Pack it in

Seeking return, QB shows poor form

On Brett Favre

July 31, 2008|By CHILDS WALKER

It's rare in showdowns between great athletes and management that the guys in suits come off as more sympathetic.

We naturally have warm feelings for the players who've thrilled us over the years. And we basically want the businessmen to get out of the way and let them thrill us some more.

The Brett Favre saga turns this dynamic on its head. And it's kind of unbelievable, really, that Favre has become so unsympathetic so quickly.

Few athletes have garnered more love in the past 20 years. Favre didn't just have a rocket arm and play for a signature franchise. He was a rare swashbuckler in the buttoned-up NFL, a guy who, for good or ill, would freelance at big moments, just as we all did back on the schoolyard. He was fairly honest about his troubles, such as a battle with painkiller addiction. And it was hard not to feel a chill when he threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns the night after his dad died.

So it felt right to root for him as he took a final shot at the Super Bowl last year. It also felt right to let loose heaps of adulation when he retired in March. Favre said all the proper things about being too tired to prepare for another season. And he had played so well in 2007 that we were allowed to let go of a great career without any memories of a sad, stumbling final chapter.

Five months later, the good feelings from Favre's retirement are all gone. He apparently was not honest with the Green Bay Packers when he told them he was through with football. Or maybe he wasn't honest with himself. Because we all know now that Favre is determined to play in 2008.

He officially unretired this week, and he wants the Packers to release him, trade him to a team of his choosing or give him a chance to start.

Look, it's fine to change your mind. In fact, in this election season, I'm constantly reminded how much I hate our focus on flip-flopping. I don't trust people who won't alter their views under any circumstances. Too much certainty is a bad thing.

But the Favre situation isn't about a simple change of heart.

The Packers were willing to go into 2008 with him as their quarterback. All he had to do was give them the word.

As he had the previous few offseasons, Favre seemed to struggle with the decision. But when he announced his retirement, he seemed both certain and relieved.

It really should have been his final answer. Because, you see, when an NFL quarterback flip-flops, he's not just bringing tumult into his own existence. The position is so important both on the field and in public perception that if a franchise doesn't know what it's doing at quarterback, it doesn't know what it's doing period.

Take that reality and magnify it 100 times in Favre's case. He was an all-time great and perhaps the most revered player in the history of a glorious franchise. He had earned the right to keep the Packers on hold. But once he made the call, he had to understand that the franchise would dive headlong into a new era.

For him to come back a few months later and say, "Oops, didn't mean it," is just staggeringly unfair to management and his former teammates. It would be like John McCain or Barack Obama winning in November only to say, "Oops, I should never have run," in February. There are just too many people dependent on the decision for such a reversal to be acceptable.

If Favre believes he has the leverage because the Packers will look bad standing in his way, he should think again.

I give the Packers credit for not giving Favre the shot to win his job back from Aaron Rodgers and for refusing to release him so he can sign with a competitor. They upheld their end of the bargain by keeping the franchise on hold until Favre made up his mind. They should at least be allowed to recoup some value in trade.

The whole thing seems like the beginning of a sad final chapter that Favre never needed to write. He seems either unaware or unconcerned that he's dragging a bunch of people back into limbo. And that makes it a little harder to remember the glow of all those great feats.

Maybe he'll move on, have a respectable season and retire to general respect as Joe Montana did. I'm sure that, in the wash, we'll remember him fondly. But in his current showdown, he's the one wearing the black hat.

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