Monday January 24, 2010
When Brett Favre a announced his retirement after sixteen years as popular quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, most people understood. It was time. He made his mark. His steady performance, rocket launcher arm, laser beam eye, lightening fast release, dead on precision and general likability had run its course. It was a bittersweet farewell to an organization that is a legend boasting a legion of fans who are so loyal, so devoted, they will readily don a triangular facsimile of a block of yellow cheddar on their heads as a solemn sign of their allegiance. Shameless Cheesehead dedication.
Shortly after his Packers “retirement” announcement, a press conference featured Favre in a New York Jets cap, all smiles. He changed his mind. Sitting out a season was too much. But by the end of the forgettable 2008 schedule for the Jets, Brett called another press conference, and retired a second time.
Until the Vikings made a call.
This made him the butt of late night jokes. All year, Favre’s inability to retire inspired one-liners that triggered laughter and the wagging of heads. Even advertisers got in on the fun.
Until those Vikings started to win. Favre’s receivers pulled off miracle routes and impossible catches. The old magic came back, and Brett had only one more hurdle: The New Orleans Saints. Beat them, and the aging warrior would appear in a third Super Bowl:
I hadn’t paid much attention to all this until I watched the old man (forty is the NFL’s sixty-five) spring to life a couple of Sunday afternoons late in the season. The fire in the eyes. The team protecting their quarterback. Receivers zig-zagging around the defense, finding an open spot, Favre rifling the ball at the bulls-eye, right in the pocket. Ten, fifteen, twenty yards at a crack. The closer he came to the final minutes, the more intense and accurate the routine.
Brett Favre. Super Bowl? Could it be? No way. Way.
So I have been a Minnesota fan for the past couple of weeks. I have spent so much of my life in Lake Wobegon that it just felt right. Inspiration for an old guy, and plenty of it.
The New Orleans Saints have earned a reputation as the bad boys of the gridiron; like the Raiders, brute force is the name of the game. Hit hard. Take the calls for late hits and head butts. It’s worth it in the end. Trash talk follows the crushing blows. The Saints knew that if they were to overcome the Viking threat, they would by necessity target the veteran quarterback. Punish him. Start to finish.
So all night long, in spite of the determination of his linemen, Favre took a pounding. Just after release, the ball took flight like a heat-seeking missile towards its intended target and bam, a three hundred pound defenseman would hit Brett in a full body blow, like a freight train or a Mack truck, pick your metaphor. And then from the other side. Sometimes both. Left and right. Cut him in half. Slam him to the ground.
The camera often turned to Brett’s wife Deanna and their daughter Brittany as they grimaced with each grueling hit. Families of football players could all relate. Back in the day, when it was our son on the football field, he was the only one I watched. As Favre took hit after hit, it was as though these two women felt it, too.
One particular blow in the third quarter drew a flag. A New Orleans defender got to Brett just after the throw, buried his shoulder pad into Brett’s rib cage, grabbed both thighs from behind with muscles bulging, lifted the quarterback on impact, pulled his legs out from underneath and drove him into the ground with the full force of his three hundred pound mass. The slow motion replay from several angles made the point. The Saint got up and stood over him like a Goliath, flexing and grunting and gloating. Favre rolled over in agony, wind knocked out of his lungs, body crushed, and laid there for a moment. Deanna covered her eyes. Brittany reached for her mother.
Brett got up.
He limped over to the sideline. The team trainer was ready. All night, they were patching him up, re-wrapping his ankles, rubbing out his limbs. And the old warrior got up again walked back and forth and then trotted back onto the gridiron for more.
And the passes kept on connecting. The stats were lopsided. Favre threw for more than three hundred yards that night. But it wasn’t enough. Most people will remember the errant final pass, from field goal range, picked off by New Orleans. Brett had the win and the Super Bowl in his sights, but it disappeared in one fleeting moment in the final seconds of regulation time in the Championship game.
And in the end the old warrior with gray stubble covering his chin trotted across the field to congratulate Drew Brees. He smiled. He loves the game. A class act. A bittersweet, memorable night.
And for me, an aging warrior in my own rite, I will always remember it as the night the old guy got back up and kept on fighting all the way to the end.
He may have missed Super Bowl XLIV, but he had Deanna and Brittany waiting. And that’s good enough.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010