It is just 40 miles from Kiln to the Superdome in New Orleans. Kiln is deep in Saints country, but tomorrow night this small town in Mississippi will be torn; loyalties divided between their team and their favourite son. "Welcome to Kiln, Mississippi," proclaims the sign on the outskirts, "Home of Brett Favre."
Whatever the outcome of the NFC title game hosted by the resurgent Saints against the Favre-inspired Minnesota Vikings, this game will provide the Super Bowl with its tale of the season. The team of the year against the man of the year, the 40-year-old with the clapped out throwing arm who has spirited an under-achieving franchise to the brink of a first Super Bowl for 34 years.
If, and home advantage confirms the Saints as favourites, the odds are to be overcome, it will usher Favre to his third Big Game, and first since the 1997 season. This is a tale long in the making, but finally approaching its endgame. Favre watchers, several hundred of whom will be shoehorned into the Broke Spoke bar in Kiln where everybody knows his name, are used to him saying goodbye – he has already retired twice, but defeat tomorrow is likely to signal the end of a career remarkable for its longevity and consistency in a position that takes a weekly pounding.
Last weekend, Favre threw 234 yards and four touchdowns as he conducted a demolition job on Dallas that had Minneapolis in raptures. The Cowboys were beaten 34-3, enduring a dark night almost as long as the name of the venue in which they were drubbed. In the Mall of America Field at the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome, the oldest starting quarterback in NFL play-off history returned the best post-season display of a career that began in the colours of Atlanta Falcons back in 1991. "This is what I came back for," purred Favre afterwards.
It has been a controversial comeback for Favre's trek towards the Hall of Fame is not based on his achievements in the purple shirts of the Vikings, rather it is down to 15 years in green. Favre was a Packer and Packers do not care for Vikings.
He joined Green Bay in 1992, but at first the impression he made was far from positive. On his second appearance, he fumbled four times and howls of derision tumbled from the stands at Lambeau Field. But it did not take long to win over the Cheeseheads, as the Packer fans style themselves. From September 1992 to January 2008 he appeared in every Green Bay game; he became the only player to win the NFL's MVP award in three consecutive seasons; he led them to four Championships games; and, most important of all, twice he guided them to the Super Bowl, winning in 1997. Two years ago, he called it a day, breaking down in tears as he spoke of retiring from football. Five months later he was back on the field, now playing for the New York Jets. But after a season in New Jersey, claiming the arm was beginning to fail, he called time once more on his career.
This (final?) return began last August, and it could not have gone better. His stats for this season stand up to any of his career. He has taken the Vikings, a team of talents, and turned them into believers. "It's amazing what a confident, experienced quarterback does for you," Steve Hutchison, the left guard, told Sports Illustrated. "Brett is an old guy who has seen it all and done it all. He made this team more complete in every way."
Have you had fun this year, one of his team-mates asked at training this week. "Oh, yeah," said Favre. "It's been a ball."
Fabulous Favre: Brett's career
*Born 10 October, 1969, in Gulfport, Mississippi
*1991 Selected as 33rd draft pick by Atlanta Falcons
*1992 Traded to Green Bay Packers
*1995 Wins first of three Most Valuable Player awards
*1997 Helps Packers to first Superbowl win in 29 years
*2001 Signs $100m contract, becoming highest paid player in NFL
*2008 Announces retirement. Later returns to join New York Jets after contract disagreement
*2009 Retires again. Comes out of
retirement again in August, signing for the Minnesota Vikings