock warrior being carried from the field of battle on his shield.

Meredith resigned from the NFL when he seemed to have plenty of football left.

"Dandy Don," as someone -- maybe Howard Cosell -- named him, found something that interested him more than playing the game -- describing it from the TV booth on the original Monday Night Football. It was from that perch where he was able to stay close to the game he loved but also loved to mock.

It was this time of year that during a close game between two good teams one of his booth mates lamented a play gone wrong that might have turned the tide for the losing team. Meredith replied with a poem: "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn't it be a Merry Christmas!" A large portion of his viewing public remembered the poem long after they forgot the game.

Meredith left network broadcasting as suddenly as he left the NFL. He was bored, he told friends. He never returned. Typically, this son of Texas took respite in a place he may never have visited before, Elephant, Pa., a small town that offered him solitude.

Favre came into the NFL with far less fanfare than Meredith. The Atlanta Falcons, who had never generated much buzz in any city where they appeared, drafted him in the second round in 1991 after his quiet college career with Southern Mississippi. He spent most of his rookie season partying and observing as No. 3 on the quarterback roster behind Chris Miller and Billy Joe Tolliver. Training camp and the exhibition season didn't start much differently in his second year but things were about to change.

Ron Wolf, one of the game's foremost talent appraisers, had just been hired as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, long parched for a winning quarterback. It turned out that Wolf had been following Favre's career since his junior year in college. Halfway through the Falcons' preseason schedule, the new Packer GM placed a call to his Atlanta counterpart asking for a press box pass with the idea of making a trade offer. "Sure," Wolf was told. "But you better get here for next weekend's game because he isn't likely to get on the field for us again until next summer."

Favre played only a quarter but Wolf saw enough of him to remain convinced he was what the Packers needed. The difficult part was convincing the Pack's citizen board of directors that he should trade a first-round draft choice for a quarterback who had been drafted by Atlanta in the second round and had barely played as a pro.

Absolutely you never know about quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Bills takes a 15-game touchdown pass streak into today's game against New England. Tom Brady of the Pats, however, takes a 292-pass no-interception streak into a game that, if they win, will give his team home-field advantage for the entire playoffs.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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