This time, there were no tears.
From Brett Favre or from me.
Favre has retired, and it's neither a shock nor a relief. It was free from emotion or drama or second-guessing. It felt OK this time, obviously to Favre and likewise to those that have cheered on No. 4 for so many seasons. This time, seems like the right time. I believe it's for good. And by that, I mean we won't see him wearing any purple or ridiculous horns on his helmet this fall.
He could've come back for another year with the New York Jets and tried to do for new coach Rex Ryan what he couldn't do for Eric Mangini — get the Jets in the playoffs. But his head, heart — and maybe more than anything — right shoulder told him otherwise. The 1-4 record to close last season surely played a part, as did his two touchdown to nine interception ratio down the stretch as the Jets missed out on the postseason. The end of last season, however, like the end of his time in Green Bay, had plenty of blame to go around.
To be clear, Favre did not tarnish his legacy by playing with the Jets. It's a ridiculous assertion that a player with the talent and desire to continue playing needs to hang it up because his team wants to go in another direction or his fans have a preconceived notion of what the end of a career should look like. Joe Montana didn't tarnish his image by playing with the Chiefs. Michael Jordan didn't hurt his street cred by suiting up for the Wizards. And Favre, despite a less-than-ideal finish to 2008, did nothing take the luster off his Hall of Fame career. He remains one of the greatest players, let alone quarterbacks, in National Football League history.
His 2008 New York fling was not a waste or a shame or anything of the like. The Jets' December demise is freshest in the minds of fans and media, but 11 games into last season, the Jets were 8-3. They had just knocked off the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans a week after beating their hated rival, the New England Patriots, and were being hailed as a bonafide AFC contender for the Super Bowl. Favre was even being talked about as an MVP candidate. He was near the top of the rankings in completion percentage and had thrown for six touchdowns in a game earlier in the year against Arizona. No teammates, anonymous or otherwise, had a bad word to say.
The Packers, meanwhile, had just gotten their backsides handed to them by the New Orleans Saints to drop to 5-6, and probably weren't loving the success their former gunslinger was having. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers certainly wasn't losing games for them, but he wasn't finding a way to win them as Favre had done for so many years. The comparisons, while unfair, were never ending.
Still, 11 games does not a season make. As it turned out, both teams would win just one of their final five games and be sitting home in January. To some, that justified the decision to trade Favre and begin the Rodgers era. To others, Favre's success through November was proof that he could've led Green Bay to a playoff berth were he under center.
Statistically, Rodgers easily outperformed Favre in touchdowns, yards and quarterback rating. But when you finish 6-10, it doesn't mean quite as much. Favre tossed 22 touchdowns to match a league-leading 22 interceptions, and finished fifth in the league with a 65.7 completion percentage. But a 9-7 record detracted from his accomplishments through the first three months of the season, and as he began to underthrow receivers late in the season, the writing was on the wall.
But I do know this — I'm glad Favre played last season for the New York Jets. I'm glad he played for anyone (aside from the Vikings, of course). I'm glad I got to watch the most exciting player to ever play quarterback play for one more season — even if it wasn't for the Green Bay Packers. Seeing him throw to Laveranues Coles, Jericho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey and Dustin Keller wasn't quite the same as watching him hook up with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Donald Lee, but it was better than not seeing him at all. I was as excited to watch him play as I was to watch the Packers play. He had earned that kind of allegiance.
And maybe the way things ended made it easier to say good-bye. There was no gnawing in the gut like there was after the overtime loss in the NFC championship game to the Giants. There was only a season-ending sigh — an exhale, really — for what could've been — either had the Jets maintained their magic or had Favre found a way to return to Green Bay last August. But pushing 40 years of age and starting to physically breakdown for the first time in his career to the point that it affected his play, the decision seemed easier to make.
Favre leaves the game with every major passing record worth having, including touchdowns, wins, yards, attempts, completions and interceptions — something that helped define his gunslinging ways as much as his touchdowns.
ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer once said, "The reason Brett Favre throws so many touchdowns is that he has no fear of throwing an interception." There's a lot of wisdom in that statement. Years ago, I described the contrast of Favre's amazing touchdowns to mind-numbing interceptions by saying, "sometimes salvation and damnation reside in the same jersey." There's truth to that, as well.
But to me, the greatest accomplishment always will be the 291 consecutive games streak including playoffs. It is perhaps the most impressive streak in all of sports, surpassing even Cal Ripken's ironman streak of 2,632 baseball games, due to the sheer physical nature of the game.
The NFL will be a lot less fun to watch from here on out. We will never see a quarterback like Favre again — a player whose greatness was equal parts canon right arm, improvisational wizardry and a human side that made him so easy to identify with. Tom Brady dates Brazilian supermodels. Peyton Manning is the perfect son of a Hall of Fame quarterback. But Favre always seemed like the quarterback we thought we could be or would want to be. He had flaws and problems and family issues just like the rest of us. When things went bad, we felt his pain. And when he succeeded, he took us with him.
So, here's to you, Brett. Thanks for 17 years of amazing memories. We don't know what the future holds. Maybe you don't, either. But we hope we see you around. And we'll wait patiently for you to sign that one-day contract and retire, finally, as a Packer.
Now all that's left is to figure out is what I'm going to do with that Jets hat I bought. At least it's green.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roerdink: Here's to you, Brett
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