The actors went off the script again. First it was Corey Webster jumping in front of an underthrown pass to Donald Driver in the frigid NFC Championship game in 2007. That pass was supposed to be completed and the Packers were supposed to go on to face the unbeaten Patriots in what would surely be Brett Favre’s last game of his career, win or lose. But the Giants had their own plans, as did the Saints. On Sunday Brett Favre was supposed to drive the Vikings into field goal range setting up a showdown vs Peyton Manning in the Superbowl. Only Tracy Porter picked off a horrendous pass to send the game into overtime. After all this is Brett Favre, the wrangler-wearing aww shucks hall of famer, who plays by his own rules. The Old Gunslinger, the kid out there just having fun playing football. The script read for validation at the end of a hall of fame career but now it has shifted directions to the guy who throws away the biggest games of his career at the worst possible moments. There were those 6 interceptions in St. Louis in 2002, the aforementioned pass to Corey Webster of the Giants and of course Sunday’s NFC Championship mistake. Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to go. Favre is the biggest draw in football; when he plays people watch. He was responsible for the most watched show in the history of cable television this season and there he stood alone and anguished after Porter’s pick. Now we’re left with the will he or won’t he retire debate that will rage until July. If he comes back some will roll their eyes, others will rejoice; if this is the end there is one conclusion we can take away from his hall of fame career: Brett Favre is the most polarizing individual in American sports.
Born on the Bayou, spent his college days throwing footballs at Southern Mississippi, drafted by Atlanta where Jerry Glanville used him only when he wanted to see a football thrown into the second deck of the stadium from field level, traded to the Packers, paired with Mike Holmgren, won a Superbowl, lost a Superbowl, battled and overcame pain killer addiction, retired, unretired, traded to the Jets, retired again, unretired again, lead the Vikings all the way to the NFC Championship game in what was one of the most brilliant seasons of his 19 year career. Along the way he was welcomed in as the favorite son of the NFL’s most loyal fanbase no matter how many hair pulling decisions he made…he was theirs. Somehow many of those same fans that would take a bullet for him up until two seasons ago were vehemently rooting against him on Sunday and when Favre made his game changing pick they laughed. He wasn’t their problem anymore. Favre leading the Vikings to the doorstep of the Superbowl has no sports equivalent. When Jordan retired he came back to the Bulls, but imagine if he decided to play for the Knicks for his second three peat? What about if the Celtics and Lakers decided to trade Larry and Magic straight up for each other in the summer of 1985? Or what if the most popular golfer of all time was admitted to a secret sex rehab clinic in Mississippi in the prime of his career? Oh wait, scratch that last one.
By the time Favre won his first MVP in 1995 he had reached the point where watching his games became an event. John Madden would endlessly gush about how he had a heated helmet and the whole legend of Brett Favre (and Frank Caliendo’s career ) was born. No matter who the Packers were playing the game gravitated to Brett Favre’s direction. This has continued for the last 15 years; Brett Favre resonated with just about everybody. There wasn’t a more relatable superstar in professional sports. He was living the life any red blooded male would have if blessed with his skill, a superstar quarterback without the glitz and glamour. There are several people who fall in my age range who barely remember the NFL without Brett Favre. He was the constant in an ever-changing league. He played through the Cowboys’ dynasty, Elway’s swansong, the Patriots dynasty, 2 more titles for Pittsburgh, Spygate and a spoiled perfect season. In an age where the NFL realized Pete Rozelle’s vision of parity, Favre remained. He played some of his most memorable playoff games against Troy Aikman and the Cowboys and this past Sunday Troy Aikman was announcing the NFC Championship game featuring Brett Favre and the Vikings. When you are in the public eye that often, everyone will eventually have an opinion about you. Outside of Michael Vick a few years back Brett Favre’s possible retirement was the number 1 story in the NFL’s offseason for the better part of last decade. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t ignore Brett Favre.
But why do we care about him so much? After all, if we weren’t interested in his retirement saga Ed Werner may be able to spend the summer with his family. Instead he’s camped out at the Favre residence telling us if someone said “Bless you” after Brett Favre sneezed today. We love him for the same reasons we hate him. We want him to make up his mind but sympathize with the fact that he can’t. Some wished to see him fail but then felt badly for him when Tracy Porter intercepted his pass. He left the Packers fans out to dry but the Packers didn’t want him when he expressed interest in coming back. He wants to be perceived as a simple guy who likes to hunt and fish but then shills for mega corporations like Sears and Samsung. He’s just having fun out there but reportedly arguing with his coach on the sidelines about play calling. The Anti-Favre camp bemoaned the notion of having to deal with two weeks of Brett Favre in the Superbowl hype but 52 million people watched the NFC Championship Game. He makes throws you’ve never seen made, then attempts passes that should never be thrown. Some of this makes him hypocritical but all of this makes him interesting.
If Brett Favre finally retires maybe some will sleep easier and be happy that its over. The media will have a field day of career retrospectives, fans will have memorials and the NFL will move forward. He may end up on an unbearable pregame crew at a major network, or he may just lay low. How many people have been a part of your life for that last 20 years? You may think you’re totally sick of him right now and aren’t ready for a summer of will he or won’t he retire but you’re going to miss him. The NFL is better with Brett Favre in it whether that’s because he does things no quarterback can do or because he recklessly throws away games at critical moments is up to you. He always keeps us on our toes.