We are in the first days of the new year, and anywhere you look you will find recaps of the good and the bad, which took place in 2008. It has been a very emotional year for many, not only in the sports world, but also for normal people who try to survive through difficult economic times.
But in the world of sports there is one person in particular who would probably like to forget 2008. He maybe now wishes it never happened, even if the record books suggest otherwise. He is a true living legend, and someone who has stapled his legacy as a great player in the history of his sport with golden capital letters.
He is Brett Favre.
While many readers will likely disagree with some of the opinions further expressed in this column, I would like to assure you that in my mind Brett Favre was, and always will be, one of the greatest players to ever step on the football field.
As a Packers, and a football fan, there is not a comparable feeling in professional sports to attending a game at frozen Lambeau Field and seeing Brett Favre have a great or a reckless game but regardless to feel the warm emotion toward him from the electrifying crowd.
He earned the hearts of Packer faithful through the years, and one need only point to December 22, 2003, and Monday Night Football at Oakland, California, to understand why. In fact, let me restate this, in that December evening he earned the hearts of the entire nation, not only Packer fans, and the tears in the eyes of the entire Raider nation tells the story better than anyone else could.
Hate him or love him you had respect for Favre because he loved the game like no other.
It was one heck of a ride, as Brett often likes to say. Long bombs, dished passes, bullets over the heads of linebackers, hits that would have resulted in the hospitalization of many of today’s pampered stars, throwing snowballs at teammates, and of course one of Favre’s specials; a lot of interceptions. You need to go no further than Youtube to find some of his Mic’ed up games, and you will find yourself reminiscing about his long NFL tenure, and the fact that you witnessed all or part of it.
But here we are in January of 2009, and Brett Favre looks sadder than ever. There isn’t the usual flirting with the media. There aren’t any interviews where he says “Oh well, we will be back next year, wiser and with more experience”. No, you will not hear that this time around.
Topics related to retirement will also be approached differently. The way Brett sprinted off the field into the locker rooms after the final game for the Jets this season suggests that.
It is likely that there isn’t going to be a next year in the veteran's history book. There may not be another touchdown or an interception added to his records. There may not be another snow ball thrown at a teammate or another slap on the back to a nothing suspecting receiver. It may simply be over.
Favre walked into 2008 at the absolute peak of his career. He had just capped one of his best seasons ever with taking ownership of some of the most important records in football—touchdown passes, all-time passing yards, consecutive starts, interceptions, and pass attempts.
Truly, if it hadn’t been for the type of season Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots had last season, Brett Favre may have been given a fourth MVP award. You would be hard pressed to find a quarterback record that did not have Brett on or near the top of it.
Last season, Favre’s team, the Packers, was cruising through the season and many considered them Super Bowl bound, especially after Dallas lost in the playoffs and all roads to Arizona for NFC teams had to go through Lambeau Field. Another great game against the Seahawks followed, and when the Giants arrived in town, and the temperature with the wind chill in Green Bay was below zero, the expectations were automatically set for another Packers victory.
The Giants won, just as they did in every other game they played in the playoffs last year, overcoming all odds as they were considered underdogs in all of their games. Brett Favre? He played one of his worst games in the entire season, and missed a few chances to lead his team down the field to a victory.
The game against the New York Giants did not taint Favre’s legacy or the season he had one bit. Truth be told, many Packer fans were more disappointed that Favre, and not the Green Bay Packers, did not making it to another Super Bowl. It would have been an amazing epilogue of a career that very few people in sports could even dream having.
Quietly, the majority of the nation was rooting to see Favre sprint onto the field in Arizona for a duel against the searching perfection Tom Brady and his Patriots. Only, someone forgot to ask the Giants of their desires and wishes.
And there it was—the end of a season for the famous gunslinger and his Packers, and the conviction by Green Bay fans that Favre would not miss the opportunity to return for another season when the organization seemed to have built a solid supporting cast around him.
Favre’s emotional press conference with the media in March of last year proved people wrong. It may have been that he was tired of the long training camps and lacked dedication, which is what he stated as a primary reason for his initial retirement. Or it could have been something else we would never know about. But whatever it was that told Favre it was time to hang the cleats he should have listened to it.
