Dear Packer fans everywhere,
Sometime between today, two days after our once-great quarterback was crushed by a Patriots defensive tackle and sent to the locker room to get stitches, and next week when Favre trudges back onto the field one more time, take at least a minute to feel sorry for the man.
(Pause for outraged exclamation and protest.)
I know. I was there for each one of his unretirements. I argued during the summer of 2008 that he was making himself bigger than the team, when half of Packer Nation was burning Ted Thompson in effigy for daring to trade him away. I cheered as loudly as anyone when he threw the fatal pick at the end of the NFC Championship game, and I took a great deal of satisfaction from watching him lose the game for the Vikings two weeks ago. I’ve defended him before in this space against Deadspin’s charges, which are inching closer and closer towards being substantiated, but I do not consider myself a Favre apologist. I’ve castigated him enough over the past few years for that to be an untruth.
And I know that he brought all this on himself. I know that he took a fat contract from the Vikings to come back for another year, how it took three Vikings flying down to Mississippi to beg him to return, and how Favre alone is the reason why he’s still on the football field, taking these massive hits and losing game after game.
But he doesn’t deserve this.
The image of Favre lying on his side, wincing and huddling in pain as a Vikings tagalong held a towel up to his bleeding chin as the motorized cart sped towards the locker room, was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in professional football.
Regardless of what you believe Favre did or didn’t do for the Packers–and forget the revisionist history, he was the biggest reason why we’ve been as successful as we have over 16 of the last 20 years–he will go down in football history as one of the all-time great quarterbacks, if not the all-time great players. What endeared him to us Packers fans and to all of America, his exuberance, his play, his heart and guts and courage on the field, make him so. Such a player, who we have been privileged to see as fans for almost as long as I’ve been alive, should not go out like this, battered and broken and still coming back for more.
Favre’s situation is not unlike the one the Brewers’ Trevor Hoffman faced this year. After an unbelievable season for the Vikings, Favre has become worse then ordinary in his second. He can’t run anymore. He’s fighting tendinitis in his elbow, and playing on a newly re-fractured ankle. He has eight stitches in his chin, courtesy of Myron Pryor. He’s hearing allegations of improper conduct with a Jets hangabout, and being forced to admit that at least some of them are true. For perhaps the first time in his career, there’s open talk in the media and among his coaches about benching him during the season for a better alternative. His locker room is falling apart, and his team is just 2-5 after a NFC Championship berth the year before. In short, he’s being assailed on all fronts.
And we see every agonizing bit of it and cheer for more.
Hoffman didn’t have a consecutive starts streak to protect. He could watch quietly from the bullpen as John Axford saved game after game, then come out late in the season when winning no longer mattered and get one last, well-deserved ovation from his fans. He could sit back, teach Axford and cede the public eye to his successor. He could be shielded from the ruthless gaze of the media.
But Favre will be out there on the field for every game of the rest of this season until he is knocked out or forcibly benched by his coach. And that means we will continue to see every heart-pounding hit, every head-hanging interception, every public spat with the Vikings’ brain trust. There’s no young savior waiting to start (Tarvaris Jackson certainly doesn’t count as one), and we wouldn’t see him if there was. All the pathos and all the tragedy of a forty-one year old man trying to play a game for relative kids in their twenties will be on display for all to see, for as long as he keeps coming back.
At this point, Favre reminds me of nothing more so than an old dog still trying to play fetch-the-stick with his master, limping and barking down the field and still trying to do what used to be so effortless and fun. It’s sad to see what he has become and all the abuse he takes. You know that point in some action movies, where the hero is beating up the bad guy, and at first it’s righteous and necessary? But the punches keep coming and the blood spatters out the corner of his mouth and it gets more and more brutal, until it’s just too much and the hero’s sidekicks cry “Enough!” That’s where we’re at right now, or at least where I am. It was satisfying to see Favre get his righteous comeuppance for all he put the Packers organization through, but enough is enough. Let the man up.
As Packer fans and as football fans, there’s a time for us to let the man up. I’m not saying it should be today, or tomorrow, or even the end of this season after Favre struggles through the last nine games. Not for everybody. But I encourage you, as people who followed him through the glory years and cheered for all his touchdowns, and as fans who booed or cheered him before his trade to the Jets, take a minute before the next inevitable beating to feel for Brett Lorenzo Favre. Because a legendary career like his shouldn’t end with this kind of brutal, crushing vulnerability. Call it Favre’s fault, Thompson’s, or whoever you like. But he shouldn’t be going out like this.