CHICAGO - Brett Favre thought he was up to the task. Oh, was he wrong. Since Favre took over as the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback on Sept. 27, 1992 - a job he has held non-stop for the Packers' 271 games since - the Chicago Bears have started 21 quarterbacks, the most in the NFL over that span. And when Favre was asked last week how many of the 21 he could name, he responded with a confident smile.
"I could probably could name a pretty good bit," Favre said, "because I consider myself a historian …"
Before we get to the Doris Kearns Goodwin of the NFL and his YouTube-worthy attempt at the list, here's they are, in alphabetical order: Henry Burris, Chris Chandler, Will Furrer, Brian Griese, Rex Grossman, Jim Harbaugh, Chad Hutchinson, Erik Kramer, Craig Krenzel, Dave Krieg, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Rick Mirer, Moses Moreno, Kyle Orton, Jonathan Quinn, Steve Stenstrom, Kordell Stewart, Steve Walsh and Peter Tom Willis.
Now, Favre's version.
"Uh, let's see … Harbaugh," Favre began, recalling the first Bears QB he faced, on Oct. 25, 1992. "Grossman. Was (Jim) McMahon, was he a starter?"
Um, no, Brett, he was bouncing around to Philadelphia, Minnesota, Arizona by then, before backing you up in 1995 and '96, remember?
"Peter Tom Willis, maybe? Is that one?"
Indeed he was. Then, some helpful soul offered up Moreno.
"Yeah, him too," Favre said. "Henry Burris maybe?"
Then another guy suggested Krenzel.
"I wouldn't have guessed that one. I've heard the name, but I wouldn't have guessed that one," Favre admitted. "What's the other one, from Stanford? Stenstrom. Was he one? There's one you guys didn't know."
Then finally, after a pause, came the confession. "I'm struggling here," Favre said.
And with that, the exercise ended in laughter.
But the point had been made: Without reliable, effective play at quarterback, your chances of winning consis-tently are severely reduced. While the Packers have won six division titles, two conference titles, one Super Bowl and reached the playoffs 11 times (counting this year) during the Favre era, the Bears have just four playoff berths, three division titles and one NFC championship (last year, en route to losing Super Bowl XLI) over the same span.
Call it proof positive that the revolving door at QB leads only to disappointment.
"The teammates, you always see them say the right things for the most part - 'Yeah, he's our guy.' Well, two weeks later, (it's), 'This is our guy,' " said Favre, who was knocked out of the Packers' Nov. 29 loss at Dallas and replaced by backup Aaron Rodgers, only to return to the lineup the next week against Oakland.
"Knowing who the quarterback is, knowing what to expect from them and getting those results, is, I don't want to say it's overlooked at least here, but you get used to it - and that's a good thing."
Continuity is key
No one has to tell Packers coach Mike McCarthy how fortunate the franchise is. Before his hiring, McCarthy was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, and during the 2005 season, the 49ers started four quar-terbacks: Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett and No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith.
"When you have the same quarterback playing for you for (16) years, and he's the No. 1 quarterback in the history of the league," said McCarthy, who has watched Favre set the NFL career records for wins, touchdown passes, passing yards, attempts, completions and interceptions. "You have the opportunity to have continuity. You're able to build from year to year, change course with your offense based on other personnel. It gives you tremendous flexibility.
"I hope it happens again. I told Aaron, 'If you just give us 15 (years), it will be OK.' "
The Bears can only dream of such good fortune. After reaching the Super Bowl last season with Grossman at quarterback, the QB carousel is spinning again. Coach Lovie Smith benched Grossman in favor of Griese after three games, only to see Griese (12 interceptions, 10 touchdowns, 75.6 passer rating) struggle before suffering a shoulder injury.
The injury forced Smith to go back to Grossman (four TDs, seven INTs, 54.2 completion percentage, 66.4 rating) until Grossman suffered a partially torn MCL in his left knee Dec. 6 against Washington. That left Orton, who went 10-5 as a starter in 2005, to start Monday night's loss to Minnesota.
"Kyle did some good things last week. It's hard for me to say someone really played well when you lose the foot-ball game," said Smith, who should have Griese available today if he decides to make a mid-game switch. "As far as long-term, it's about short-term for us right now. Kyle will start this week against the Packers, and we expect him to play better this week than he did last."