In the off-season the marriage between Favre and the Packers ended in a dramatic fashion after Favre got the “itch” to play again. Football fans had their own opinions of what turned out to be a very messy divorce between one of the greatest quarterbacks in history and one of the most storied franchises in sports.
Regardless of what anyone’s opinion was one thing was clear—Favre had lost the support of many fans choosing to put the Packers franchise before any one player, be it Brett Favre.
Results from opinion polls remained fairly constant through training camp and well into the season. Results in Wisconsin showed more than 40 percent of on-line voters backing the franchise in their decision to move on with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Those are far from being precise numbers just as the on-line polls were far from being real scientific measurements. But anyone who has stepped foot in the state of Wisconsin in the past six months could tell you how divided fans are about Favre.
And as fans could turn a good sports player into a superstar, they are also the ones who can strip one of their glories. Maybe not literally, because Favre’s name will always stand next to his stunning numbers, but in the minds of people. And that could sometimes be more important than anything written inside the record books.
Favre moved on and seemed poised to learn a new system, and lead a new team to the playoffs. The year started great for him and the Jets, and the six touchdowns he threw in a game against Arizona made it look like he was right to return.
A few weeks later, after being called by many experts the best team in the AFC, the Jets started losing ground. It came down to a last week decision where the Jets lost any hope of postseason play after losing to the Miami Dolphins.
After that game Favre stayed away from the cameras. He had learned a lesson from the previous year when he spoke too soon and from the heart. He should have listened to his heart back then.
It was revealed that Favre had played through injury for the past few weeks of the season. That did not stop Thomas Jones, and some of his Jets teammates from being highly critical of Favre’s season, stating that his late season performance warranted benching. Those who watched the Jets game against Miami were likely able to read Eric Mangini’s lips after one of three Favre interceptions. “Why would you throw that?” – Mangini quietly said in the microphone by the sideline with a grin on his face that summed up the type of season that had been for the Jets and Brett Favre.
Favre was also called a distant teammate. Sources say there was resentment toward him in the Jets locker room because of his distant behavior, and the way he joined the team. Many of the present Jets players probably wondered whether former teammate, and a friend to many, Chad Pennington would have done a better job with the Jets if he had not been shipped out of town because of Favre.
We all kept hearing how Favre made the Jets much better and turned them into playoff contenders. Well how about Pennington? Miami won one game last season and a year later with Pennington under the helm they won eleven games and won a division which had two of the best quarterbacks in the game in week one. Many credit Bill Parcells for what the Dolphins have accomplished this season but Parcells is not the one who has to perform on the field. Pennington and Favre are, and they were both put in a similar position at the start of the season.
The gap between Brett and the younger generation in the NFL is steeply widening with every season he decides to come back for. Remarks that Favre did not go to dinner with any of his teammates could be found entertaining for the general public but even something as irrelevant to performance on the field as a skipped team dinner could turn out to mean a lot to players today.
Amid playoffs many things Favre has on his mind may be left unspoken. There are rumors already resurfacing that he told the Jets that they should look in a different direction next season. But does anyone believe those rumors anymore? Isn’t that the same thing we have been hearing for years at this point? Until we see Favre working on his land in Mississippi during the first week of the regular season next year we could not be sure that any of it is true.
Favre did this to himself. He could have walked away while he was on top, namely after the game against the Giants. He believed he would be given a pass by the Packers even if he called them during the first week of training camp asking to be reinstated on the team. The Packers proved him wrong.
He lost many fans who sided with the franchise, and the rumors of him helping the Lions with secret plays ahead of the first meeting between the two NFC North teams also did not help. He was openly blamed by teammates in New York for the way the Jets season ended.
I remember Favre’s face after bad seasons in Green Bay. I also watched him at the end of this season, one season he probably would like to forget. Circumstances are taking away the last things he had left, the love for the game, and the fun he had on any given Sunday.
It was this love, and the kid in Favre, that made football fans watch as many of his snaps as they can. It was his devotion and love for football that often put tears in the eyes of the crowd. And when those things are gone it is time for Favre to go, too.