Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brett Favre: The Curtain Closes

He has announced his retirement...again. For the second time in three seasons, Brett Favre has decided to end his 20-year career. In the past five months, enough drama has unfolded for a lifetime with the latest being the NFL fining Favre $50,000 for sending inappropriate text messages to ex-Jets employee Jenn Sterger. Any fan of the game of football will tell you that Brett Favre is one of the best football players they've ever seen, not just one of the best quarterbacks. Even though he holds almost every significant record a quarterback can have, its much more than that. From his first pass in 1991, to his last in 2010, you could always see the pure joy he had playing the game. Now when you google Brett Favre the first thing that comes up is his scandal.

In life, its rare we get to do what we want for a living. The majority of us work everyday at our jobs, clocking in and out with little or no fulfilment. Not only was Brett one of the best, he enjoyed every snap and played every down like it was his last. He might have gotten gray over his 20-year-career, but that smile never changed. He had the same excitement after throwing a touchdown at 41 that he did as a wide-eyed kid in his twenties. When I close my eyes I can see it. Brett throwing a bomb to his receiver and running full speed to congratulate him on the other end, hands raised and smiling the whole way down the field. The numbers speak for themselves and speak to the kind of player Brett has always been. He has thrown the most touchdowns and interceptions in NFL history. Like the last few years, Favre's roller coaster ride has been one of ups and downs, one of great decisions and of terrible mistakes. As a fan, I try to compartmentalize Brett Favre the man and Brett Favre the quarterback, but for some his legacy will be stained forever. To be fair, Favre isn't the only player to have been found with indiscretions. We just went through the Tiger Woods firestorm and many athletes from previous generations had their infidelity masked by the lack of the 24/7 media we have today.

Five years from now, Favre won't be defined by his waffling retirements or inappropriate textings to an ex-Jets hostess, but by his play on the field and a streak of 297 straight games. Even those who aren't impressed by streaks, this one has to impress you. Football is a sport of collision, not contact. When we see the toughest guys in the league sidelined with turf-toe for two weeks or a broken finger for an entire season, it puts into perspective how hard it is to play week in and week out, let alone since the first George Bush was in office. When I rank quarterbacks of all time, I don't know if I have Favre in my top five. What I do know is I will miss watching him every Sunday. As great as Brady and Manning are, Favre brought the child-like playfulness to the field every week. Football today is viewed as a business which it is, but Favre appreciated it in its simplest form, a game. He played every game like it was his last. Many, including myself have been critical of him over the last few years after leaving the Packers and then waffling between retiring and unretiring. Then I really started to think how hard it must be when the one thing you love to do more than anything in this world is slipping away. Your body and age try to tell you that your done, but your heart wants to give it one more round.

Brett's want to be the center of attention is undeniable, but that doesn't take away from the fact that retiring from football is the hardest thing he ever had to come to grips with. It was evident this season when he was urged not to play against the Bears and an hour before the game decided to suit up. Brett has always done his own thing, and his stubbornness led to his streak lasting as long as it did. The competitive fire in him never dimmed with age but when his body finally failed him, even his will wasn't enough.

Growing up Allen Iverson was my favorite basketball player. He never had the polish of Kobe Bryant or the dunks like Vince Carter, but he played every single game as if it was his last. He never quit on any game he ever played, ever. I loved him for his competitive spirit, for laying it all on the court every night and when his body aged faster than he wanted, you could see the devastation in his eyes. Once the ball was tipped, I've never seen a fiercer competitor and a man willingly risking his body on every play, except for Brett Favre. Now, Iverson  is playing in turkey because he just wants to play. Basketball is all he knows and Iverson is willing to move halfway across the world to do it.

It seems as though this time Brett is hanging up his cleats for good, but if he did wait and waffle again I would understand it. Its hard to give something up that has been your life for as long as you could hold a football. Brett would probably play until fifty if he could because nothing fulfills him more. When we judge him years from now, let's remember the joy and excitement he brought to us with his play. When the dust finally clears and the gunslinger hangs up his spurs for good, we will miss his late game winning drives, miracle and seemingly impossible throws, and even his "I cant believe he just threw that interception" moment.

A Night to Remember

One day after his father died of a heart attack, Favre decided to play in a December 22, 2003, Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders. The Packers traveled to Oakland where Favre passed for four touchdowns in the first half and 399 total yards in a 41-7 victory over the Raiders. He completed 73.3% of his passes and finished the game with a passer rating of 154.9,the highest of Favre's career and just 3.4 points shy of perfect. Afterwards, Favre said, "I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play. I love him so much and I love this game. It's meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I didn't expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight."He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. He then went to his father's funeral in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

I watched the game on T.V. in 2003 when I was still in high school and re-watched it last night. This game sums up the kind of person Brett Favre has been his entire career. Losing a parent is an unspeakable tragedy and being able to play at the highest level of a sport and to have one of the best games of his life is what legends are made of. Football was more than a game to Brett, but also an escape to another place. Micheal Jordan once said being on the basketball court was the most peaceful place in the world. Favre felt the same way about a football field. Love or hate him and however you feel about his off-field issues, we will never see anyone like him. There's only one Brett Favre.

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