SAN FRANCISCO — The first NFL game Brett Favre ever attended, as a teenager growing up in Mississippi, was the final home game of Ken "The Snake" Stabler’s career.
Favre, a New Orleans Saints fan, travelled the hour-or-so drive from home to the Superdome on that Sunday in 1984 with his father, older brother and uncle — and it was a thrill to watch a guy who electrified a stadium the way Favre himself would one day.
"All of a sudden, the crowd goes crazy, and it’s because Ken Stabler poked his head out of the locker room. He had hair like mine. His was just a lot longer, kind of aged and grey," recounted Favre, wearing an all-black outfit and sporting a full white beard. "And I thought: Man, that’s cool. … It’s got to be cool to be ‘The Snake.’ And then they lost. My dad was throwing popcorn and beer. … I thought: Maybe it’s not so good to be ‘The Snake."’
Favre and the late Stabler, a pair of kindred-spirit QBs who each won a Super Bowl, entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame together on Saturday.
Also voted in for the class of 2016 a day before the Super Bowl were modern-day players Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison and Orlando Pace, coach Tony Dungy, contributor Ed DeBartolo Jr., and senior selection Dick Stanfel.
The freewheeling Favre, as expected, was a first-ballot entry, a reward for a long and distinguished career, mostly with the Green Bay Packers, that included three consecutive NFL MVP awards from 1995-97 and a championship in the 1997 Super Bowl.
"As a kid, all I ever dreamed of was to play pro football, to be Roger Staubach or to be Archie Manning. That’s what I dreamed of. I hated Terry Bradshaw, which I told him," Favre said with a smile.
Stabler, a left-hander who earned his nickname for his ability to slither past defenders, goes into the Hall as a senior selection about six months after dying of colon cancer at age 69 — and just days after researchers said his brain showed widespread signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Stabler, the 1974 NFL MVP, was represented at Saturday’s announcement by two of his grandsons, 17-year-old twins Justin and Jack Moyes. Each brother wore one of Grandpa’s bling-filled rings: Justin’s was from the 1977 Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders; Jack’s was from a college national championship with Alabama.
"One thing he didn’t really talk to us much about was the Hall of Fame. I know it would mean a lot to him if he got in, which he finally did," Justin Moyes said. "I know he’s smiling right now."
CTE is a disease linked to repeated brain trauma and associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. It has been found in the brains of dozens of former football players, including one of last year’s Hall inductees, Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 at 43.
Favre played for 20 seasons, eventually retiring — after famously vacillating about whether to walk away from the game — as the NFL’s career leader with 6,300 completions, 10,169 attempts, 71,838 yards and 508 TDs. He never met a pass he was afraid to throw, no matter how ill-advised it might have seemed, and wound up with a record 336 interceptions, the trade-off for his high-risk, high-reward, entertaining style.
Before Green Bay, he briefly was a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Afterward, he had short stints with the New York Jets and the Packers’ chief rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.
"It was awkward," Favre said of going from the Packers to the Vikings. "I had people tell me all the time, ‘You really divided my house.’ And I take pride in that, sort of."
In discussing Stabler, Favre called him "crafty," choosing a word plenty might use for No. 4 himself. Favre brought up the Holy Roller play from 1978, when Stabler fumbled the ball in the closing seconds, and it rolled forward into the end zone, where one of his Raiders teammates recovered it for the winning touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. It’s one of the most famous plays in NFL history — and one that would be illegal today.
"That was something I would have tried to pull off," Favre said. "But I think that only he could get it done. I just think the good ones find ways to get it done, no matter what."
Harrison, Peyton Manning’s top receiver while with the Indianapolis Colts from 1996-08, holds the record for most catches in a season: a hard-to-fathom 143 in 2002. At the time of his retirement, Harrison ranked second only to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in NFL history with 1,102 catches and most consecutive games with a catch (190).
Harrison was not present at the announcement and engaged in an awkward conference call during the news conference for other inductees. Dungy called Harrison "the most artistic receiver I’ve ever been around."
Dungy coached Manning, Harrison and the rest of the Colts to victory in the 2006 Super Bowl, becoming the first black head coach to win the championship. When he started out his coaching career, Dungy said, there were only a half-dozen or so other black assistants.
"It wasn’t a situation," he said, "where you had a lot of role models."