Point/counterpoint: Brett Favre
1. WAS THE TIMING OF HIS DECISION RIGHT?
Cole: I give Brett Favre a lot of credit this year for not drawing out this process, the way he had in recent years. If you’re going to walk, just walk and do your best by the team. I agree with Robinson that there are always regrets, but if you do’t have the passion, walk. This was the right decision from that standpoint. The Green Bay Packers now have time to cut the cord and move on. I’m a little disturbed by the implication that Green Bay’s failure to pursue wide receiver Randy Moss led Favre to this decision. If that’s the case, the timing is wrong and is an example of Favre being petulant. But I will give Favre the benefit of the doubt and believe he was leaning toward retirement anyway, not trying to lean on the Packers.
Robinson: Sure, he didn’t drag it out, but that doesn’t mean this was the right decision. You know how it is with athletes and regrets, Jason. I think this is going to be a classic case of a guy looking back five years from now and wishing he had gone one more year. What I don’t understand is this: Green Bay has found a franchise running back, established an excellent set of young wideouts, and developed some nice young talent on the offensive line. All of those components will only be better next season. And the front office can spend the offseason and the draft improving the depth and talent on defense. So why leave now, when the Super Bowl is so clearly within reach? The timing is fine, but I think the ultimate decision is one he’ll regret.
BRETT FAVRE RETIRES
2. WHERE DOES HE STACK UP ALL-TIME?
Cole: I saw one Internet poll in which people overwhelmingly voted Favre as the greatest of all-time. Now, I realize most people who use the Internet are under the age of 35, but this is ridiculous. Favre is great, but he ranks no higher than No. 4 to me and only this year passed Dan Marino for that spot on my list. If you throw in some of the ugly playoff performances he has had over the past six years, you could justify putting others such as Otto Graham ahead of him. My top three? Johnny Unitas is No. 1 because not only did he set every record at the time, he set them by a mile. He also won titles and, from a historic sense, he truly changed the way football was perceived in this country, particularly in the Giants-Colts game of 1958, which is often call “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” As hard as it is for this former Los Angeles Rams fan to admit, Joe Montana is second and was simply the best clutch passer ever and a guy who made everyone around him better. John Elway is third. He won two titles, went to five Super Bowls and if there were ever an all-time draft for QBs, he would probably go No. 1 because of his amazing physical gifts, including the greatest arm ever.
Robinson: No offense to the big exclamation point in the sky that is writing my paychecks, but who believes in Internet polls? I’ll believe in those when my brother is sending me clips of Sid Gillman from YouTube. Anyway, fourth fits like a glove, behind Unitas, Montana and Elway. Unitas was ahead of his time, like Jim Brown. Montana was the consummate winner. And Elway’s five Super Bowls, two rings and combination of clutch play and freakish arm vault him over the rest of the pack. Had Favre won more Super Bowls and thrown fewer interceptions, I’d be inclined to say he’s the best who ever played. But in reality, Favre probably only had four seasons when he was head and shoulders over the rest of his quarterbacking brethren. He was great, but not the greatest ever.
3. WILL HIS LEGEND REMAIN INTACT OR WILL IT FADE IN SOME RESPECTS?
Cole: As much as I would love to say that Favre’s streak of 275 straight starts, including playoffs, will stand the test of time, I can’t. Peyton Manning is already at 174 consecutive games and practically never gets hit. As for the 442 touchdown passes, Manning (306 already) will have that one in about five years and Manning will likely set every other mark by the time he’s done. What hurts Favre the most is that he didn’t win more titles or go to more Super Bowls. Yes, that’s a team accomplishment, but it’s what sets people apart.
Robinson: Undoubtedly, his records will fall (yes, probably to Manning) and his legacy will fade, as it has with Dan Marino. But while Manning could break that consecutive game streak of 275, he’ll never do it in the fashion Favre did it. Manning rarely gets his jersey dirty, while Favre was able to continue playing – and at a high level – despite getting pounded at various stages of his career. To be able to go through the things he did – family tragedies, various injuries and a Vicodin addiction – is just exhaustive. And for Favre to play through it all is truly one of the most amazing accomplishments in sports history.
4. DID HE LEAVE AN INDELIBLE MARK ON SPORTS?
Cole: This is an odd question because it’s similar to No. 4 in some ways, but also uniquely different because of who Favre is as a person. In some ways, Favre was a better athlete than he was a quarterback. He’s one of the two or three toughest quarterbacks of all-time. He set records. But more than anything, he was really fun to watch and he was a wonderful person to interview. He played the way he spoke, from the heart. Sometimes it was erratic, as his second half against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game showed. Sometimes it was beautiful, such as the way he played against Seattle in the second round of the playoffs. But it was always a show, an over-the-top event, like some super-sized carnival.
Robinson: Is there any doubt? First off, I disagree he was a better athlete than a quarterback. Quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes and many do different things. If anything, I think Favre had a dash of every quarterback in his game – from the pocket passers, to the option guys to the guys who just figured out how to win games no matter how ugly it looked. To me, that is Favre’s indelible mark. That he represented everything you want in a quarterback: Passion, leadership, physical ability, toughness, etc. Did it always look pretty? No. But those things defined him, the same way Michael Jordan was defined by his competitiveness and Wayne Gretzky was defined by his pure skill. And when people reminisce about this era of the NFL, Favre will be one of the first players that comes to mind. To me, that’s an indelible impression.
5. CAN AARON RODGERS SUCCEED?
Cole: Of course, my 30-something colleague knows little about pressure (he was about 12 when Steve Young celebrated a Super Bowl win by telling teammates to take the “monkey” off his back). Rodgers has done a lot of good things to this point in his career. He has been patient. He has gotten in shape. He has never said a cross word about Favre. But he is doomed to be consumed by the pressure of following a legend. For Green Bay fans who thought replacing Bart Starr was tough, Rodgers will be lucky if he becomes the second-coming of Lynn Dickey. The worst part about all of this is that Rodgers is now in a no-win situation because the perception is that the Packers are good enough and young enough to win right away. If Rodgers falters, he’s going to not only hear it from the Favre-o-philes, but he’s going to hear it from the small segment of fans who thought Favre was done.
Robinson: I couldn’t disagree more. Absolutely he can succeed. We get too caught up in history with this stuff about not being able to follow great players. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about Steve Young, who not only replaced Joe Montana, but made him expendable? Yes, teams like Miami and Denver saw the successors of their iconic quarterbacks flop in the long term. But none of them was better equipped coming in than Rodgers. Not only has he earned a great amount of seasoning while sitting behind Favre for three years, he is versed in the offense, and he has worked out most of the physical kinks in his game. He also has matured mentally, showing the patience and character some thought he lacked when he was being evaluated in the 2005 NFL draft. But here’s the most important thing: Rodgers has a good young team around him, which might count for more than anything.
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