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
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.
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
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
So heavy was the
weight last season that Deanna installed a masseuse's table in the basement of
the family home and regularly tried to rub away her husband's stress. (Why not
bring in a pro? "Brett is a little weird about strangers touching his
body," Deanna said with a laugh.) Favre's 2007 renaissance was due in part
to the bigger role he'd been given in preparing game plans and the wider
latitude he'd been granted to switch plays at the line of scrimmage. Such added
responsibilities compelled him to spend more and more time studying opponents.
On Sunday evenings, when he should have been enjoying the latest victory, Favre
was already cramming for the next week's game. In his press conference he
emphasized that he is still physically sound and allowed that he wouldn't mind
showing up "for three hours on Sundays, [but] in football you can't do
that. It's a total commitment.... There's only one way for me to play the game,
and that's 100 percent."
While the Packers'
bright prospects made it that much tougher to say goodbye, Favre has seen
enough to know that coming back would guarantee nothing. As a kid he had a Dan
Marino poster on his bedroom wall, and he remembers the glum ending to his
idol's career, Marino watching from the bench in the dying minutes of a
humiliating 62--7 playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Troy Aikman, too,
suffered through a miserable final season, enduring nagging injuries as the
Dallas Cowboys went 5--11.
And Favre realized
that, had he come back, the Packers' 2008 season would have been deemed a
success only if he took them to the Super Bowl. Even for the likes of Brett
Favre, that's a lot of pressure. Green Bay's fans are intensely loyal, but that
doesn't mean they're not fickle. Following the 2005 season—the worst of Favre's
career—the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's website asked readers whether he should
be traded. Of the 6,343 respondents, an astonishing 81.1% wanted to kick to the
curb the Packers' living legend.
Now, of course,
everyone wants him back, desperately. Favre's abrupt departure (he left for
Mississippi immediately after the press conference, and Deanna said they would
be taking a year off from regular Green Bay activities such as their charity
softball game) has left a gaping hole in the little town, which for a decade
and a half has defined itself in his image. In the days after Favre's
announcement, local media reported on shell-shocked fans trying to make sense
of the news. As Grey Ruegamer, a former Packers offensive lineman and now a
member of the Giants, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, "Beer and brandy
sales are going up this week in Packer Nation."
has also been felt in the larger football world. He was that rare player liked
and respected even by his team's most bitter rivals. Word of Favre's retirement
broke on March 4, and soon the airwaves were packed with tributes that tended
toward hagiography. While his Mississippi twang and aw-shucks charm conjured
comparisons to Huck Finn, last week Favre felt more like Tom Sawyer attending
his own funeral. "Watching TV last night," he said with bemusement,
"I thought, This is what it's like when you die."