Cynicism shouldn't lessen appreciation for Favre
So this is it: Brett Favre, one of the greatest quarterbacks of his era, has decided to call it quits after 18 memorable seasons. At 39, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer will retire to spend time with his family in Mississippi and permanently close the book on his legendary career.
Yeah, that was a bit of skepticism from the Ebenezer Scrooge of NFL columnists, at least when it comes to this issue. I'm not trying to suggest that Favre's decision to inform the New York Jets he plans to retire wasn't a sincere one, but the cynic in me can't help but wonder about its finality.
Has Favre actually left the building for the final time?
(The Star Ledger/US Presswire)
Having followed this story through last year's offseason drama – from Favre's tearful retirement news conference last March to his dramatic return to the Green Bay Packers in early August to the ultimate unraveling of his relationship with the franchise and the unthinkable trade to the Jets that followed – I'm a bit jaded when it comes to viewing things in terms of forever.
As I digest Wednesday's story, first reported by ESPN.com and later confirmed by the Jets, that Favre is walking away, so many questions race through my mind:
• Might Favre, as training camp approaches, have another change of heart?
• If so, would he try to secure his outright release in the hope of joining the Minnesota Vikings – the team he wanted to play for all along as last summer's drama unfolded?
• Could Favre use his hefty cap number (reportedly $13 million) as leverage to gain his freedom, especially given that the Jets will certainly have acquired a new presumed starter by this summer?
• Has Brad Childress gotten his hands on a non-Vikings-issued cell phone yet – and is he texting a number with a 601 area code as I type?
Given Favre's recent track record, I believe it's valid to ponder any of these potential scenarios. Yet I don't want to spend the day fretting over what might take place down the road, when this very well may be the end of the line for an icon that has been understandably ambivalent about a very difficult decision.
I've known Favre a long, long time, and covering him has been a distinct pleasure. If this is indeed the last we will see of him as an active player, as he says it is, then it's time once again for my inner cynic to get a beat-down from the sappy sentimentalist who wrote about Favre through so many triumphs along the way.
Once again, let's take a step back to marvel at what Favre has accomplished over his tremendous career – and, yes, that includes the 2008 season, in all its seemingly disappointing splendor.
I realize that Favre's final campaign ended in brutal fashion, as the Jets went from presumed Super Bowl contender to also-ran with a flameout that featured four defeats in their last five games. I know that the quarterback looked old and ineffective while throwing nine interceptions against two touchdown passes during that stretch.
And I guarantee I'm not the only one wondering today whether Favre would've been wiser to stay retired last summer and accept the reported 10-year, $25-million marketing deal offered by the Packers. ( Down, cynic. Down boy.)
With all of that said, counterintuitive as it might sound, I'm going to declare that Favre's single season with the Jets was a success.
First, there is the matter of context. Favre was dealt to the Jets two weeks into training camp and had to digest a new system and acclimate himself to unfamiliar teammates. He was joining a franchise, which released a popular (albeit much maligned) veteran starter (Chad Pennington) to facilitate his presence, that had finished 4-12 the previous year.
After years of enjoying near hero worship in Green Bay, where fans were known to shovel the snow out of his driveway in appreciation, Favre stepped into the scrutiny of the nation's largest and least delicate media market and had to get it done on the fly.
He could've utterly bombed, and it would've been understandable.
Instead, he helped transform a mediocre team into one capable of competing on the highest level.
In September, Favre threw six touchdown passes in a 56-35 victory over the eventual NFC champion Cardinals.
In November, he performed brilliantly in leading the Jets to an overtime victory over the Patriots in Foxborough.
The following week he went to Nashville and had another big day in guiding New York to a 34-13 thrashing of the Titans, who had come into the game with a league-best 10-0 record.
At that point, no one on earth could contend that Favre's instincts from a few months earlier – that he still had more great football to give – were wrong.
This brings us to the second reason Favre, despite the sloppy ending that followed (and one which may well have been at least partly attributable to a torn biceps tendon in his throwing shoulder), can be satisfied that going to the Jets was the right call.
Clearly, more than any of us can imagine, the man wanted to prove a point. Rightly or wrongly, he felt like the Packers had pushed him into walking away from the franchise he loved and, when he tried to return, rebuffed him like an unwanted has-been.
In Favre's mind, this was about showing Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy – and anyone who might have dared to agree with them, myself included – that they blew it by turning over the team to Aaron Rodgers when they could've had at least one more season with a still-functioning legend running the show.
Of all the comments Favre has made over the past 11 months, since this whole retirement saga began in earnest, the ones he made to ESPN's Ed Werder in early January might have been the most revealing.
Favre and the Jets were jumping for joy after improving to 8-3.
(John Russell/AP Photo)
Confirming that he was motivated in '08 by a desire to get back at his former bosses, Favre told Werder he was "more than up to the challenge because they felt they were shipping me off to Siberia and they'd never hear from me again. So was I coming back to play because I loved the game or to prove them wrong? Probably a little of both. Maybe I initially came back for the wrong reasons. It was like, 'OK, they don't want me to play, then I'll play somewhere else and show them I can still play.' "
Favre showed them. He helped the Jets win five more games than they had the previous season, while the Packers (6-10) suffered a seven-game decline from their '07 campaign. I still believe that installing Rodgers as the starter was the right call for the Packers over the long haul, but certainly '08 was a major bummer in Titletown.
More important, if Favre truly intends to go back to Hattiesburg, Miss., and spend his autumn afternoons chilling atop his tractor, he should be able to hold his head high with satisfaction and contentment. I suspect the hurt feelings on both sides of this unseemly feud will subside in time.
Eventually, Favre and the Packers will peacefully and happily coexist, and everyone will agree that the legend's final season with the Jets was a necessary and understandable segue into the next phase of his life.
Unless, of course, Favre tells the Jets in June that he has changed his mind … and the team, unable to absorb his cap burden, releases him unconditionally … and then the Vikings, freed from the restrictions included by the rival Packers in their trade with the Jets that would cost New York a first-round pick if it were to deal the quarterback to a team within the NFC North, sign him … and Favre shows up at Lambeau Field next fall in a white-and-purple jersey intent on showing the Packers he can still play …
Well, that's a scenario for my inner cynic to ponder while the rest of me says farewell – again – to a timeless fighter who went down swinging.
It's not the ending I would've chosen, but it is absolutely a happy one.