Time is starting to catch up with Mike Favor. It’s not represented by the layer of salt and pepper hair on his head or the stoic way he maneuvers his retired football player body around the offices of District 281 in Minneapolis. It’s not even his health, which is presumably fine, or his mind that remains as sharp as the tacks that hold the various Aristotle quotes on the wall around his office clock. The subtleties of time waning appear throughout his day-to-day life.
It was time for the former All-American center’s annual checkup and physical with his doctor. When Favor walked into Dr. Bryan Post’s office, it was the first time they’d seen each other in years. Favor didn’t recognize him, but Dr. Post was looking at one of his former heroes on the Bison football team.
“Do you remember me?” asked the doctor.
“No,” responded Favor.
“I’m Bryan Post. I was Josh’s friend and you used to play football with us before Bison games.”
It was a tradition for Favor to run around the bright green artificial turf on Dacotah Field with the kids before Bison football games in the 80s. Dr. Post was one of Rocky Hager’s son Josh’s best friends and fellow ball boy. Favor was in shock that his past was starting to catch up with him.
This random encounter with a former admirer is just a glimpse of what life is now like for Favor. The three-time national champion finds himself rubbing elbows with people connected with NDSU in one way or another more than ever before. Even his dissertation advisor is a Bison.
Over the past handful of years, Favor has been taking steps to becoming Dr. Favor, through the doctorate program at St. Cloud State. Dr. Roger Worner is the one responsible for guiding “Spank,” Favor’s popular nickname given to him by teammates, through the doctoral process.
“These people, NDSU people, have been instrumental in my life,” Favor said. “Bruce Saum, who was my line coach in college. To this day, I still call him when I’m making decisions. He’s still my coach.”
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” – Aristotle
Favor was a four-year starter on the Bison offensive line from 1985-88. He won three national championships, earned two first- team All-American selections and was inducted to into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003. But the most impactful attribute Favor possesses goes widely unnoticed to people outside of NDSU football. The influence he’s had on generations of players that have come after him makes Favor one of the most prominent football alum of the 1980s.
“We talk about NDSU for me, there’s this standard of excellence,” Favor said. “Winning those championships really was a training ground for life, and what you do in life. You don’t to it half way. You’re there early, and you stay late, that’s the Bison Way.”
Favor is now living the Bison Way as an executive director for District 281 in Minneapolis. His best friend Yorrick “Snuffy” Byers, an All-American linebacker for the Bison during the 80s dynasty, has joined forces at the district with his former NDSU teammate. The two have helped carry the Bison Pride tradition since graduating and it all started when they were both at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Minneapolis in the early 1990s.
In spring of 1992, Snuffy and Favor had been away from the football team for three years. One day, head coach Hager gave Favor a call. He needed the former All American’s help. At the time, the Bison had this safety. He was tall, long, athletic, but causing headaches for the coaching staff during his first couple of semesters at NDSU. So, Hager called Favor to see if he’d meet with this player during Spring Ball, to help get the Bison football message across to this talented individual. Favor figured he needed his friend’s help. Bringing Snuffy into a situation to provide a little muscle was the idea. Again, this was a guy who almost killed Chad Stark in practice his freshman year, ultimately giving him the starting outside linebacker position as a true freshman.
So Snuffy and Favor made the trip to Fargo. They met with a 19-year-old Isreal Moses after practice. Moses spent his four years of high school in Minneapolis but grew up in Harlem, New York. This task wasn’t going to be easy for the former Bison.
“I’ll never forget it,” Moses said. “I didn’t know who he (Favor) was. I had heard about him. He took me out, just to meet. We talked for hours.”
“We explained the Bison Way and what we expect of him and he’s not going to embarrass us,” Favor said. “I think we may have scared Isreal a little bit because I was about to turn Snuffy loose on him. But we had to explain to him that we care about you, and this is a wonderful opportunity and it’s bigger than just football.
“We played in different generations, but the core of who we are lies within that Bison expectations,” Favor said. “I had a duty to come back and make sure Isreal was doing well.”
Moses would go on to fulfill the expectations of a Bison football player. He continued the legacy established by Todd DeBates, Casey Bradley, Ken Clark, Todd Zabel and so many of the safeties that came before him. By his senior year, Moses was voted second-team All-American and first-team all-North Central Conference.
Snuffy and Favor’s time with Moses wasn’t a one-off. Their relationship continued after Moses’s graduation in the spring of 1996. Favor was in the graduate program at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and inspired Moses to join him. Favor took two years to graduate, it took Moses one, and they graduated together in 1999 with education leadership master’s degrees.
“We forged this relationship and he’s been an older brother for me,” Moses said. “I have two older sisters, but he’s been that older brother, to be that voice of reason and guidance. It all started out of some of my struggles and having the coaches who believed in me and saw the potential, then contacting someone who they knew had a strong influence.”
Moses has been an educator for over 16 years. He’s spent time as high school assistant principal, principal and administrator. He can track everything, including his principal and superintendent license back to a relationship that formed during one of the most tumultuous times of his life.
“It’s been a great career, but it started with that influence from Mike Favor,” Moses said. “His caring heart morphed into mine.”
Today, Moses is officially working under Favor for the first time. He came to District 281 this year as an academic dean.
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.”
Snuffy and Favor’s journey to working together is a little more complicated. The two went throughout high school playing against each other, Snuffy at Roosevelt High School and Favor at North Minneapolis. The two had epic battles on the high school gridiron. Favor, a year older, was already at NDSU when the highly- sought-after Snuffy was being recruited by every big school in the surrounding states. What ultimately led Snuffy to choose NDSU when he met the green and yellow plaid dressed Earle Solomonson was the opportunity to play from day one. But he had to start at the bottom of the totem pole and make his way up.
