Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.
Is Brett Favre tougher than Cal Ripken, Jr.? Is football tougher than baseball? Essentially, that’s what is at the root of this discussion.
I had considered forgoing the text of my debate entirely and directing my readers to the famous George Carlin football vs. baseball routine, but apparently we have some crazy rule where I am not allowed to post a video link in lieu of text. I’m currently formulating a protest to that rule. In the meantime, let there be no doubt that I’m ready to back up my assertion that – announcer hyperbole aside – I believe there is no doubt that Brett Favre’s ironman streak of 291 consecutive games (and counting) is the more impressive streak.
To begin, think about the immense physical toll football takes on the human body. There’s a reason that the average NFL career’s length hovers somewhere around three years – it’s a brutal sport. Furthermore, Favre plays the position of quarterback. The quarterback touches the ball every play and he is the target of the pass rush on every single play. That is significantly different physical stress than having a ball hit at you once an inning and having an at-bat every two to three innings. Over Favre’s eighteen-year career I am quite confident the video montage of people knocking Brett Favre down is significantly longer than the video montage of people who knocked down Cal Ripken, Jr. during his 16-year career.
While I understand the sentimental value attached to Ripken’s record because it broke a seemingly unbreakable record set by a universally revered athlete, I truly believe its backstory clouds people’s judgment as to the substance of that record. I am definitely not saying that Ripken’s record is not worthy of the adulation it has received. It is and, without a doubt I hold Ripken in higher personal and professional esteem than I do Favre. However, while baseball is certainly an athletic endeavor, it is by no means the bone-crushing controlled chaos of playing in the NFL. If you have never done so, watch a football game from field level. For the purposes of this example, it does not matter whether or not it is high school, college, or professional football. The speed and violence of the sport is breathtaking. Now, go watch a baseball game at field level. While the hand-eye coordination of the hitter and the grace of the fielders is certainly something to behold… at very, very few points during a baseball game do you get the visceral feeling of “that’s gotta hurt.”
One last thing to keep in mind is the violence that sometimes exists in the game plans in the NFL. I suspect it is exceedingly rare for a baseball team to sit down publicly within the team, or privately within a few players, and say, “Our best chance to win today is if we take out player X.” However, contrast that with some of the interviews given by NFL players after their careers are over and you’ll hear disclosures like, “We were trying to take player X out.” It would be naïve to think that targeted violence, while not overtly accepted in the NFL, does not creep into a game plan or a player’s thought process. It would also be naïve to think that a player of Favre’s stature and longevity has not been targeted in that manner from time to time.
With all due respect to Cal Ripken, Jr., Brett Favre wins the ironman award. His longevity in one of America’s toughest sports is nothing short of remarkable.