Said Orton: "It's been a tough year on offense for us (as a whole), and also at the quarterback position. I just know whoever it is out there at quarterback, we prepare as hard as we can and play as hard as we can."
On the lookout - again
Of course, that isn't good enough, so after the season, the Bears will have to come up with a long-term plan for the position. Grossman, their first-round pick in 2003, will be an unrestricted free agent and figures to sign else-where. Griese, 32, clearly is not the answer. Orton isn't either.
"The Bears are going to start all over again now," NBC analyst John Madden said during a conference call ear-lier this season. "That was their dilemma with Rex Grossman. If he wasn't the guy, then they had to find the guy that was going to be their future, and that was going to take them five or six or seven years. That seems to have been the dilemma of the Bears for a long time. I always laugh about this, every time you do a Bear game and you talk about quarterbacks, you ultimately get back to Sid Luckman.
"You say, 'Well they haven't had a good quarterback, and (the response) is, 'Well remember, they had Sid Luckman.' That was before I was born, I think."
Luckman's last year with the Bears? Try 1950.
"Some teams never get a great running back; some teams can't get wide receivers; some can't get defensive line-men or linebackers or corners," Madden said. "The Chicago Bears, for whatever reason, can't get quarterbacks."
Not only that, but they haven't exactly tried hard to develop one.
Since drafting BYU's McMahon in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft, the Bears have used their first pick on a quarterback three other times: 1987, on Michigan's Harbaugh; 1999, on UCLA's McNown; and 2003, on Florida's Grossman.
They've used eight other picks on QBs since McMahon: Montclair State's Mark Casale (ninth round, 1984); Utah State's Brent Snyder (seventh round, 1989); Florida State's Willis (third round, 1990); Arizona State's Paul Justin (seventh round, 1991); Virginia Tech's Furrer (fourth round, 1992); Colorado State's Moreno (seventh round, 1998); Ohio State's Krenzel (fifth round, 2004); and Purdue's Orton (fourth round, 2005). They also traded their first-round pick in 1997 to Seattle for Mirer.
Meanwhile, the Packers have drafted nine QBs during the Favre era, despite his ironman streak: Washington's Mark Brunell (fifth round, 1993); Alabama's Jay Barker (fifth round, 1995); USC's Kyle Wachholtz (seventh round, 1996); Army's Ronnie McAda (seventh round, 1997); Boston College's Matt Hasselbeck (sixth round, 1998); Vir-ginia's Aaron Brooks (fourth round, 1999); Northwestern (La.) State's Craig Nall (fifth round, 2002); Cal's Rodgers (first round, 2005); and Furman's Ingle Martin (fifth round, 2006).
Brunell (Jacksonville) and Hasselbeck (Seattle) became Pro Bowl players for other teams; Brooks played in 93 games for New Orleans and Oakland; Nall signed a lucrative free-agent deal with Buffalo but never played for the Bills and is back with the Packers as the No. 3.
"Even though they've had Brett Favre there forever and a day and he's had all this success, they never stopped developing quarterbacks in Green Bay," said NBC and NFL Network analyst Cris Collinsworth. "They just ended up playing for everybody else.
"I'm now of the belief that either you have (a great quarterback) and you're competitive, or you don't, and you're not. There just aren't very many teams that have made it to the big game that didn't have one of those upper-echelon guys. For all the up-and-down movement we see in the league every single year … the only teams that seem to be able to stay there consistently are the ones that have that guy playing under center."
4 'will play forever'
When Favre broke down in tears after last year's New Year's Eve victory over the Bears at Soldier Field, Smith thought the same thing most fans did: That Favre was ready to call it a career, and it might force the Packers to experience some of the same quarterbacking heartache their archrivals have endured.
No such luck, of course, and Favre is enjoying one of his finest seasons and enters today's game having com-pleted a career-best 67.1 percent of his passes for 3,905 yards, 26 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 97.7 passer rating.
Meanwhile, the Bears' woes continue.
"I was hoping this year that we were (rid of him). Because he's a great player," Smith admitted. "I, like most people that know football, are fans of his for what he's done for the game. He's one of the all-time great competi-tors out there.
"So when your No. 1 rival loses a player like that, I mean, you're waiting for those type of days. But I've gone past that. I think Brett Favre will play forever, so we're just going to have to deal with him."