By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
A large man from the Chicago Bears grabbed Brett Favre, hoisted him, and then slammed him onto a block of ice, his shoulder and his brain collapsing on a football field, perhaps for the final time.
From Willie Mays stumbling around Shea Stadium’s outfield to Mickey Mantle hobbling around the bases to Muhammad Ali being defenseless against Larry Holmes and then speechless the rest of his life, there is rarely a glamorous ending for the transcendent athlete, for our heroes in repose.
Since so many sporting eulogies have been delivered on Favre, no one phrase captures his career or his life. He’s the man with the most touchdowns and the most interceptions, the most wins and the most losses, the family man with public indiscretions, the field general who often put personal glory before team goals.
He is all of those things, and whether you love him or loathe him, you always paid attention, the corporeal car wreck you watched with one eye open on Sundays and revisited on Page Six on Mondays.
It feels like you can string his passes together and reach the sun. But the sunset hasn’t been so colorful for Favre. He used the Jets to prolong his streak and as an awkward funnel to Minnesota, where he used 2009 to exact revenge on Green Bay. The Packers were his only real football family – a team and town that that essentially worshipped him – yet he left with rancor and indignity because they had the gall to demand that he either decide to play or not, and if the answer was no they had a fine young apprentice ready to squat under center. For a very tough man he appeared very much a diva.
Toward the end, the rules applied to everyone but Brett Favre. Coaches and teammates flew down to a ranch in Mississippi to beg the Wrangler pitchman to pitch a few more balls to speedy wide receivers who knew he still had a cannon. It became an odd rite of autumn for executives to carry Favre from his lawnmower to the gridiron.
It’s quite understandable if you became annoyed with him after several specious, teary-eyed retirements and melodramatic comebacks. We like to be clear, and Favre seldom was.
The press was offended by his professional heartburn because everyone from Peter King to Chris Mortensen swore they were the only ones listed on Favre’s cell phone. And thus when Favre changed his mind for the nth time the trusted reporter felt some abstract betrayal in a business that knows no loyalty.
The NFL has been screwing players for decades, cutting players days after signing contracts (with no guaranteed money) and discarding retired legends like rotting shellfish as John Mackey and his brethren struggle for decent health care. So if Favre stuck it to the establishment, call it karma. Favre’s right to play football was commensurate with a team’s willingness to pay him If he couldn’t sling the ball, they wouldn’t bring him the ball.
And there he was on Monday Night Football, his assumed curtain call, the body of an old man and the soul of a kid, hands blue and limbs broken, playing an NFL game on a college campus, with nothing to gain and loads to lose. Even in the worst of times for Favre, he evokes conflicting impulses. Yes, he made $20 million dollars this year to play a kid’s game, but he would have collected that money had he sat against the Bears. He didn’t sit, which makes you want to stand and applaud.
And we relate to his penchant for atomic self-destruction. Twice in the last four years Favre had his team seconds from the Super Bowl only to throw an interception that wrecked the path he helped to pave. On an exponentially smaller scale, most of us have done the same in our lives.
Twenty years from now our kids and grandkids will ask about Favre. Was he a genius or an idiot? Was he a great player or a great personality? Was he a Hall of Fame talent or an overrated compiler?
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com