by Mike Miller
January 22, 2010 – As Who Dat Nation prepares for the biggest game in New Orleans Saints history, a pair of Southeastern Louisiana University football players may have played an unknown, but pivotal role in what will transpire this weekend. Back in the heat and humidity of last summer, two Lions went to Mississippi to work out with Brett Favre. One of the Lions even managed to make his way onto national television and became a video sensation. Here’s the hidden truth behind the story that could end up with the New Orleans Saints finally making it to the Super Bowl.It all began one quiet day in Hammond, when Lions seniors Brad Babin and Merrick Lanaux got a chance to go Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and work out with Favre. The former NFL star was recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder and was trying for a comeback after his release from the New York Jets. Zack Harrington, a former Lions recruit and a volunteer assistant at Oak Grove High School asked his friends to come up provide some targets for Favre’s passes. He wanted to work out with some college age players after having exhausted the high school players. Both thought it as a great chance to learn from one of the NFL all-time greats. Babin was a two-year starter at quarter for the Lions and Lanaux a wide receiver coming off an injury that caused him to red-shirt during the 2008 season.
The pair, especially Lanaux didn’t know what they were in for.
Both Babin and Lanaux were delighted to meet the NFL star. “He’s the coolest guy,” said Lanaux. “Impressive cat,” was how Babin described Favre. They would soon find out just how impressive Favre really was.
Once on the field, Lanaux got a chance to see and feel the throwing arm that made Favre famous. Babin snapped the ball to Favre and Lanaux ran a short pass route. Before Lanaux realized it, Favre, who had backed off on his passes to the high school receivers, let one go with all the mustard the Super Bowl hero could deliver. Babin standing on the side could only watch helplessly as his close friend was about to be on the receiving end of a shot that was to be heard and seen around the world. Not knowing the velocity that Favre was going to put on the pass, turned and immediately took the ball right between the eyes! The ball bounced off the face mask of his helmet. In football terms, he took “one of the grill”.
“Unbelievable,” was how Lanaux described the pass. Favre laughed about it for the rest of the work out. What neither player realized at the time was that television cameras caught the pass and soon the images were flashing across television screen all over America. “My phone blew up,” said Lanaux, referring to all the calls he got from people telling him that they had just seen him on television. “Hey man, you’re on [ESPN’s] Sports Center.
Commentators on the NFL Network talked about Favre having regained the strength in his arm after the surgery. ESPN, which had been on “Favre Watch”, was equally excited. Unfortunately, Lanaux never got his name credited; he was only the unfortunate receiver who got his brief moment of fame (or infamy) in the national spotlight.
The pass may not have been the one that convinced Favre that he could still play in the NFL, but it didn’t hurt his chances. The Minnesota Vikings had already offered Favre a contract and head coach Brad Childress had previously come down to Favre’s Mississippi home to meet and discuss the Vikings starting quarterback position. After a little indecision (a Favre specialty during the off season), the Vikings got their man, and the Saints got the opponent that they have to beat if they are to bring New Orleans its long awaited first trip to the Super Bowl.
Babin and Lanaux both came away with a good experience. “By the time we left, he knew us both by name,” said Lanaux. Both were taken by just how friendly and done home Favre really was.
The Southeastern pair finished their careers this past fall as the Lions recorded their best season since the return of football back in 2003. The Lions finished 6-5 and were in the hunt for the Southland Conference championship until the final week of the season. Babin, a three year starter at quarterback finished a record setting career with over 7,000 passing yards. Lanaux ended his career as one of the Lions top 10 all-time receivers.