March 5, 2008

"That Brett Fahv-ra Guy"

For those of you who follow AMERICAN football (ahem, =p=...), an icon retired yesterday. Undoubtedly one of the top-five quarterbacks ever to play the game. This is like if Theirry Henry up and retired, in case you Slamdunkers miss the subtle nuances of the Violent Ballet while you watch your Beautiful Game and your cross-kicks and whatnot.

I've always hated the Packers, their weird cheese cult, slavish media following, and irritating ability to startle and confound teams I wind up rooting for. In the '96 Super Bowl, after all, I rooted for the Patriots. The pre-Belicheck/Brady/Dark Side of the Force Patriots, who were a bunch of lovable losers playing behind laid-back Pacific Coaster Drew Bledsoe and riding on the back of the always-classy Curtis Martin. Then this stupid team from the boondocks with their ugly yellow helmets and unflappable efficiency came in and destroyed them, and that was mostly because of Brett Favre. [full disclosure: I was a Niners fan in the Nineties, having lived in the Bay Area during the Montana Era, but after about 1994 I watched exactly one football game a year, and it was the Super Bowl, and after the 1995 SF/SD slaughterfest, I just kind of picked the underdog in the Super Bowl as my "team for the year". I now consider myself an ambivalent Seahawks fan.]

Favre played that game with an easy grace, always seeming a step ahead of the Pats' pass rush. He never needed to go to his third read. He stood tall in the pocket, while on Pats possessions, Bledsoe looked absolutely terrified that his protection was on the verge of yet another breakdown and that his overtaxed knees were big bullseyes for Reggie White and crew. I hated Brett Favre then, and much of what he appeared to be is much of why I hate Tom Brady now. There is an arrogance in excellence that always threatens to dwarf accomplishment, and Favre's methodical destruction of a hapless Patriots secondary on television, for all the world to see, struck me as profoundly arrogant. It did not help matters that he was throwing to Andre Rison and Sterling Sharpe.

I look back at my youthful vitriol and I feel shocked that I could hate a man who, after his first touchdown pass, leapt joyfully in the air and bounded toward the sidelines like Mike Holmgren had just walked in with an armful of Christmas presents. A man who overcame vicodin addiction not just for the sake of football, but for the sake of his family. While Favre was holding out and mulling retirement in spring 2006, I followed his story and felt contempt for him the whole way. How could this washed-up, self-styled legend who led the league in interceptions that year hold an entire organization (Packers though they were) hostage after firing their coach and installing one on the recommendation of Favre (Mike Sherman ===> Mike McCarthy, a then-controversial move), and take so long to tell them 'yes' or 'no' that he'd be flagged for 76,896 delay-of-game penalties if he spent the whole decision-making period on the field? Yet I failed to account for his wife's public battle with breast cancer, the deaths of his father and cousin, and the immense respect Brett Favre had for the game. For the latter, he'd spend untold hours trying to decide whether he, and his aging arm, were good enough to fit into the same world as quarterbacking a contending team in the National Football League. It looks like Brett Favre has finally decided he just doesn't want to spend that much energy on deciding it again.

Happy Trails, Brett Favre. Please don't ever come back to the Packers. Or *cringe* the Raiders.

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