After Favre's final year, one question lingers: Was it worth it?
Favre will claim he has no regrets, but his one-year New York stint came at a cost
The last 11 months complicated his legacy, starting with a messy Packers divorce
Instead of going out on top, he went out after a roller-coaster season and 1-4 skid
Were Brett Favre to hold another retirement announcement news conference -- and he says he won't, saving us the sight of more tears -- I'd have just one question for him: Was it really worth it?
I know what his answer would be. He'd claim no regrets, no urge for a do-over and no looking back at the wild ride that was his bonus season as a New York Jet. In other words, all the things you might expect from a famed professional athlete who has grown so iconic over the years he has come to believe his calls were always justified and defensible.
But I also know what seems obvious: That one extra season came at a cost to Favre. It cost him most in that one area athletes pretend not to care much about, but almost always do: legacy. How an athlete is remembered is important, and whether Favre cares to admit it or not, he complicated that picture considerably in the past 11 months.
Early last March when Favre announced his first retirement, the one that ended his storied 16-year run in Green Bay, I remember writing that No. 4 got it just right, riding off on the high note that was his magical 2007 season with the Packers, leaving us all wanting to see just a little more of what made him such a special player.
But few people are saying that today. Few people are clamoring for more Favre in 2009. Even the Jets management, while saying all the right things about Favre this offseason, hasn't backed up its words with actions that echoed its statements. The Jets got the full Favre as it were -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- packed into just five months of 2008, and you can't blame them if they're not eager for more. Especially given that they're facing serious salary cap issues and Favre represents a $13 million cap savings this year.
Favre got his extra year, but now alongside the memories of his unique career in Green Bay, we have other mental snapshots that now belong in the file. They include:
Favre's bitter and messy he-said, she-said divorce from the Packers that dragged on all last summer. No matter which side you supported, the reality was Favre tarnished an image that was singular in nature in the NFL. No one throughout the league, and perhaps all of sports, was as beloved by one city, one team and one fan base as Favre. He was the face of the Packers, and at the very least, Favre forever lessened that legacy with his fleeting attempt to seek career-ending glory in New York.
Favre won some big games with New York last season, particularly those back-to-back road wins at New England and Tennessee in Weeks 11-12, but in the end, the 2008 Jets will be remembered for losing four of their last five games and collapsing from an 8-3 Super Bowl contender to a 9-7 non-playoff finisher. Favre threw nine interceptions and two touchdown passes over the course of those final five games, and in the most ironic twist of all, was beaten head-to-head by former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington in Week 17 in the Meadowlands, sending downtrodden Miami into the playoffs as the AFC East champion.
Favre's swoon played a huge role in getting Jets head coach Eric Mangini surprisingly fired the day after the regular season ended, and also left him open to critical, biting remarks from teammates Thomas Jones and Kerry Rhodes, who blamed Favre for a good bit of the team's collapse. Favre also had to suffer the indignity of reports saying Bill Cowher would not consider the Jets head coaching job if he had to inherit Favre as his starting quarterback.
So any way you cut it, Favre wound up a little less beloved in Green Bay for coming out of retirement, and he hardly ended up beloved in New York for pulling on the green and white for one roller-coaster like season. Compare that to how most of the NFL felt about him after he made his teary retirement announcement in early March.
He was a deity in the Packers' Pantheon, and a revered figure everywhere else. He was one of the few great ones who had ended his career on his own terms, left when he was at or near the top, and done so when no one could have accused him of being a shell of the player he once was. He had avoided the fate of Jerry Rice in a Raiders, Seahawks or Broncos uniform at the end, Johnny Unitas bowing out a Charger, or Emmitt Smith leaving the game while wearing Cardinals' red.
But it was not to be. Favre, like so many other greats, couldn't resist the pull of the game and the lure of one more shot at glory. And once the Packers' refusal to restore him to the throne he had vacated wounded his pride, nothing but the chance to prove Green Bay wrong really drove him. He was determined to show us all something. And he did. But maybe not what he intended.
Favre got his last chance with the Jets, but it came at a cost. The question remains: Was it worth it, Brett? Were the highs of 2008 worth the painful lows that came with it? Now that he says it's over for good, I can't help but wish the ending had lived up to the rest of the story. Favre's final call was one too many.