Thanks for the (good) memories

They say it's better to leave one year too early instead of one year too late. PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence thanks Brett Favre for an amazing 2007 and sparing us the possibility of seeing a future Hall of Famer at anything less than his legendary best.

It's easy to be selfish and want Brett Favre to come back for one more season.

It was easy to take Favre's greatness and toughness for granted. Knowing that we had just 16 more games to savor every how-did-he-do-that throw, to enjoy those arms thrust in the air, to smile with Favre after every big touchdown throw, it would have been nice to give Favre an all-season farewell.

I look at it from an equally selfish but opposite perspective. I'm glad Favre retired without having to cringe through a season of an over-the-hill legend plummeting from the apex of his career.

Of course, there's no guarantee that would have happened in 2008, or 2009 for that matter. Still, Favre was defying NFL history by playing at such a high level at 38 years of age last season.

Take, for instance, the case of three recent Hall of Fame inductees.

In Dan Marino's 16th season, he threw for 3,497 yards, with 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for the Dolphins. In his 17th and final season, though, he completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 2,448 yards, with 12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a rating of 67.4. His final game was a 62-7 playoff loss against Jacksonville.

In the 12th and final season for the Cowboys' Troy Aikman, perhaps the most accurate passer in NFL history threw seven TDs and 14 INTs.

Maybe the ultimate comparison — and worst-case scenario — is San Francisco's Steve Young. In his 14th season, 1998, Young had perhaps his finest statistical season, when he threw for 36 touchdowns (career high), 12 interceptions and 4,170 yards (career high). The next season was his last, and he completed 53.6 percent of his passes, with three TDs and four INTs in three games before having his career end with a concussion.

Favre, of course, had perhaps his best season last year, when he finished as runner-up for league MVP honors while guiding a young team to a shocking 13-3 record.

That would have been a hard act to follow up on, and Favre said as much during his retirement news conference. There are no guarantees in life, and there's no guarantee Favre would have continued playing at an elite level. There also was no guarantee so many things would fall in the Packers' favor again. For example, the Packers were the healthiest team in the league last season in terms of fewest starts lost by starting personnel.

While Favre's arm possesses some sort of mystical quality that, like Warren Moon, he probably could play forever, the unstoppable hands of time were beginning to show at the end of the last few seasons.

In 2005, he threw only one touchdown pass with 10 interceptions in the final five games.

In 2006, he threw only one touchdown pass with six interceptions in the final three games.

Last year, he threw 22 touchdown passes against eight interceptions in the first 11 games. In the final seven (including playoffs), the TD-to-INT ratio dipped to 11 to 9.

Beyond just age, there was the mental toll, as Deanna Favre mentioned in the latest Sports Illustrated.

"I've seen a difference this year. Mentally and emotionally he is so much more drained," she said. "The pressure to keep playing at this high a level gets to him. On Sundays, he just goes out and plays, and people only see the love he has for football. During the week I see the strain. He carries the world on his shoulders."

You want to talk about weight on your shoulders. Try heading into the 2008 season as perhaps the favorite to reach the Super Bowl out of the NFC. Like Favre said when he announced his retirement to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, when winning the Super Bowl is the only measure for success, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Especially when all the pressure's on you but you're at an age where you might not be able to deliver at a championship level.

"It's demanding. It always has been, but I think as I've gotten older I'm much more aware of that," Favre said at Lambeau Field last week. "I'm much more aware of how hard it is to win in this league and to play at a high level. I'm not up to the challenge anymore. I can play, but I'm not up to the challenge. You can't just show up and play for three hours on Sunday. If you could, there'd be a lot more people doing it and they'd be doing it for a lot longer. I have way too much pride, I expect a lot out of myself, and if I cannot do those things 100 percent, then I can't play."

Favre said he's leaving the game on top, and there's no doubt that's true. Thanks for the memories, especially leaving us with 16 mostly great seasons instead of the possibility of making season No. 17 unforgettably forgettable.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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