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DETROIT – Talked out of another retirement in August, Brett Favre(notes) found a public that had long tired of his summer dramas. He found in his return to the Minnesota Vikings a receiving corps that was battered, a defense that was defenseless and a losing streak he couldn’t fix.
He found a coach he couldn’t coexist with (Brad Childress was fired by midseason). He found Randy Moss(notes), for a month. He found a body that couldn’t heal like it once did. He found an off-field scandal that was more humiliating than his most ill-fated interception. He found a home stadium with a collapsed roof.
[Stunning video: Vikings stadium roof collapse]
And finally Brett Favre found himself here, on a bizarre, bitter cold night in snow-packed Detroit, in front of a two-thirds full stadium with the Vikings logo hastily painted over the Detroit Lion.
He found himself on the sideline, in black workout pants, a black T-shirt and a purple ski hat watching the start of an NFL game for the first time since Sept. 13, 1992. It ended the NFL-record ironman streak at 297 regular-season games (321 if you count the playoffs).
In 1939, not two miles from here at the old Briggs Stadium, the New York Yankees' Lou Gehrig benched himself, ending baseball’s then-record 2,130 consecutive game mark. Seventy-one years later, Favre essentially did the same by declaring himself unfit to play.
“I’ve played through a lot of stuff,” he said softly postgame, a 21-3 Giants victory over the listless Vikings. “This is something different.”
Favre claimed he’d never envisioned how the streak would end, but this certainly couldn’t have been it. Both metaphorically and meteorologically it had all caved in on him this season.
[Rewind: Woman in Favre scandal offers deal]
Maybe he figured it would’ve happened back in Green Bay, when he was beloved by Packers fans and he could’ve taken a rollicking curtain call. Or maybe it would’ve been during a promising season where a one-game injury couldn’t quiet the promise of a potential Super Bowl. Or maybe it would’ve never come at all and Favre could’ve just happily mowed his lawn back in Mississippi, grinning that generations of NFL linebackers never could get him.
Instead a Buffalo Bill named Arthur Moats did, nailing Favre last Sunday and leaving his shoulder hurt and his hands tingling. All week Favre kept expecting his health to improve, kept figuring he’d be out there ready to play.
[Rewind: Favre's tearful apology to team]
“I had broken my foot and walked in a boot,” he said of one injury. “I broke my thumb and ended up playing the best nine-, 10-week stretch of my career,” he said of another.
This was different, though. This was the end. His website was selling commemorative items celebrating the streak before kickoff. He spent the game casually talking on the sideline. There was little reaction from the neutral site crowd of 45,910, lured in by free tickets and a heated Ford Field.
[Photo: Favre spotted with purple hand]
With Favre, the end was just the end. Quiet. Uneventful. Passionless.
For a quarterback that has never been any of those things, that, perhaps more than anything, was the surprise.
“Today it wasn’t all of a sudden a flood of emotions, memories,” he said.
[Photo: Favre’s high school picture surfaces]
Favre couldn’t commit to playing again. He’s sure to call it quits for good at season’s end – three more games. He said he won’t play if he can’t feel his hand. He hadn’t thought about whether or not he’d stick around the team if he has to shut it down. The NFL still hasn’t ruled on a potential sexual harassment case – and would likely welcome his retirement.
The Vikings are a horrible 5-8, their performance Monday so spiritless that tight end Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) teared up in the locker room discussing the embarrassment. The season has no hope, plenty of misery.
Nearby Favre sat at his locker eating a slice of pepperoni from Bosco Pizza (“Quality Since 1988”). He’d showered postgame and then grimaced as he slipped a T-shirt and olive green sweater over his head. His No. 4 Viking equipment bag sat in front of his locker, unzipped and untouched. There had never really been a chance he would play.
He has gray hair, looks bored and actually sounded concerned about how all these NFL beatings are going to affect him in retirement.
From the outside, this entire season has been a disaster and this was a fitting conclusion.
A year ago he was the kid who wouldn’t grow up, leading a wild locker room playoff victory celebration by singing the joke song “Pants on the Ground.” Today, that’s just a punch line. He couldn’t even be hurt in peace – the Internet was full of conspiracy theories and jokes.
In the end, nothing’s the same.
“Not at all,” he said when asked if he regretted returning. “I knew coming in there was nothing left to prove. I knew duplicating what we did last year was going to be very difficult.”
He wasn’t making this season out to be better than it was. It was a gamble he admitted. The chance he might regret not giving it one more try had sucked him in, he said. He went to the wall. It didn’t budge when he hit it. Most players would be forgiven for trying. Favre has apparently used up his goodwill with many fans, who reveled in his failure, enjoyed watching his perceived ego do him in.
“[I heard people say] ‘Hate for the streak to end like this,’” Favre said. “End like what? It’s been a great run.”
For years he’d been one of the NFL’s most popular players, this dashing, daring quarterback up in Green Bay. The streak should say enough about him. In a sport defined by toughness, he might be the toughest of them all. Only then came the annual tearful retirements; the test of wills; the text messages. He somehow became a polarizing figure. Maybe it was his true self finally revealed. Maybe it was society’s interest in tearing apart its heroes.
In 1939, when Gehrig sat for the first time in years, the Detroit crowd gave him a standing ovation as he sat slumped in the dugout, his eyes welling with tears.
There was no such touching moment for Brett Favre. There was no such heartfelt gesture. The atmosphere was too sterile, the soap opera too fresh, the hero too modern.
Brett Favre’s streak just ended.
After all the glory and all the games, he just returned to the depressed locker room of a bad football team, grabbed his jacket and headed out into the cold, cold night air.