JACKSON, Miss. — Long before Brett Favre was the spokesperson for Wrangler jeans, his closet was filled with some of the showiest three-piece suits ever tailored.
Favre began his Hall of Fame NFL career in 1991 with the Atlanta Falcons when they drafted the Kiln native out of Southern Miss in the second round. Two years prior, the Falcons used their first-round pick on another future Hall of Fame talent, cornerback Deion Sanders.
By the time Favre got to Atlanta, Sanders already was a household name as a two-sport superstar. And while a number of Favre’s other Falcons teammates took to ritualistically hazing the rookie, Sanders opted to mentor the kid he nicknamed “Country.”
“He was a megastar. I was far from that, but he took me under his wing,” Favre told The Clarion Ledger. “Somewhere within training camp within a few weeks of me arriving, he took me downtown to where he buys his clothes and jewelry and all that stuff, and he bought me probably five suits. Decked me out. Took care of me. I don’t know how much I wore them. I was more of a blue jeans and T-shirts kind of guy. But the point is he was a class act.”
Favre only played one season with the Falcons before he was traded to the Green Bay Packers. But 30 years later, Sanders and Favre are still close. Favre says the two have an almost familial relationship.
Now Sanders has moved to Favre’s native Mississippi to be the coach at Jackson State, where he’ll kick off his tenure at 1 p.m. Sunday against Edward Waters at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Favre was one of the first people Sanders called after accepting the job. Before the news was announced publicly, Sanders called Favre looking for contacts in Jackson.
“He said, ‘I need some people that can get some stuff done for me,’ ” Favre said. “He said, ‘You know Jackson State, they don’t have the resources. But I’m going to make sure we have the best.’ That’s Deion. I gave him as many names as I could. Everyone has been just in awe of Deion’s personality, his work ethic.”
Sanders told The Clarion Ledger that Favre didn’t just give him some contacts.
“No, he gave me a lot of contacts in Jackson,” Sanders said. “Not some. A lot. Very influential contacts, very prominent contacts. Very seasoned contacts. His contacts have helped me quite a bit, man, and I love him for it.”
Still, there was a part of Favre that was bummed Sanders chose the school he did.
“I tried my best to get Deion to be the head coach at Southern Miss,” Favre said. “Not because he’s my friend. I don’t know what kind of coach he’ll be. But if I was a betting man, I’d bet the farm that he’ll be a tremendous coach but an even better mentor to these young men.”
Favre said the best coaches he played under were more than X’s and O’s experts. They’re administrators, he said. They treat players like fathers treat sons. They’re just as invested in developing good men as they are in winning games.
Those are the qualities Favre said he sees in Sanders.
Even before his first game at Jackson State, Favre believes Sanders has done a tremendous job.
How can he not?
When it comes to recruiting, Favre said he can’t imagine how a high school athlete or family could say no to the man he describes as the best marketer in sports history.
It’d be easy for Favre to dislike Sanders. Quarterbacks and cornerbacks usually get along like personal trainers and cupcake salesmen. But even through the natural rivalry, Favre found a friend.
In Atlanta, Favre and Sanders had a bet that Sanders would owe Favre $5 every time Favre completed a pass on him and vice versa. Favre estimates he still probably owes Sanders $100.
As opponents, the relationship continued. No one was bigger than Favre in 1997. He was about to win his third straight NFL MVP award. He was a defending Super Bowl champion. In Week 13, Favre threw four touchdowns as his Packers beat Sanders’ Cowboys, 45-17.
But even then, at the peak of his storied career, Favre had no answer for Sanders. In the second quarter of that game, Sanders jumped an out-route at midfield and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
Favre gave chase but he knew he wouldn’t catch up. Sanders slowed down at the 2 to do his famous touchdown dance. Favre wasn’t offended, but he had to ask why.
“I run down there and he jumps into the end zone and I’m like ‘Deion, really?’ ” Favre said. “He’s like ‘I told you Country, don’t ever try me.’ I said, ‘You’re right. You’re right.’ “
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