Falcons executive recalls Brett Favre trade

The story of the Falcons’ trade of Brett Favre to Green Bay has been told and written about over and over.

But now some 25 years since the soon-to-be Hall of Fame quarterback who will be inducted into Canton in August, was sent packing to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, the deal is still fresh in the mind of the Falcons executive who made it.

Then player-personnel director Ken Herock never wanted to make the trade. He was infatuated with not just Favre’s talent but also his will to win.

Herock took Favre out of Southern Miss in the 1991 draft with the team’s second-round pick (33rd overall).

“I wanted to trade up to the first round to get him,’’ Herock said. “But Mr. (Rankin) Smith said we already had a Pro Bowl quarterback in Chris Miller. During Brett’s senior year, I had gone up to the Southern Miss game against Georgia in Athens and Brett was emaciated after being sick for a while, but still came out there and almost led them to a win over Georgia (Bulldogs won 18-17). He had beaten Alabama that year and later in the season beat Auburn.’’

Favre was the third quarterback to go in the draft, as in the first round Dan McGwire (San Diego State) went 16th overall to Seattle and Todd Marinovich (USC) went 24th to Oakland. Right behind Favre with the 34th overall pick went Browning Neagle (Louisville) to the New York Jets.

“When we made the pick, I remember hearing in the background they would have rather taken Browning Neagle and all this chaos,’’ he said.

The problem for Favre was he clashed with then first-year Falcons coach Jerry Glanville and his coaching staff, which included offensive coordinator June Jones. Favre didn’t help himself considering his partying and freewheeling style, which at the time was kept rather quiet publicly, but something the quarterback admitted to later in his career.

Said Herock, “They ruined him down in our place, made a mockery of him. They didn’t know how to handle him.’’

What actually helped lead to the trade happened at the beginning of the 1991 season when Billy Joe Tolliver didn’t get the starting job in San Diego in preseason camp and several days later was traded to the Falcons for a fifth-round pick.

“I was told we needed a third-string quarterback and went out and got Billy,’’ said Herock. “Then I go out on the road for a week and come back for the game and see that Billy is activated as the second quarterback. I said, ‘What the hell is going on?’ But while I had control over picking the players, I couldn’t go into Jerry’s office and tell him who to play and who not to play.’’

While Miller as the starter that season, Tolliver played in seven games, but Favre threw only four passes (three incompletions and an interception) in what was a 10-6 season, a 27-20 win over New Orleans in the wild-card round before a 24-7 loss to Washington in the divisional playoffs.

Meanwhile, the word around the coaching staff about Favre kept getting worse, and Herock started to believe he may have made a mistake.

“I remember Brett would see me and ask me when we were going to start playing him,’’ he said. “I am thinking we have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Chris Miller and this rookie is telling me he is the best quarterback on the team. But the coaches were telling me he was drunk in meetings, was fat and erratic. After the season, I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. I thought it may be time to fess up and get rid of my mistake.’’

Having worked with Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf in both Oakland and Tampa Bay, Herock knew the Packers liked Favre. So Herock went to work.

“We were in a meeting and I remember one of the coaches saying I would be a genius if I could get a first-round pick for Brett,’’ he said. “I even asked for two first-round picks.’’

The rest is now history as Favre was traded after the ’91 season for Green Bay’s second first-rounder in 1992, which turned out to be running back Tony Smith from Southern Miss (19th overall). Smith never did much while Favre threw for 71,838 yards, 508 touchdowns and led the Packers to 11 postseasons, including two Super Bowls and one world title.

“When I made the pick of Brett, I thought I was drafting a great player,’’ said Herock. “I saw a kid with a strong arm but the biggest thing was I saw a kid who could win.’’

And that Favre did.