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If you must witness an avalanche, do it from a distance. As Brett Favre's career plunges downhill, close family members are waiting in Mississippi, calling him, texting him and watching him lose, waiting for this season to finally, mercifully end.
Favre's mother, Bonita, hasn't attended a single Vikings game this year. His brother Scott drove from his home in Mississippi to the opener in nearby New Orleans, but that was it. His sister, Brandi, says, "Every other year I wanted him to come back and play. This season can't end quick enough for me. He's averaging a bad injury a game." Anyway, even if they flew up to Minnesota for a game, they wouldn't be able to console (or celebrate with) Brett afterward. He is so wiped out that he usually just heads home, eats a quick dinner and goes up to his room.
Deanna Favre lives with Brett near the team's training facility in Eden Prairie (along with their younger daughter, Breleigh) and still goes to every Vikings home game, but this has not been a fun autumn for her. For years Deanna has enjoyed having a famous husband. Now her marriage is being scrutinized and ridiculed.
Less than three years ago Favre was one of the most beloved athletes in America. In the fall of 2007 he broke Dan Marino's record for touchdown passes and John Elway's mark for wins by a quarterback, and, at age 38, extended his own record for consecutive starts by a quarterback to 253. Favre took the Packers to within one game of the Super Bowl that season, losing to the Giants in overtime at Lambeau Field.
Then he either forced his way out of Green Bay or was forced out, the first rumblings of the avalanche. "I hate that it ended the way it did," Bonita says. "It was such a wonderful experience, those years in Green Bay. It's just the way it ended ... and he should have stayed retired then. But we can't go back."
These are the people who have loved Brett Favre the longest and know him best. The Favres learned long ago that they can't talk Brett into or out of anything. And if he regrets these last three seasons—a 9--7 finish with the Jets in 2008; an '09 run with Minnesota that ended with an interception in the NFC Championship Game; this year's debacle—he has kept it to himself. He has not even told his family. (Favre declined to talk to SI for this story.)
Favre has said this is his last season— "I'm done, I'm done," he told reporters last week—and this time almost everybody believes him. ("If he goes back, he's really crazy," Bonita says. "I can't imagine what would drag him back.") He is, in every way, limping to the finish. He has been playing with a stress fracture in his left ankle and a fractured left heel. In a Halloween loss to the Patriots he took a shot to the chin that required eight stitches; some in the crowd in New England heckled him as he was carted off the field.
From that moment in August when three Vikings teammates took a private plane to Mississippi to talk Favre into coming back for the 2010 season, almost nothing has gone right. He has put up the worst quarterback rating and highest interception rate of his 20-year career, one season after having career bests in both categories. He has faced sexual-harassment allegations that have turned him into a national punch line. He clashed with coach Brad Childress, who was fired three days before Thanksgiving. On Sunday against Buffalo he was nailed in the back by linebacker Arthur Moats on the third play of the game, suffering a sprained shoulder. Favre's replacement, Tarvaris Jackson, threw two touchdown passes in the 38--14 win, but the 5--7 Vikings remain four games behind the Bears in the NFC Central, with little hope of making the playoffs.
Nobody envisioned Favre's going out this way. Nobody is quite sure where it all went wrong. But if you retrace his steps, you will find clues—signposts that can only be seen in a rearview mirror. To understand why Favre's football career is ending like this, you must go back to the beginning. As she sat in her kitchen in Kiln, Miss., recently, talking about the most famous of her four children, the first thing Bonita Favre said was, "He would have been a good only child."
Start there, in the town the locals call The Kill. "It was his way," Bonita explained. "He was gonna do whatever it took or whatever he wanted. His competitiveness just kept him working on his own."