As Brett Favre and his family have dealt with a string of tragedies over the last five years, football always has been the Green Bay quarterback's escape, giving his mind something to focus on other than sorrow and heartache.
That is true once again for Favre, who returned Wednesday night from his wife's stepfather's funeral in Mississippi. Deanna's stepfather, Rocky Byrd, died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday night at the age of 56.
It was another difficult loss for Favre, who likened his relationship with Byrd to that he had with his father, Irvin, who died of a heart attack just before Christmas in 2003. Since then the family also has dealt with Deanna's breast cancer diagnosis and treatments, her brother's death in an ATV accident, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast, where many family members and friends live.
"In my dad's case and in Rocky's case, I'm very thankful to have football, probably moreso in those two cases than in any other time," Favre said. "Because it is an extended family, and I include the fans in that as well. It gives, at least for me, something to direct my focus to.
"People have often said, 'I don't know how you focus or are able to kind of channel your energy and stuff into football during these times.' Well, it can be difficult, but to me it's better than not having anything to focus on but the tragedy itself."
Favre, like several of the team's veterans, did not practice on Thursday morning but was scheduled to practice in the evening. He said when he was flying back to Green Bay on Wednesday night that he was ready to get back to work, and he said he has no health concerns regarding his shoulder, which was sore during OTAs, and his ankle, which was surgically repaired in the offseason.
The top priority as far as football goes for Favre is building chemistry with his offensive teammates, particularly with the Packers adding so many new faces at receiver and running back this season.
While Favre believes the offensive line could be a really strong group this year, allowing for the backs and tight ends to run more pass routes rather than stay back to block, it won't make much difference if he isn't in sync with all those potential receivers. Favre has that type of connection with Donald Driver, but with everyone else it's still a work in progress.
"Being on the same page to me is much more important than having a lot of guys out (in pass patterns)," Favre said. "Basically what I'm saying is we have to gain some chemistry quickly, and some trust, and we don't have that right now."
Now that he's back at practice, Favre says that process will continue, and Saturday's Family Night scrimmage will help in that regard.