Sun Herald archives 2008: USM’s DB recruit becomes starting QB

Brett Favre looks for a receiver during game against Texas A&M in Jackson. Favre passed for over 1000 yards in each of seasons as a Golden Eagle.
Brett Favre looks for a receiver during game against Texas A&M in Jackson. Favre passed for over 1000 yards in each of seasons as a Golden Eagle. File

Brett Favre spent more time handing the ball off than slinging it in his high school days, so perhaps it wasn’t much of a surprise he wasn’t a heavily recruited quarterback at Hancock North Central High School.

Actually, that’s an exaggeration. Only Southern Miss, Tulane and Delta State were interested in Favre. USM took him as a defensive back.

It’s funny, then, and a little surreal, that a few months after signing with Southern Miss, Favre had become the Golden Eagles’ starting quarterback. He took over in the second half of USM’s home game with Tulane and threw two touchdown passes, sending Southern Miss to a 31-24 victory at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Sept. 19, 1987.

Favre passed for 1,264 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman, and the Golden Eagles didn’t start throwing the ball more until his sophomore year, after Curley Hallman replaced Jim Carmody. By then, though, he’d shown a winning touch. The Golden Eagles went 10-2 in 1988 and defeated Texas-El Paso 38-18 in the Independence Bowl.

Southern Miss won just five games in Favre’s junior year, but he had a sensational game on opening day, throwing the winning touchdown pass to beat sixth-ranked Florida State 30-26 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Favre’s senior year at USM was almost over before it began. He was involved in a serious automobile accident less than a mile from his parents’ home in Hancock County. His elder brother, Scott, got him out of the car with a set of golf clubs. He was hospitalized with a concussion, lacerations and cracked vertebrae; less than a month later he had 30 inches of intestine removed because of complications.

By September, however, Favre was back on the field. And he guided Southern Miss to a memorable 27-24 upset of Alabama at Birmingham’s Legion Field.

“You can call it an upset, or a miracle, or whatever term you want to use,” Alabama coach Gene Stallings said that day. “All I know is Brett Favre was larger than life.”

The Golden Eagles finished 8-4 in Favre’s final season in Hattiesburg. Their four losses — to Georgia, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State — came by a combined 12 points. Southern Miss was an NCAA Division I-A independent in those days, and had just three home games in 1990, Favre’s senior year.

The Golden Eagles upset Auburn 13-12 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in their regular-season finale.

“I remember the final time playing at Roberts Stadium (a 24-7 victory over Memphis on Oct. 20, 1990) and how I wished it never had to end,” Favre once said. “I wouldn’t trade those four years for anything in the world.”

A few months later, Favre was on his way to the NFL.

He remains a Southern Miss icon, however, and the university has retired his No. 4 jersey. He passed for 7,695 yards and 52 touchdowns in his USM career — records that stand to this day.