In the final seasons the sideshow overwhelmed the actual show, the circus of the end, return, end, return, end of Brett Favre’s career making people forget how great he once was.
Maybe that’s what can change as Favre enters the curtain call era of his life, starting with his induction into the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame in 2015 and the retirement of his iconic green and gold No. 4. It will continue, almost assuredly, with a first-ballot entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
It’s time. More than time, actually, for a guy who helped define the league for nearly two decades to be remembered more for that and less for the soap opera that engulfed him.
"Wow, I'm speechless," Favre said Monday in a media teleconference. "I can't thank you enough. I'm honored. I mean that from the bottom of my heart."
In a sport defined by toughness, Favre may have been the toughest of them all, starting every game at quarterback for over 18 seasons, an NFL ironman record 297 regular-season games (321 if you count the playoffs, and why they don’t is anyone’s guess).
In a sport that prides itself on excitement, Favre was from a classic mold, seemingly always going for the daring play over the safe one, orchestrating wild scores and comeback drives and, yes, mind-numbing mistakes only to unapologetically try the same play again, oftentimes with success.
In a sport that values tradition, Favre was old school, hard-nosed on the field, hard partying off it, a winner rising up in pro football’s meritocracy from Southern Mississippi to a Super Bowl with the vaunted Green Bay Packers.
Yet by the time his streak ended at a neutral site game in Detroit – the Minnesota Vikings’ season and home stadium roof had both collapsed – and he officially called it quits a couple weeks later, he was mostly a punch line.
Too much retirement/unretirement drama. Too many look-at-me-I’m-humble media circuses. An awkward disconnect in Green Bay. A sexual harassment scandal whose details were so humiliating they overshadowed the severity of what went down.
His late career tour took him through New York and then Minneapolis, Favre always hanging on for one more run, yet only a playoff push with the Vikings to the NFC title game in January 2010 sparked any of that old joy.
Fans first tired of Favre and then began to mock him, and all the old memories, all the old victories, seemed to no longer carry any weight, even in Green Bay, where his feud with Packers management raged and Aaron Rodgers deftly stepped in and became the next legend.
So now starts the recall, the pumping up of the good times, the fading of the bad. Favre always came across as human, too human even, this Southern, rural good old boy with an affinity for cold beer (and more), a love of mowing his lawn and a gamer gene that simply can’t be denied.
“It was a tremendous honor to play 16 years for the Green Bay Packers,” Favre wrote on his website. “Now to have my name placed among others such as Starr, Hornung, Kramer, Taylor, Lambeau, Nitschke, Lombardi, Davis, White and Hutson is a special honor that I share with all of my teammates and coaches.”
On Sept. 20, 1992, Favre started his first game for the Packers and overcame a two-touchdown, second-half deficit to win 24-23. The game-winner was a 35-yard TD throw with 13 seconds remaining, causing Favre to rip off his helmet and run around like he just won the greatest game ever. It would become a signature.
He didn’t miss another start until Dec. 13, 2010, when the Vikings “hosted” the New York Giants in a hastily put together game in Detroit after the Metrodome roof caved in due to excessive snow. Favre had always wondered if he’d escape all those NFL linebackers trying to end the streak but a Buffalo Bill named Arthur Moats drilled his shoulder the week before and that was that.
Favre wound up standing on the sidelines just two miles from where Lou Gehrig’s baseball ironman streak ended in 1939 to much fanfare and a standing ovation from the visiting Detroit Tigers crowd. Gehrig wept on the bench.
This time there was no announcement, no acknowledgement and no reaction from the fans or Favre.
It just ended.
“Today it wasn’t all of a sudden a flood of emotions, memories,” he said that night, shrugging his shoulders. “[I heard people say] ‘I hate for the streak to end like this.’ End like what? It’s been a great run.”
He threw for 77,693 yards and 552 touchdowns (playoffs included) and orchestrated 48 comeback or game-winning drives. He reached two Super Bowls, winning one. The stats never really conveyed his career though.
Favre had always threatened to quit and return to Mississippi where no one could find him unless they were looking for a guy living a quiet life riding his lawn mower and coaching high school football. After three or four too many summer retirement watches, few believed he’d actually leave the spotlight.
Funny thing is, he did. And perhaps absence has made the heart grow fonder.
No matter how cool it became to mock him, no matter how absurd the controversy or the jokes, Favre is an all-timer. That’s worth remembering for everyone who got to watch him play.
He wasn’t the best, wasn’t the most talented, wasn’t the smartest or savviest. He wasn’t some superhero who cared more. He didn’t win more than the others. The guy chucked 366 interceptions, including the playoffs. He made so many errors and so many mistakes, but that was part of the charm. Something was going to happen when Favre went under center, and that meant every single week.
So now the bad blood in Green Bay is fading fast. The team does not actually operate the Packers Hall of Fame, but it’s housed at Lambeau Field and this comes with the blessing of the organization. They do control the No. 4 however.
And while in the past the Packers have expressed fears that the quarterback would be heavily booed if he returned to a game, here’s predicting the ovation will be thunderous. In a couple years, he’ll head to Canton, Ohio, headlining that class.
He never did anything like he was supposed to, not the good nor the bad, not the longevity nor the retirements.
It’s why something as obvious as the Packers retiring a number of a legend is actually national news.
Brett Favre never did anything quietly, no sense in changing now. Better to just appreciate what he was on the field.
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