All good things must come to an end, the fashion in which the end comes about, differs, but the result is the same. For football players, coming to grips with the end of their career can be difficult. This is especially true for those whose careers have immortalized them in the annals of NFL history.
His entire life, Brett Favre exemplified toughness on the football field, and was one of the most valuable players of his time. He started an unbelievable 297 consecutive games through various injuries that would normally leave a player unable to perform. Not only did Favre play through these injuries, but he played well. For twenty years he was a beacon of longevity, and his 500 career touchdown passes testify this. Even at the age of 40, Brett Favre was tearing down NFL defenses and enjoying the same success he had when he was 27 years old. This past season the Peter Pan of football decided to give it one last shot, turn back the clock one last time, and perhaps, capture a Super Bowl title.
All good things must come to an end.
This season went as wrong as it could have for Favre and his Vikings. Every game was a struggle, and for once in his career, he looked to have lost that legendary arm strength. For once in his career, his body could not answer his call to toughen up. He was defeated, physically and emotionally.
He was knocked out of three games, and suffered injuries all over his body. In 2010 alone, Brett Favre was diagnosed with two fractures in his ankle, lacerations on his chin, which required stitches, tendinitis in his throwing elbow, a severely separated throwing shoulder, and a concussion that may sideline Favre for the season. Still, the all-time Ironman missed only one start, snapping his NFL record streak.
To make matters worse, allegations of texting lewd images and attempts to court young Jets employees in 2008 were blasted into the spotlight. Talk of fines, suspensions, and even legal action swirled around Favre, all the while the 41 year old quarterback was trying to get healthy for the next game. His image was forever damaged by these allegations, and league punishment seems inevitable.
2010, The Forgettable Season, The Inspirational Favre
For me, personally, watching Brett Favre this year has been nostalgic and difficult. The Vikings were out of playoff contention early, and have been playing for almost nothing since their loss to the Packers at Lambeau field on Sunday Night Football. Interceptions were coming in a flurry, and big plays were scarce. Favre’s offense was depleted by injuries and the Vikings defense offered zero help. It was Brett against the world, and Brett lost.
This was the first season where watching Brett Favre lost some excitement. Somewhere between the constant pressure and the inexperience of his wide receivers, and Favre’s age, we found what it is like to see a star truly run out of gas. Of course, in the midst of the failure, there were still glimpses of the one of a kind talent Brett Favre possesses.
His first touchdown pass of the season was over the head of two defenders and snugly placed at the highest point of Visanthe Shiancoe’s vertical leap. The last play from scrimmage for Favre in that Sunday Night game against the Packers was a vintage Favre play. He steps back on fourth and what seemed like a mile, and slips on his broken ankle. He gets up immediately and starts looking to keep the play alive. He heaves the ball across his body and the ball is placed perfectly in Randy Moss’ direction, but the new receiver seemed to have hopped for the ball, rather than jump for it. The ball fell incomplete, and the blame, again, was on Favre.
With the season on the line in week nine, the Vikings were trailing the Cardinals by 14 points with less than 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. At this point the only thing any common human being could be thinking is “what the hell did I get myself into?”
For Favre, it was different. Somehow he was able to gather up enough energy and grit to stage one of the greatest comebacks in his 19 years of starting. A pair of touchdown passes, (one of which should stand as a glittering example of how to beat a Tampa two defense) later, and the Vikings season looks to have been revitalized. Brett looked back in rhythm, and the defense looked tenacious.
Of course, the Vikings did nothing with this emotional win, instead they turned in a frustrating performance in Chicago, a tough loss in New England, and the 31 point beat down at the hands of Aaron Rodgers’ Packers. With two games remaining the Vikings have eight losses, half of which were decided in the fourth quarter. Adrian Peterson looks to have been given the rest of the season off, and the big question swirling around the Vikings camp is “Now what?”
Favre and Retirement
It was the same question Brett Favre left at the doorstep of the Jets organization following his retirement after just one season. It was the same question that Ted Thompson saw back in 2005, and decided that he would like to have a good answer to it. But, that is a different story, which I will discuss later on.
Brett Favre’s constant struggle with retirement has been one of the most documented and covered NFL stories over the last six seasons, and with each passing year, Favre became more uncertain with his decisions.
How could he not? Ever since he was a baby, football was part of his life; one can only imagine the bond that Brett has formed with football, due in fact to his dad being his high school football coach, and his unprecedented athletic gifts.
Quarterbacks over the age of 30 begin to experience limitations in what they can do. Slowly, they begin to realize don’t have it like they used to anymore. It starts with the legs, and gets the arm later.