“We had some outstanding teams, but Snuffy never redshirted. He competed from day one,” Favor said. “He was on the meat squad because he was going against the varsity, and I remember I thought he was going to kill Chad Stark. He hit Chad so hard. I never seen anyone hit Chad Stark that hard. After that practice, he got promoted because Chad was incredible. Snuffy bent him straight backward. I thought he killed Chad. I’m serious. All you heard was BOOM.”
Snuffy and Favor were roommates for three years at NDSU. Favor laughs when he claims, “Because I was the only one who could tolerate him.”
Snuffy spent a year playing semi- professional football while Favor worked in Fargo at Luther Hall after graduation. The two went to St. Joseph’s hospital together for some time before Snuffy moved to Duluth, Minn. with his wife and five kids. Snuffy worked in a mental hospital in Duluth, in the psych ward. “He was a linebacker so he was probably in the psych ward,” laughs Favor.
The two still bust each other’s chops like they live in a college dorm room together.
Favor returned to Minneapolis to further his education and work in the city he calls home. He was an assistant principal and dean of students at St. Louis Park High School, and he served as principal at North Community High School. In 2007, he became the principal at Cooper High School.
In July 2013, he left to become the District 281 executive director of student services and secondary schools. He currently oversees staff and student functions and monitors student behavior in the district, including the Alternative Learning Center.
Before receiving his position, it was Favor’s turn to put in a call for help. He rung his old friend Snuffy up in Duluth, telling him it was time he come home, and help, not only Favor, but the kids living in the community that raised him.
“Snuff has a gift,” Favor said. “Snuff has a unique gift to engage and move people from their thinking to getting people in the right direction.”
Snuffy has served for four years at District 281 as an education assistant. He’s in the school throughout the day, mentoring kids and putting them in situations to succeed.
“When I was working at St. Joe’s, and even some of the schools I’ve worked in, there are some intense and sometimes scary situations, and there’s nobody better than Snuffy in a situation when you need your back watched,” Favor said. “Everything from diffusing to going to homes where parents are on drugs or going to a gang leaders place, and confronting a gang leader and telling them that they’re not going to operate out of their school anymore. Taking Snuffy with you is wise and nobody does it better.”
Favor sees his executive director position in the same way he saw his job on Dacotah Field. He was the offensive lineman. His role is to move the defenders out of the way. Today, the only difference is that the ball carriers are the children of District 281, and it’s Favor’s responsibility to open holes for student success.
With Favor creating space for opportunity, Snuffy bringing the muscle and compassion, and Moses as a mentor for students, District 281 is in as good of hands as it’s ever been.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
Snuffy, Favor and Moses’s relationship epitomizes the Bison Way and the sense of pride embedded in student-athletes at NDSU. Although neither of the three played with him, Favor is quick to reference Mike Whetstone while talking about the character development at NDSU.
Whetstone was a first-team All-American offensive guard for the Bison from 1980-83. In 1988, he discovered he had cancer. Six months later, as he lay in his hospital bed awaiting his inevitable demise, the Bison were in the 1988 Division II championship game against Portland State. He sent a taped message to the team and the Bison played it before taking the field. It was going to be Snuffy and Favor’s last game in the green and yellow.
“Anyone who has been a Bison or will be a Bison will some day relate to what I’m saying,” Whetstone began. “Deep down, Bison Pride is the love we have for each other. I have noticed over the years that my true friends, my true life, everything evolves around Bison players and Bison people. I have friends outside of football, but for the most part, everything comes back to football, Bison football.”
The Bison would defeat Portland State 35-21 for their fourth title of the decade. Three days later, Whetstone died.
“Bison Pride is about sacrifice for everybody in the room for the success of all. That sacrifice, when your Bison brother loses his mother or his father, and you get in the car, and you drive 300 miles because they can’t and will not be alone because they are one of your teammates, that’s sacrifice, that’s expected. The Bison Way,” Favor said. “Winning the national championship my senior year, getting off the plane and going to see Mike in the Hospice long enough for him to wake up and recognize I was there, and he was proud of me. That’s the Bison Way.”
Moses says he still applies it in his everyday life. When Favor suggests he takes a new job or to go back to school, he knows Favor has his best interest at heart. Moses also uses the principles he learned at NDSU with his family. He teaches his three kids that Bison Time means getting somewhere 15 minutes beforehand and to never be underprepared for class or a task at work.
“It’s important for my children to see dad’s success there and how he’s still connected,” Moses said. “The opportunity to go to college and get an academic enrichment coupled with football or a sport, that’s a tremendous honor.”
Moses, Snuffy and Favor are still close with the football team. Before last season, head coach Chris Klieman gave Snuffy and Favor the opportunity to speak to the football team on the eve of their five-peat campaign.
“We told them what tradition is about,” Snuffy said. “What it meant to us and where we were in our lives and how we got there. Letting these guys know that they have a standard to uphold and to stay together and you’ll be fine. You have to be upfront, you have to be a leader and a role model because everybody is watching you.”
Snuffy and Moses have made a pack to drive to Fargo at least once a year to watch the Bison. Last season, they came to watch the UND game, and they’ll be back this season, hopefully in September.
As for Favor, time is the issue. Soon he’ll begin the final stages of his doctoral degree and this summer he’ll begin his plans to further enhance the education process for the students of District 281. But as he sits back in his corner office at Winnetka Ave. in Minneapolis, he can look above his computer, at the wall near the door and see the seconds hand tick, and know deep down, he’s lived the words on the wall, and he will continue living that way until there’s no time left.