TIM DAHLBERG, AP Sports Columnist

The end came under bizarre circumstances, in front of fans who didn’t have a dime invested in Brett Favre or his remarkable streak. The quarterback who always played simply couldn’t play and, just like that, it was over.

No standing ovations. No lap around the field. No Lambeau leaps into the arms of adoring fans. Just a grizzled grandfather standing on the sidelines in sweats and a stocking cap, chatting with teammates who were still in grade school the first time he completed a pass in the NFL.

Fitting in a way, perhaps, because Favre long ago used up more than his share of tearful farewells. And this wasn’t an official goodbye anyway, just the end of an ironman streak that began about the same time Bill Clinton’s underdog campaign for the presidency was starting to heat up.

But it sure seemed like the end. More importantly, it should be the end.

There’s nothing left to prove, nothing more to play for. Even the old gunslinger seems to finally understand that.

“I’m not going to play again if I can’t feel my hand,” Favre said. “I think it would be foolish to consider playing if you don’t have total feeling in five fingers.”

Not that Favre hasn’t been foolish before. He played through broken thumbs, concussions, torn biceps and separated shoulders in running his consecutive game streak to 297 before Monday night.

But the right arm that threw a record 507 touchdown passes was hanging gingerly by his side in Detroit, and his hand was a strange shade of Vikings purple. He looked older, way older, than 41, much like a boxer who absorbed too many beatings in his career

Favre will always pay a physical price for hanging on too long. But there’s no sense risking paying an even bigger price by trying to play the final three meaningless games of a season gone terribly awry.

Amazingly enough, his coach still wants him to play, even though the Vikings were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Favre on the sidelines. That could be because Leslie Frazier wants the interim part removed from his title, or that the dismal loss to the New York Giants showed the Vikings have no other real options beneath center.

Still, the numbness running from his shoulder to his hand worries a quarterback who never worried about injuries before. He wasn’t able to really explain it after the game, but somehow he believes this injury is different — and this is a guy who knows every part of his body.

“It’s probably a little too late to think how I’m going to feel a year from now, 10 years from now,” Favre said. “Little did I know I’d play 20 years. Am I concerned? That’s a big reason why I didn’t play today … I think I’ll be OK, but I do have to be cautious about it.”

It wasn’t exactly a retirement speech, though Favre probably knows better than to give another one of those. After two decades in the NFL he still wants to compete and, in a perfect world, would want to end on a better note than a crushing tackle by Buffalo linebacker Arthur Moats that forced his 335th career interception.

But he was lured back for one final season to win a Super Bowl title, and the Vikings aren’t even a .500 team. A season that began with such promise disintegrated as Favre kept playing worse and worse while becoming embroiled in a texting scandal that drew a league investigation and still isn’t resolved.

It didn’t have to end this way, yet it was probably inevitable that it would. Favre couldn’t let go of the game he so loved, and couldn’t stay away from the fans who loved him back.

He came agonizingly close to a Super Bowl last year and couldn’t resist trying one more time. He understood that with age comes limitations, but those were for other people, not for him.

“I’ll think more about last season than I will this season, but you take the good with the bad,” Favre said. “At least I won’t look back and say, ‘I wonder if I played could we have done this or that.’ We know now.”

His dream wasn’t to play 20 years in the NFL, set records that may never be broken and eventually be a unanimous pick for the Hall of Fame. His dream was simply to play in the NFL, and he kept playing even when he shouldn’t have because there was always the fear in the back of his mind that someone would take his place.

Someone did Monday night, and it wasn’t pretty. Replacing a legend is tough, but Tarvaris Jackson showed why the Vikings were so desperate to get Favre that former coach Brad Childress got on his knees and begged for him to play in Minnesota.

Favre played one season too many, and he’ll probably live to regret it. His body and his reputation both took shots he could have easily avoided by staying down on the farm in Mississippi.

Favre seemed on the verge of tears after the game, though he insisted that he wasn’t feeling emotional about having the streak broken. For the first time in 19 years he simply couldn’t play, he said, and that was it.

It’s possible he was fighting tears for another reason. It may be that he knows his career is finally over, too.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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