But, for Favre, it was different. At 34 he was leading the NFL in touchdown passes, at 35 he was bringing back the Packers from 1-4 seasons to NFC North crowns, and at 40 he was posting a quarterback rating of 107. In his waning seasons he was still competing for playoff spots, and for a few seasons Super Bowls.
This is the mark of true greatness, it is shared with all of the greats, but nobody did it like Favre. What we have seen from Brett Favre this past season was beginning to show in Dan Marino around his 35th birthday, and some are saying even the machine that is Peyton Manning, is beginning to show signs of an ageing arm, at 34.
Favre’s “soap opera” with retirement and the Packers was an inevitable disaster. After all, it is the clashing of two very different philosophies. What’s best for the team, and what’s best for the individual.
If all NFL owners had it their way, they would work their players as hard as possible, and keep them as happy as possible for the duration of their career. Then, when the player can no longer produce or a better option shows up, he is let go with no consequence. Those who say the interest of the team is paramount to all other interests do so with a conceited agenda. What is best for the team is not always what is best to be done. In Favre’s case with the Packers, it was a horrible, inevitable, mess.
With his arm as fresh as it was ten years ago, and his team coming off a 13-3 season and an overtime loss in the NFC Championship at Lambeau field, the stage was set for Brett Favre to ride back for one last run. Of course, over the last three years the replacement for this legend was working harder, and preparing for his moment. It was the former first overall pick projection, turned 24th overall pick, Aaron Rodgers.
Ted Thompson realized that he cannot keep both quarterbacks any longer. He gave Favre a deadline, and Favre should have known better. He made the gravest mistake of his career, and retired prematurely. His claim to the Green Bay starting quarterback job was forfeited, and with a player like Aaron Rodgers, it was not to be relinquished. A few months later he figured out what he already knew: that he can still play good football.
This is where the drama really begins, and no matter how you look at it, everybody made mistakes. Thompson and Mike McCarthy had already moved the team forward, Favre’s number four was set for retirement, and the old gunslinger was going public with his dissatisfaction with the Packers organization.
Thompson declined Favre’s request to be released, fearing that the quarterback who had finished second in MVP voting a year ago would cause problems for the Packers. What was best for Brett Favre was not best for the Packers. Favre was now powerless, his fate lay in the hands of the man he felt pushed him out of Green Bay, and 16 years of service was being repaid with the revoking of his freedom to play where he wanted to play.
As we can see now, Ted Thompson’s gamble on Aaron Rodgers has paid off for fantasy football owners, but little for the Packers so far. Brett Favre’s gamble with playing football into his forties paid off with another unforgettable season, and millions of dollars earned in salary. Who got the better end of the deal? That remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Brett Favre still wanted to play football, and the sad reality is that he was no longer needed in Green Bay.
One of a kind
Until recently, Brett Favre donned the same red, oil stained, baseball cap to all his media events. The cap was disgusting. What did Favre think? I’m sure he didn’t think twice about putting that baseball cap on in the morning.
A loose microcosm of how Brett Favre played football.
In high school Brett Favre ran an option offense for his father, who had to fight college scouts to come take a look at his boy. Days before national signing day, Southern Miss approached Brett with a scholarship—to play defensive back. It was the only offer Favre received to play division I football. He was the seventh quarterback on the summer depth chart his freshman year, but he was not destined to stay there.
Favre’s college career was brilliant, filled with Heisman hype, massive upsets of ranked football teams, and a knack for the classic Favre drama we have come to see in the NFL.
The story of his moves in the NFL are well documented, and I am hoping most of my readers know the stories of his hard partying as a rookie in Atlanta, and the wild trade to Green Bay for a first round pick in 1991.
At that point in his life, Brett Favre must have felt like the luckiest guy on Earth.
For the boy born in the bayou, things would only get better. You know the story; Don “Magic Man” Majkowski goes down, in comes Favre, he throws the game winning touchdown in the final minute, and so begins a 16 year reign without peer. Favre launched himself into the annals of Green Bay history, and stands with the founding fathers of Lombardi and Lambeau.
I don’t mean to undermine Favre’s teammates and coaches over the years, and Brett rightfully credits them as often as possible. But, history and the very teammates and coaches that worked with him will agree, it was always Favre, and only Favre. Montana had Walsh, Young had Rice, Bradshaw had the steel curtain, and Brady has Belicheck.
Favre made good wide receivers great, and his ability to tear apart defenses made his running backs better, some would argue it was the other way around. But, when you look at what Green Bay backs have done away from Favre, you will see it was number four who made it all happen.
His story, as improbable as it may seem, is the truest we’ve seen. Favre has always treated members of the media with open arms. The media documented every major moment of Favre’s career. The car crash in college, his addiction to pain killers, and let’s not forget the Favre Watch at the end of his career.
