Favre’s Long Con

So Brett Favre is returning for what is presumably his final season in the NFL, ending an agonizing months-long process during which “Will Brett Favre return?” became the most ubiquitous question since “Who shot J.R.?” Packer fan should be thrilled but also not a little ticked at the Hall of Fame QB.

It’s unquestionably a good thing for the Packers and their fans that Favre is coming back. Despite a terrible season last year during which he often played so recklessly and irresponsibly that he seemed to be performing some sort of twisted parody of his “gunslinger” image, Favre still gives the Packers the best chance — by far — to win. He simply needs playmakers — healthy playmakers — around him.

Favre knows he needs more help than he had last year to avoid another losing season in 2006. He stated publicly several times this offseason that he wanted Green Bay to be aggressive in free agency, saying the Packers “have to make a statement again” like the organization made when it signed Reggie White in 1993. He personally talked to free agent linebacker LeVar Arrington on the telephone to try to convince him to come to Green Bay. The message to Packers GM Ted Thompson and new head coach Mike McCarthy was clear: Convince me we won’t be 4-12 again, and I’ll come back.

But the Packers never made the statement Favre so badly wanted them to make. Arrington signed with the New York Giants. The team has so far been unable to convince free agent cornerback Charles Woodson to become a Packer. Meanwhile, center Mike Flanagan and kicker Ryan Longwell have signed with other teams. Not to mention the team hired an inexperienced head coach. If anything, the Packers seem to be backpedaling from last year’s 4-12 campaign, perhaps knowingly gearing up for a year or two of re-building. This operational mindset was specifically what Favre said would keep him in Mississippi.

Yet he is returning. And while I don’t doubt that Favre considered retiring — you’d have to be crazy to get beaten up for 16 games, win only four of them, and not consider it — I do think that he always knew he was coming back. He knew he was healthy and he knew he didn’t want to end his storied career with a 4-12 season. He also knows the Packers always have a shot in the weak NFC North.

So Favre played up his supposed indecision, hoping that Thompson and McCarthy would buy into it and improve the team, thereby improving the chances that he could leave the game a winner a la John Elway. He bluffed and Thompson and McCarthy won — not only do the team’s chances improve with Favre, but the two won’t go down in Packer lore as being the two that chased Favre out of town. And they didn’t have to spend a bundle on free agents.

Favre’s decision makes winners out of Packer fans too, although some may let linger the hard feelings caused by Favre’s long con. But chances are, on Sunday afternoon, September 10, 2006, when Favre throws that first touchdown of the season and extends that right index finger to the sky, Packer fans will forgive Favre any offseason pain and suffering. And they’ll know he made the right decision to return. And Favre will know it too.

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