Top of His Game
After 16 seasons of giving the Green Bay Packers all he could give, Brett Favre knew it was time to quit, and he left football the way he'd played it -- raw, passionate and honest
Posted: Tuesday March 11, 2008 1:26PM; Updated: Tuesday March 11, 2008 1:45PM
In the end, Brett Favre did it his way, as he always has. When he was on the field, quarterbacking the Green Bay Packers, it was impossible for fans to take their eyes off him because so much of his genius was improvisational. And when it came time to walk away from football, Favre was just as unpredictable.
Over the last few years, pondering retirement had become an off-season ritual for Favre. This winter, however, the inner debate should have been a mere formality. In 2007, his 16th season in Green Bay, the 38-year-old Favre led a young and promising team to the cusp of the Super Bowl, and Packer Nation fell in love with him all over again. Statistically, he had his best season since Green Bay's Super Bowl-championship year of 1996. There was so much still to play for.
And that, ultimately, is what drove him from the game.
There is plenty left in Favre's rocket right arm, but the expectations of the sport's most passionate fan base exhausted him, and he was weary of the preparation required to summon his best. So last Thursday, Favre made another visit to Lambeau Field. This time the old stadium was ghostly quiet except for a windowless room packed with reporters and photographers for his retirement press conference. Despite a lifetime in the spotlight, Favre remains a shy country boy at heart. He drew laughs when he said he considered shaving and wearing a suit and tie for the occasion. Instead he was true to himself, turning out in jeans, hiking boots and an untucked shirt.
Favre's farewell was the last in a long series of memorable performances. Emotional, passionate, generous, raw, real -- Favre said goodbye the same way he played the game. Plenty of athletes speak in team-first platitudes, but when he said through his tears, "It was never about the money or fame or records. . . . It was never about me," the sentiment came from the heart. With a knot in his throat "the size of a basketball," he told America, "I've given everything I can possibly give to this organization and to the game of football, and I don't think I've got anything left to give. I know I can play, but I don't think I want to."
In truth Favre was feeling burnt out long before his final game, in which the New York Giants beat the Packers for the NFC title at frigid Lambeau, the winning field goal set up by Favre's inglorious overtime interception. Last November, when the Packers were 10-1 and the toast of the NFL, Favre's wife, Deanna, told SI, "I've seen a difference this year. Mentally and emotionally he is so much more drained. 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."