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We've got a lot going on for what's supposed to be a dead time -- Michael Vick's on the block while in the cell block, Julius Peppers is trying to politely talk himself out of Carolina, Alex Rodriguez is lying about Selena Roberts (which enrages me), we're on the verge of another thrilling NFL Scouting Combine (how many of you brain surgeon college players are not working out this year?), a 10-year-old dog won Best in Show at Westminster ... and oh yes, Brett Favre retired. Again.
You probably figured I'd lead with Favre.
This is the ground I wanted to cover when we spoke for 40 minutes the other night: Is it real this time? Why wasn't it real last time? What the hell happened to his game in December? How does he know he won't act on the itch come August when camps are in full swing -- and we know the itch will come -- to return to play?
"I'm sitting here watching American Idol, '' Favre said over the phone a few hours after he made everything official. "Tonight at dinner, [daughter] Breleigh said, 'So, no more football, huh?' I said, 'Yeah, no more football. It's over.' She said OK, then she went to chase Charlie around the house.'' That's the family dog.
Life goes on. As I wrote the other day, I'm fairly close to Favre, yet I've made so many mistakes trying to predict what he'll do that you shouldn't take anything I say here as gospel.
This is what I believe: Favre will never play football again. He'll be tempted to, as one of his quasi-advisers, Troy Aikman, has warned him will happen. And it may be harder for Favre than for any other player, because never in the past 17 years, spanning 291 regular season and playoff games, has he had to sit and watch. As Aikman told me Sunday afternoon: "Most of us, sometime in our careers, get hurt and have to watch the team get along without us. In '91, I missed four games with an injury, and the Cowboys went on and made the playoffs, everyone's celebrating, and I really didn't feel like a part of it. And you realize the game goes on without you. That's hard. It's going to be hard for him, I guarantee it.''
So let's get into the questions of the day.
1. What will he do now?
"I have no idea," he said. "I do know this: I've gotten bored with everything in my life at some time. I love to hunt, but I get tired of that. I love to work on my property, but I get tired of that. We'll see.''
Favre knows Aikman is right about missing the game. His life has been a neat grid over the past 17 years -- six months of being Favre the football player, then when being Brett Favre has gotten oppressive, six months of being Favre the nobody farmer/hunter/fisherman. Good life. Great life. He told me he'll be looking for something to do -- maybe in TV, though probably not in play-by-play. The best thing he could do, I think, is interview players informally. Not in a sitdown setting, necessarily, but ambling around the house or the field with wireless mikes, just talking. Forget the scripted questions; he needs to simply talk and swap stories. Having been in those settings with Favre, I can tell you it's the perfect setting for him to get his subject to talk.
I get the feeling he won't rush into anything. Nor should he. He needs to sit back, consider his options and not rush into the first things someone offers. My guess is ESPN would want him in its massive stable, and maybe it's the best place for him. But he won't know that until he actually gives himself time to figure out if it's the best thing for him.
2. How does he know he won't come back, somewhere, in August?
It comes down to the high regard he has for Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, dating back to last August. Let's go back to my visit to Favre's Mississippi house late last July, when it was apparent he wanted to play for one team and one team only -- Minnesota -- after he became convinced the Packers wouldn't give him his job back, but would give him permission to talk to teams of their choice in hopes he could be convinced to go somewhere else. Tannenbaum wanted Favre badly. I said to Favre he should at least talk to Tannenbaum; why wonder sometime down the road if it might have been a smart way to spend one or two final years in the NFL? A few nights later, Tannenbaum and Favre finally spoke and Tannenbaum began the sales job on Favre. Though this one-year trial didn't work out the way Favre or the Jets wanted, the quarterback is grateful he listened to Tannenbaum, and he knows he can't change his mind now. That would leave the Jets -- who will pay the Packers a third-round pick in the 2009 draft for the five-month Favre rental -- trying to get compensation for Favre, or releasing him so he could sign with a team of his choice. Which would put the Jets in a very difficult position. They'd either have to block Favre's release and have the same kind of Mexican standoff with Favre that the Packers had, or they'd have to find a trading partner. And which team, outside of perhaps Minnesota, would want to sniff around Favre now? (Keep in mind the Jets would have to send Green Bay three first-round draft picks if it traded Favre to Minnesota, per a clause in last year's trade language between the Jets and Pack.)
