The sports industry is a strange one. There aren't too many other places where people who perform in a mediocre fashion can get the kind of pay that pro athletes get on a daily basis.
In most other industries, mediocrity is not rewarded, and the underperformers are removed from their jobs. Because of this quirk, pro athletes enjoy a status that many of us can only dream of. They do, however, live in a world that is entirely different from ours. We would be remiss not to acknowledge at least that.
We tend to put a lot of stock in what professional athletes do or say. When they say they bleed a teams colours, we believe them. When they tell us that there is nowhere else they would rather play, we understand exactly what they mean. When they insult our city and make us feel like we are second-class citizens because their trophy wife from St. Louis hates the cold winters, we get angry at them.
We feel for them when personal tragedy strikes, even though if the same thing happened to us, there is no way one of 'them' would feel for one of the mere mortals of the world. We have spent so much time raising these athletes up on these high pedestals that when they do something human, we lose faith.
In March, when Favre tearfully announced his retirement, many thought that he'd try to come back anyway. We also thought that the Packers would move on without him and try to bring Aaron Rodgers into the mix as their No. 1 without having to worry about Brett Favre in the spotlight.
Both sides were wrong in how they handled this, but Favre has come out looking like a fool.
If we are to take what the team says at face value, then they did everything possible to both convince him to retire and then convince him to come back. If we take what Favre says the same way, then the team did push him out and hasn't exactly opened their arms to him.
Of course they haven't. In March, they had committed to moving on without No. 4 and have not strayed from that path yet. Favre, on the other hand, spent a while on his property in Mississippi, enjoying the good life without having to worry about the next year.
But a good athlete can't just go away. They have to try again to see if they've still got it. Joe Montana did it. So did Mario Lemieux. Michael Jordan. Some of the best names in pro sports came back with mixed results. The difference between these guys and Favre is that he CAN still compete at a high level because it's only been six months since he threw his last pass in an NFL game.
Favre knew all along that he was going to make a comeback. The Packers knew all along that it was going to happen as well. Fans knew, the media speculated. None of this is surprising to anyone. What is surprising to me is how a guy who has for so long simply gone out and played the game without worrying what anyone thinks or says is now looking and sounding like a petulant 5-year-old who wasn't allowed to have a snack before dinner.
Favre has given Packers fans some of the best and worst times in the team's history. He has also managed to maintain the importance of football in the NFL's smallest market. No matter what, Brett Favre can fill a stadium, whether at home or away.
All of the accolades given to him were well deserved. When he announced that he had a problem with prescription painkillers and alcohol, we rode through the low with him. When he threw for 399 yards the day after Big Irv died, we all rode that high. We felt that we were a part of the success, and that he really was larger than life.
Now, however, he seems to have fallen from his pedestal, and it's all been his own doing. He asks for a release, the Packers said no. They're not going to risk him playing in their division. They won't trade him. They'll keep him and he'll play if he wants to. But every time he steps onto the field, there will be a little less luster on him because he'll have reminded people that he's not a god among men. He's simply a man. A hero in the eyes of some, but a spoiled brat in the eyes of others.
For so long, Brett Favre has been high on his pedestal, and while he definitely had the talent to be up there, we put him there in the first place. He won three MVP awards; it got higher. He won the Super Bowl; a little higher. He had his best QB rating ever last year; higher still. He retired on his own terms with class and dignity; he joined the heavens.
To watch him fall is a hard thing to do.