With all of the media swirling around him, he always stayed professional. If you watch his press conferences, his post-game interviews, he keeps a straight face, tells the facts, and will slip in a joke whenever he can. When he isn’t in front of reporters, he is slapping butts, cracking jokes, and talking about anything, but football. If I did not know any better, I would say he didn't take it seriously.
I’ll keep this section as brief as possible, because the point of this memoir is not to defend Favre from the critics, but rather to give an account of how I saw him during his career. So, what about the NFL record 336 interceptions?
Brett Favre was always the kind of quarterback whose confidence in his own ability and competence would take priority over game plans and all the hard work his coaches had put in all week to avoid mistakes. It is from this confidence that we get the record number of interceptions. If Brett saw an opening, he would take it. He would make boneheaded throws (see 2010 NFC Championship), and he would make us scratch our heads (see 2004 Divisional playoff game).
Wayne Gretskey once said “You miss 100% of the shot you don’t take.” I think Favre played this way. To either make people say “How did he do that?” or to have them say “why did he do that?” Does the good outweigh the bad? That’s up for debate, but none of it matters to the one man who it should matter to most: Brett Favre. Just like anybody, he wishes he could have some throws back, but he couldn’t have played any different if he tried.
The Greatest? No.
The Best? Without a doubt.
If I had to pick one quarterback to build a franchise, without reserve, I would choose Brett Favre. Why?
Brett Favre had no peer when it came to pocket presence. He could feel blindside pressure; he knew how to work inside the pocket and give his receivers time to get open. I wouldn’t want to use the word “athletic” to describe Brett Favre, especially after seeing Michael Vick play this season. However, Favre always seemed agile and able to position himself properly to make all the throws.
“The ole cannon” as Steve Mariucci calls it. The single most important and mystifying trait of Favre was that ageless arm. Fitting the needle, dropping it in the basket, lifting it over defenders, Favre’s arm could do it all. He opens up the field like nobody can.
Defensive coordinators said that Favre is the toughest quarterback to game plan for, because his knowledge of defenses and his arm made him deadly to most defensive schemes.
321 consecutive starts…you weren’t seriously expecting more of an explanation.
In Brett Favre you have the single toughest professional athlete, a pocket presence that is second to none, near perfect mechanics and a quick release, intelligence and knowledge of defenses, and last, but certainly far from least, an arm that is going to be top gun in the NFL until his 41st birthday.
Now, the quarterback is only part of the equation. To win Super Bowls, you also need a Super Bowl coach. For Favre, he had this in Mike Holmgren, but only for a fraction of his career. Favre had to work with coaches who simply never were going to win Super Bowls the rest of his career. These coaches let Favre run the show, and that’s always a recipe for disaster.
Under Holmgren, Favre was constantly pushed to get better, and was chewed out for the mistakes that I attributed to Favre’s play style. He played his most consistent football. If they had stayed together, well, one can only imagine what they could have accomplished. I often tell my friends if you give Bill Belicheck Brett Favre, the two of them win four Super Bowls, at least.
For the love of the game
Brett Favre was always the most enthusiastic player on the field. He referred to himself as “looking like a fool” when he saw himself running around the Super Dome when he led the Packers to their first NFL championship in 29 years, back in 1996.
When he was 37, he performed his first Lambeau leap after scoring a one-yard touchdown run.
He never show-boated, or seemed to do anything to disrespect the other team. His celebrations were out of pure happiness.
He loved the game so much, he played 297 straight games, and endured all the practices, and never made himself unavailable until his final season.
The videos I shared are only a fraction of the kind of plays Brett Favre made. His entire football career he has been a highlight reel. In his own right, he has been one of the most exciting quarterbacks to ever play.
Over his 20 years in the NFL he has done almost everything you could possibly accomplish, both good, and bad.
The memories he created for Green Bay Packers fans will last forever, and once he retires the fans will come together again and once again love their legend.
I saw him throw four touchdowns the night after his father passed away. I saw him get knocked out cold, and come back on fourth down to throw a touchdown pass. I saw him play half a season with a broken thumb. I also saw him throw away two chances at a Super Bowl.
It has been an experience that I treasure. I give no exaggeration when I say that it will take some time for me to watch football with the same love. Somewhere between the shovel passes in the snow, the game winning touchdown pass, and watching him drag himself onto the field after a huge hit, He became as important to me as any other person I had never actually met.
For Lions and Bears fans, this is long overdue, and I’m sure they welcome the end.
As for me? I hope that someday a child of our children’s children will look back at the career of Brett Favre and know that this was a football player.
That above all else he appreciated the game, and with the ole cannon still firing, how could he ever leave it?
How could any of us ever leave it?
Brett, this is not good-bye. This is thank you.