Making Sense Of The Nonsensical

“I’m just tired.” That’s how both my wife and I felt this week as we struggled to care for two sick young children. Before you send in your cards and letters, don’t worry: Neither of them are about to shuffle off this mortal coil. No, they’re just ill enough to be sent home from daycare, thereby throwing major complications into our oh-so-intricate weekly schedule. And enough to make their parental units tired. But as much as my wife and I might want to be done with these days of constant fevers, ear infections, and bedtime routines that are routinely longer and more excruciating than this year’s Oscars broadcast, we know that when we are, we’ll miss them. No matter how tired we may be feeling now.

That’s what I bet will happen to Brett Favre this coming September, as the first Sunday of the NFL regular season finds him doing something other than taking snaps under center. No matter how “tired” he feels this March, he’ll miss it this fall. But unlike my wife and I, who can’t keep our kids small (no matter how much coffee or cigarettes we force on them), Favre had a choice to keep playing or not. I can’t help but think — barring some untold situation that he hasn’t yet confided to ESPN’s newly-goateed Chris Mortensen — that he made the wrong one.

Now I’m not one to tell people what to do. You want to get a tattoo of a snake on your face, go right ahead. You want to spend hours every month watching a washed-up comedian and 26 tarts on the slowest-moving game show in television history, go right ahead. And surely Brett Favre has earned the right, after 17 seasons of duty as the toughest quarterback to ever play pro football, to retire whenever he wants to.

But why now? Why would a guy who obviously loves to play the game, whose unabashed displays of on-field giddiness and joy are as much a part of his legend than any of the numerous records that he holds (and he holds ’em all, at least for now), retire now? Why would a guy with one of the top receiving corps in the league, an emerging star at running back, a solid offensive line, and a top-flight defense to bail him out of trouble, leave now? Why would a guy one offensive series away from a Super Bowl berth just a few weeks ago quit now?

Notice I said “quit.” Because that’s what it feels like, doesn’t it? Had Favre retired two years ago, when the Packers stunk, it would have made sense. In fact, it didn’t make sense for a guy who had been through so much for fifteen years to want to come back to lead a losing team under a new coaching regime. Even last year, when the Packers were better but had no offense and did little in the offseason to improve offensively, you wouldn’t have been surprised if Favre had stepped down. In fact, it didn’t make sense for a guy who had been through so much for sixteen years to want to come back to lead a team that opted for drafting James Jones over signing Randy Moss all while losing their leading rusher in free agency.

But, despite what morons like me said and wrote, it worked. The Packers were dominant in 2007. Favre, confident in his better-than-advertised receivers and confident in his defense, played his smartest football ever. He seemed refreshed, revitalized, invigorated. Up to just a few days ago, idiots like me thought he’d be playing into the next decade. But then everything changed when news of Favre’s conversation with ESPN’s Mortensen got out. (I bet John Clayton is pissed off.)

Again, we have to ask ourselves, why? Well, in a situation as head-scratching as this one, we have to go with the information we’re presented with. And Favre gave a plausible but ludricous explanation. Apparently he feels anything less than a Super Bowl win would not be worth the time and effort it would take to play another year. Fine, but certainly Favre knew that the Packers team he headed up the previous two seasons was not bound for a Super Bowl berth. Now that he has a team with a good shot, it turns out a good shot is not enough and apparently not as desirable as knowing there is no shot. I guess Favre, who spent much of last season in denial that the Packers were as good as their record or play indicated, must have finally bought in to their chances when the Giants upset the Cowboys and the road to the Super Bowl changed from going through Dallas to going through Green Bay. Obviously the outcome of the NFC Championship Game was a disappointment, but who’d have guessed that the disappointment would be so crushing that Favre would sooner quit than live through it or even a second Super Bowl loss again?

I feel like I’m rambling here, but you almost can’t help but ramble trying to make sense of a decision that seems so nonsensical. The bottom line for cynics is that since he can obviously still perform at a very high level, he quit on his team (like how some felt and still feel about Barry Sanders’s retirement). The bottom line for romantics is that he left on his own terms — instead of leaving after a subpar year fronting a subpar team when most thought he should leave, he left after a great year fronting a great team when next to no one thought he should leave. Or maybe you can’t call the 2007 Packers a great team, maybe that group was evolving into becoming truly great. Now we’ll never know. Because the Packers won’t be great without Favre.

[Two other things. I don’t buy that Dan Marino’s records were that important to Favre that he stayed playing to break them. Peyton Manning or Tom Brady will likely break them one day anyway and Favre has to know that. I also don’t buy the Randy Moss situation. At least not as it applied to this year. The Packers nor any team outside of New England had no chance to sign Moss this season. And I simply don’t agree that Moss joining the Packers last season would have been enough to win them the Super Bowl. Hey, it didn’t work for New England.]

So wither the Favre-less Packers? Not exactly. This team is too talented to simply fade away next season. And with Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay still has the best quarterback in the NFC North, a division with laughable starters Tavaris Jackson, Rex Grossman, and Jon Kitna (awful to simply bad). But I would be stunned if Rodgers can lead the Packers past Wild Card weekend next year. He simply needs more experience. [And can he stay healthy? And if not, who will the Packers have at backup? Maybe a rookie with even less experience.]

Come January 2009, it’ll be clear that an old and tired Brett Favre has more game than a young and fresh Aaron Rodgers.

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