After 297 consecutive NFL starts, Vikings’ quarterback Brett Favre’s streak is over.
Thank God. Games-played streaks, in sports, are cancer. They do absolutely nothing to enhance the structure or work ethic of a team. All they do is put unneeded pressure and stress on players, head coaches, general managers and just about everyone else involved with a team. And, if the number-lovin’ media didn’t keep hammering streak stats into our heads, we’d all be better off for it. In the history of any game, there’s never been a games played streak that did anyone any good.
Consecutive games streaks mean only one thing – that a player isn’t prone to injury. That’s it. They don’t mean he or she’s a great player. They don’t mean a player is highly skilled. All they mean is that the injury bug doesn’t bite very often. Other than that…meaningless.
Calgary native Garry Unger once held the NHL’s ironman streak at 914 games. He played in every game for which he was eligible between February 24, 1968 (with the Detroit Red Wings) and December 21, 1979 (with the Atlanta Flames). That includes 11 consecutive seasons of never missing a single game. In fact, during the 1970-71 season, Unger was traded from Detroit to St. Louis and played in 79 games. In those days, an NHL season was 78 games long. But here’s where the problem comes in.
In Atlanta, the NHL furor surrounding Unger’s streak became insane. Unger was 32 years old in December 1979. And he was not the point-per-game player he used to be earlier in his career. But the streak continued. It had a life of its own. It HAD to continue, right? Even though Unger wasn’t playing well enough to warrant a roster spot, it HAD to continue. Then, on December 22nd, in St. Louis, Flames’ head coach Al MacNeil had endured enough. Unger dressed for the game, but simply sat on the bench. Late in the third period, with his teammates realizing that Unger had not taken a shift, the players waved him on as they came off, yelling, “Ungie, Ungie!” Legend has it that MacNeil grabbed the back of Unger’s jersey to prevent him from jumping the boards and getting a shift. The streak ended that night – because it had clearly become a distraction to the team. MacNeil did the right thing, but was vilified for it by some.
Same goes for Favre’s streak. In fact, everything Brett Favre has done since he ended his first of seventeen retirements to join the New York Jets has been a distraction. If you look at the list of NFL quarterbacks with the most consecutive starts, after Favre come Peyton Manning, Ron Jaworski, Tom Brady, Joe Ferguson, Eli Manning, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, Roman Gabriel, Jim “Don’t-call-me-Chris” Everett and Richard Todd. Some big names in there…and a bunch of guys you possibly haven’t heard of.
It proves that games played/started streaks are absolutely useless in determining a player’s value to his club. Especially because, once the streak becomes larger than life (as Favre’s and Unger’s did), it distracts everyone from the true goal – winning.
Favre’s Vikings aren’t winners. Clearly, it appears his last retirement should have been final retirement. And anything that distracts a team from winning is, in sports, cancer.