"I foresee getting the impulse to play,'' Favre said. "But as good as Mike Tannenbaum has been to me, I could never bring myself to do it. I know I won't do it. If I did, I'd be putting the Jets in a tough spot, because I know they can't release me.''
This year, he respects the team he's retiring from. Last year ...
3. Why wasn't his retirement real last time?
The reality, Favre knows now, is he not only wanted to play again, but he wanted to show Green Bay -- particularly general manager Ted Thompson -- that it was making a big mistake in going forward without him. "Part of me coming back last year, I have to admit now, was sticking it to Ted,'' he said in a rather startling admission.
I still maintain Favre meant it when he said he was retiring. I've saved the four-minute voice-message from him on my cell phone the day he quit, and when I've played it for people, I've asked, "Does that sound like a guy who was retiring with a lot of doubt in his mind?'' And everyone says no. Fifty weeks ago, even if he was mad at Thompson -- and, as he told Ed Werder in his weekend ESPN interview, all he heard from the Packers after the 2007 season was "crickets,'' meaning he thinks they wanted him to walk away -- he was a convincing retiree.
4. Why did he stink it up in December?
The Jets started 8-3, and in that 11-game stretch, Favre did something he'd never done in his long career: He completed 68 percent or better of his throws in 10 out of the 11 games. But he was starting to feel the effects of a strained shoulder dating back to Week 6 against Cincinnati, and a partially torn biceps muscle in his right arm that may have come from straining his arm trying to throw differently. That led to the Jets' 1-4 finish. Favre had no zip on the ball. He couldn't throw downfield in an embarrassing loss at Seattle Dec. 21, and in the finale against Miami, he was short-arming throws he'd nailed for years. "I was miserable that last month,'' he said. "I altered the way I threw, and it cost me. I just couldn't throw it well enough.''
This is what I think: Before the 2007 season, Favre spent eight weeks with Ken Croner, a trainer from Athletes Performance Institute; Croner actually lived in Mississippi and trained Favre in his home. When Favre went to camp in Green Bay in late July 2007, he went knowing he was in the best shape of his life by far. Last summer, Favre thought he wasn't going to play, and so he didn't do any physical training in the off-season. As time drew close to camp, he threw with the local high school team a few times, but that was too little, too late. Looking back, you could almost predict that, at 38, something would go wrong with him physically at some point of the season, and it did. The only way Favre could have ensured peak performance -- or at least given himself the best chance -- was if he had another two months with a trainer like Croner. At that age, the only way a great player has the chance to be great for one more year is through off-season dedication. That's the biggest hidden factor in why things spiraled downhill so fast for Favre after Thanksgiving.
"John Elway, as long as he's been out of the game, could go out and win a game tomorrow, no question,'' Aikman said. "One game. But that's not the test of a quarterback. The test is being out there for 16 games, then hopefully the playoffs. That's what Brett found out this year. He made it through, what, 11 games? But football's a long season.''
"When I talked to Troy last summer,'' Favre said, "he told me, 'You're going to get the bug. I still get it.'''
I asked Aikman how Favre would feel on the first day of the 2009 football season.
"Are you saying he'd be in uniform, or out of uniform?'' Aikman asked, laughing.
"Out,'' I said.
"It's going to be tough,'' he said. "The first training camp will be hard, because he'll see, 'Hey, the train's left the station, and they're doing fine without me.' The first few months will feel great, because he'll see he can do some of the things he never had a chance to do. Maybe go to a game at his alma mater. But there's a reason why he was so good for so long -- because he's competitive. And what will there be to fill that void? I mean, this guy played every week. He never DIDN'T play. That's the thing that'll be tough.''
"I'm not going to replace throwing touchdown passes by cutting down three trees tomorrow,'' he said.
And then he didn't say anything for a few moments.
There's no cute final quote to this story. It's a story of uncertainty. Favre doesn't know the end to the story. All he knows is he's 39, and he's like an awful lot of unemployed people in America right now, other than he's got a bazillion in the bank and they don't. He's got to find something to do with his life.