YOU COULD WRITE THE BRETT FAVRE football epitaph many ways. You could riff on the great games and the clutch throws. You could talk to Mike Holmgren, and he would tell you how Favre grew from a maddening, impetuous kid to a maddening, impetuous—and very special—veteran. You could talk to old defensive coordinators and cornerbacks, who would tell you about the league's biggest gunslinger and risk-taker since Slingin' Sammy Baugh. You could write about the records, although he was never about the records. But as someone who's known Favre pretty well for the past 13 years, I'm going to choose a different way: I'm going to let him describe himself. Favre the player is a compelling story; Favre the man is a unique story. � I first spent time with Brett Favre in 1995, when SI dispatched me to Green Bay to do a week-in-the-life-of-an-NFL-team story. Early on a Monday morning I met Favre in the Packers' offices at Lambeau Field. "Wow," he said, looking me and a photographer over. "Glad you made it all the way out to Green Bay. You mean there was nothing to write about Drew Bledsoe this week?" � Kidding. Sort of. Kidding, with a point: About time you paid attention to me, because I'm going to tear up this league. He never said that, but it's what he was thinking. He led the league in sarcasm, but open his veins and he'd bleed honesty, just as he did when he announced his retirement. "I'm just tired," he told me. "I wish I had some big dramatic reason why. But I don't. I know I can still play, but mentally, I'm just drained." How do you know when to say when—when you get mixed signals from your team and you know you're still good enough to play and play well, if not as well as you did 10 years ago? How would any of us have made such a momentous decision?
That was Favre. Human.
ON HUNTING: "I love hunting. Tell you a story. Before a Monday-night game against the Vikings, we practiced Sunday morning. Beautiful day. About 60. Sunny. Everybody in town must have had the same thought I did—maybe this is the last good golf day of the year—and so [the course] was jammed. It played so slow I only made nine holes. We had to be at the hotel for meetings at seven that night, so I decided to hunt for a couple of hours. I've got a tree stand about 45 minutes from here. I got in it about 3:45. I had a bow. Within 10 minutes a beautiful eight-point buck came right underneath me. I hit it right in the back. It ran off, and I waited a minute, then I found it, laying up against a tree. I dragged it out of the woods and put it in the truck. Blood all over the back of the truck. And I got to the hotel right on time. I'm a mess. People wonder what's happened to me. I'm like, 'It's been a great day. Touchdown passes this morning, golf this afternoon, an eight-point buck a couple of hours ago. How was your day?' "
Funniest player, by far, I've ever covered. You haven't laughed till you've heard him do Billy Bob Thornton's dialogue from Sling Blade in precise dialect. Even better: Favre brought a remote-control fart machine onto the team bus before a big game against the Bears, and when the silent bus was stopped at a light, he hit the button that produced the sound of loud flatulence; coach Mike Holmgren shot angry glares at him.
Smartest player while playing the role of a rube I've ever covered. He'd nap and fart his way through a quarterback meeting, then ace the written test on that week's game plan. Maybe not the toughest player I've ever covered, but there's been no tougher quarterback than the man who played every Sunday for 16 straight years as a sitting duck for defensive linemen. And the most articulate player I've ever interviewed. (Well, he and Peyton Manning are tied for first there.) I'll never forget him sitting on a luggage cart in a stairwell at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans, two hours after winning Super Bowl XXXI, away from the adoring masses, spending 15 minutes explaining down to the minutest detail how Andre Rison got so open on the first touchdown of the game, and how he wished Steve Sabol of NFL Films would someday narrate what a wonderful play it was.
ON A FAVORITE PRANK: "Had to be when I pulled down [special teams coach] Frank Novak's pants after practice one day. Every day someone breaks us down after practice, finishes practice by saying something. So this day I say, 'Frank, break us down!' He loves that. So we're getting ready to say, 'one-two-three-TEAM!' and I pull Frank's pants down, right down to the ankles. He's just shocked. Everybody's whacking him on the rear end, and he's staring at me. Can't believe it."
But when people ask me what Favre is really like, I usually say, "Normal." He got a kick, as any kid would, at living the high life his first four or five years as a famous football player, but then he settled into the role of famous person half the year, guy-on-a-tractor-in-Mississippi the other half.
That's the guy I expect the retired Favre to be like. Doing battle with the dam-building beavers on his property. Edging the front lawn abutting the road in front of the house. Golfing. Maybe doing a little TV, but I doubt it. Just before wild-card weekend in January 2007, I called Favre's agent, Bus Cook, to see if Favre wanted to be an in-studio analyst for the NBC doubleheader that Saturday. I knew the answer, but I asked anyway. Cook laughed. "Brett was on his tractor all day today," he said, "and I'm sure that's where he'll be Saturday."
ON RETIREMENT: "You'll never find me. They'll do a Where Are They Now? segment on me on HBO, but they'll have to get Robert Stack, like on Unsolved Mysteries, to do it. I'll disappear."
We may never find another one like him.