Romantic Disorder gripping Wisconsin could be described thusly: We love Brett.
But we love him in inverse proportion to the number of INTs he throws. We love
him, but not at the expense of rebuilding the program. We love Brett, but not
at the risk of another 4--12 season. We love him, but this is Titletown,
U.S.A., after all. Business is business. They'd all be heartbroken if he left
them, of course; he's one of the best there ever was. He has brought them a
decade and a half of winning, of honor and glory, of mostly wholesome
excitement and family thrills and civic pride. A Super Bowl trophy. Three MVP
awards. But that 4--12 season in 2005 was heartbreak of a kind too. And, well,
sort of embarrassing.
So through the
impatient winter and spring, wrestling the notion of retirement, he was cursed
by anyone with a microphone or a keyboard for being, like Hamlet, indecisive or
half mad; or worse, of feigning indecision or madness in service only of his
own selfishness. Still others saw him as Lear, an aging king wandering the
wilderness, trying desperately to remember whom and what he really loved; and
who and what loved him in return.
Brett Favre in the basement at Lambeau is to sit awhile face-to-face with the
phenomenon of American celebrity. There is the private person, of course, and
there is the public persona. Often enough these two are utter opposites, even
when each can fit the other like a second skin. Favre is, though, as he
In the chair
across the table is a young man. Thirty-six, soon to be 37, he is certainly
young, except as measured by the accelerated standards of professional sports.
By the harsh arithmetic of the NFL, Favre is Methuselah.
Off the field and
out of the shadows of those double-wide linemen, he is, at last, large. Tall
and broad, he is also gray-haired. He is wearing a forest green T-shirt, baggy
gold shorts and flip-flops. On one thick wrist he wears a large dive watch. He
sits back in his chair, relaxed but a little wary, alert, summer tan and easy
in his body and ready to field questions. Never having seen him before, one
might reasonably conclude that Favre was at a job interview for the position of
assistant scuba instructor on a cruise ship.
in the Lambeau Field Atrium, a cathedral of memory and commerce, the fans
wander the shops and restaurants reverent as acolytes, knowing to their bones
who and what Brett Favre is. They buy his autobiography and his autograph, his
cookbook and his bobblehead with authentic game day stubble. They buy his
jersey and his jacket and his pint-sized souvenir helmet. At Brett Favre's Two
Minute Grill, they buy his cheeseburgers. And as the video highlights unspool
on the monitors hung from the ceiling, they tip their heads back, still
chewing, and stare at his great moments on the field as if watching an eclipse.
He is already memorialized, enshrined even as he sweats and groans through
Q: There has to
be a point for an older player, during the first couple of weeks of camp, when
you're shaking the rust off, and your passes are two feet too far or two feet
short, that you ask yourself, Is this the new me, is this the new reality?
A: Yeah--Is this
the beginning of the end? I hear that all the time. When you've played 16 years
you know that it's just a matter of time before arm strength, or your legs,
give out. You're always wondering.... I come into camp now, my mind's still
telling me I can make that throw. But will my body tell me that? My game's
always been about throwing from awkward positions and making throws that other
people wouldn't make.
"And if I can't do that, I can't play."
jogs onto the practice field with that delicate, slightly pigeon-toed gait, he
looks like a man with a stone in his shoe. After starting 241 consecutive NFL
games, he is as well-conditioned as he's ever been, but he carries forward all
the antique injuries, the catalog of his mortifications: right side, left side,
top, bottom, feet, ankles, knees, hands, shoulders, hips, ribs, arms--sprained,
sprung, pulled, bruised, broken, separated, cracked, torn, cut, shattered.
Annually, if mostly lightly, concussed. By lore and acclamation, the toughest
man in the game. Having admitted in 1996 that he was addicted to painkillers,
it might take him a while longer to realize that what he may be addicted to is