Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Farewell Favre (This Time He Means It)

Brett Favre retired today.


But this time I think he means it. Last year, something just didn't seem right. Now, there seems to be a natural finality to his legend.

And I still think there's more to the story of him leaving Green Bay than we've been privy to.

I interviewed Brett Favre at Lambeau Field, when he signed his first contract extension in 1994 and I was an editor for the Associated Press. It was long before anyone could even fathom that he might become the most prolific quarterback in NFL history.

At the time, Green Bay was still stinging from the fact that Don Majkowski proved little more than an injury-plagued one-season wonder, never replicating the 'majik' of his all-star campaign in 1989.

Green Bay - both the team and the city, because you can't talk about one without talking about the other - had high hopes for Favre, but the fervor was nothing like it would be when signed his seven-year extension three years later.

He was a southern-bred bundle of unrealized potential at the time. More of a 'hope for the best' signing than a Hall of Fame franchise tag. And his laid-back Mississippi state-of-mind was a perfect fit for the limited northern exposure of the frozen tundra.

Speaking from firsthand experience, Wisconsin is hardly a media shark tank for professional athletes. If anything, it's a microcosm of Midwest simplicity. A far cry from the all-seeing eyes and ears of New York. Forgiving, and maybe even a bit forgetful, to be polite.

In New York, the media will create drama where it doesn't already exist. And if it exists? They'll turn sparks into a bonfire.

In Wisconsin, drama is having to choose between deer hunting and a family wedding.

Reading between the lines of Favre's muddied departure from Green Bay, there was some bad blood brewing between the quarterback and the franchise he had revitalized over the past decade-plus.

Brett Favre was the boy who cried wolf with retirement, but Ron Wolf wasn't there to hear him. The Packers forced Favre's hand, and he fumbled, rushing the call a year ago. Green Bay shouldn't have been too surprised, they'd lived and died by his gunslinging ways for 15 years, and he's got a track record of iffy decision-making when he's rushed in the pocket.

And like more than a few plays he'd made on the field, Favre and his schoolboy demeanor wanted to reel back his career-ending retirement bomb. But it wouldn't happen on the Packers' playground.

When a well-worn Rocky was explaining his comeback in Rocky Balboa, he said "there's still some stuff in the basement."

Was anyone really that surprised to find out that Brett Favre still had a few pump fakes left in his shoulder?

Those tears he cried at last year's press conference? Could they have been tears of confusion, hurt, sadness or betrayal? Right, wrong, indifferent or otherwise, it's unlikely Brett Favre truly wanted to end his career anywhere but Green Bay.

But Green Bay didn't want him back.

So he went to a team that did want him, because he needed one last chance to extinguish that fire that was still burning down below. It was the same fire he always felt, this time heightened by a hope to avenge his exile from title town.

If it couldn't be Green Bay, where better than Broadway?

New York never embraced Favre, they embraced the legend of Favre. They knew he was a stopgap. And to compound the issue, the players had to know in their hearts that they weren't a Super Bowl contender. The chemistry just wasn't there with the Jets. Locker room favorite Chad Pennington may have been replaced by a legend, but he wasn't a New York legend, and he never would be.

Brett Favre was a deity in Wisconsin. In New York, he'd play second fiddle to Peyton Manning's kid brother.

To add insult to injury, due south on I95, Pennington was playing with the composure that he flashed the Jets in '02.

Chad had more juice than Tropicana, and Favre was running on pulp.

What made New York the perfect swan song? The chances of a fairy tale ending were slim, the fun factor of the game would be marginalized in the media glare, and an emotional attachment wasn't likely to prolong the decision-making process.

Few fans were shocked when Brett Favre re-announced his retirement earlier today. Yes, it is the end of a legendary career, but this time the end felt right.

As for his legacy... Was Reggie White's tarnished in Carolina? Joe Montana's in Kansas City? Vince Lombardi's in Washington?

"I think if you live some place long enough, you are that place," Rocky Balboa said in his own swan song.

Brett Favre is Green Bay, and always will be. No season in New York will ever change that, nor will it tarnish his place as one of the game's all time greats.

It didn't matter if Rocky won or lost, what mattered was that Rocky did what Rocky had to do, and that when he was finished, the beast was gone from the shackles of his basement.

Brett Favre has unleashed the beast.

Next stop, Canton.

* * *
There's not a journalist I enjoy reading more than Peter King, or a football player I've enjoyed watching more than Brett Favre. When Favre was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1997, King wrote a piece that not only captured his eloquence as a writer, but also Favre's true character, both on and off the field. Click here to read the column.

UPDATE (02.13.09)
As an interesting follow-up to the above column, Favre did an interview with ESPN today detailing his anger towards the Packers and how they handled his departure, as well as his lack of comfort in a Jets uniform. Click here to read the article.

UPDATE (02.16.09)
Peter King offers more insight into Brett Favre's retirement in his Monday Morning Quarterback column for, the Sports Illustrated website.

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