On Football's Brett Favre
Growing up in Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers always dominated talk when autumn rolled around. I remember Vince Lombardi and the first two victories in the first two Super Bowls. I remember crying when the Packers started losing after their glory years in the '70s, playing fullback and middle linebacker at Homestead High School, a place where crew-cuts for football players was mandatory (as was drinking beer illegally after each victory.)
But I didn't realize how much the Green Bay Packers meant to me until they started losing -- again -- in 2005 and then in 2006. I had became so used to Brett Favre pulling out incredible wins, that when the magic began fading with age, I began to confront my own mortality and age. After all, I just turned 50!
How does an icon such as Favre, or any one of us, gracefully bow out? Now that yet another Packer season is over, speculation about No. 4's future will again run rampant. But unlike last year, the Packers ended up winning their last four games in a row, and just missed a playoff slot. Convincingly beating the Chicago Bears -- the National Football Conference's alleged best team -- in their just concluded last game has raised expectations for next year.
Why should this issue matter beyond folks, like me, who like an occasional bratwurst, have actually danced to polka music, and whose diet features copious quantities of cheese?
Because we as a society are great at elevating icons such as Favre, but we are not very good at then caring for these larger-than-life characters when they reveal their human side and decline. And nobody wants to see Brett Favre in another uniform other than that of the Green Bay Packers.
Now, one could argue that Favre -- with the death of his father, his wife's cancer and his mother's home troubles prompted by Hurricane Katrina -- have made him more human than most sports stars, yet we are still not quite sure how we want to see Favre go out. We could write a great movie script, but life does not always imitate art.
In 2005, Favre looked frustrated toward the end of the year, throwing a record amount of interceptions on a team that registered its first losing season in over a decade. He hemmed and hawed about returning, and looked a bit self-centered with his indecision. Everyone wrote off Favre. Sports writers suddenly seemed to find some delight in noting how Favre was not quite the quarterback that he used to be. Nobody gave Green Bay much of a chance. After all, they lost their first game of the 2006 season to the Chicago Bears 26-0 at Lambeau Field and then later in the season, were shut out again at Lambeau Field, breaking a record for at-home shutouts that dated back to the '30s. How humiliating!
But then the story on Green Bay took some surprising turns. While Favre had some less than spectacular games, the team continued winning due to a much improved defense. And while Favre did not extend his streak of consecutive seasons with 20 or more TD passes in 2006, his play was clearly good enough for Green Bay to be competitive again. The frustration on his face -- even in this last game in Chicago -- showed that he still holds himself to a very high standard.
I think there were many of us who want to see Favre retire before he injures himself, and then ends his most amazing feat: 237 consecutive starts. The sight of seeing Brett Favre being carried off the field and not coming back for the next game could impose a deep psychic wound upon the nation. This is my biggest worry about him coming back for one more season. That his consecutive start streak is terminated by some severe injury. Interestingly enough, his likely heir -- Aaron Rodgers -- came in once during the last season to spell an injured Favre, and ended up breaking his ankle and going out for the rest of the season! Meanwhile, Favre came back, again, and finished yet another season.
I'm for Favre coming back, because he could defy the critics who wrote him off after just one bad season. With such a strong defense as the Packers demonstrated in the last 3 games of the season, he will not have to work as hard pulling miracles out of his pockets. While it is true that Favre doesn't quite have the magic he used to, when other teams always feared that No. 4 could bring his Packers back to the brink of victory in the final seconds of any game, he still has something to offer.
If you play long enough, the percentages catch up with you. In the last two seasons, Green Bay lost quite a few games that they would have won 10 years ago, the year Favre helped Green Bay win the Super Bowl. But the law of averages catch up with you if you persevere. For all those years that the ball bounced in Favre's favor, the ball has seemed to often go the other way over the past two seasons.
The Green Bay Packers have put an extraordinary amount of pressure on Favre this year. Green Bay had more rookies than any other team, even starting three rookies on their offensive line this year. The fact that Favre directed the team to an 8-8 record under these circumstances (not to mention all of the injuries at wide receiver), tells me that he can still contribute to the team.
My vote is for Favre to play another year. Let the icon take another chance, and let him beat some more records. If he goes down, so be it. He is just a human being. But what if he brings Green Bay again into the play-offs, and actually wins a playoff game, something Green Bay has not been able to do in quite some time?
No matter what his decision, there's going to be a lot more people than I who are going to miss his wild TD celebrations when he finally retires. , and what he represents as a football star in today's sports climate where superstars more often than not become embarrassing reminders of the dark side of human nature. Being the only football team to be owned by a small city with a population of approximately 100,00o people, I cannot think of a better story in professional sports than Brett Favre bringing the Green Bay Packers back into the playoffs after being pronounced too old.
But then again, I am hardly an unbiased observer!