With less than five minutes left on the clock, the old quarterback makes his way back to the huddle, trying not to show a slight limp. A brief grimace of pain is apparent on his grizzled features, which he quickly pushes away as he leans in to talk to the boys ... his boys.
"Listen up, guys," he says, scanning their dejected faces, knowing it’s up to him to lift their spirits, one more time. "We may be down by two touchdowns, we may be tired, we may be a little banged-up.
"But we can win this thing, I can feel it. And I’ll tell you why ...
"Because I’m BRETT FREAKIN’ FAVRE!"
As they break the huddle, the Vikings offense lets loose with a war cry. They line up against the defense, energized, defiant. The Cardinals look into their eyes and see grim determination where short moments ago, there was only defeat. Suddenly, they can taste their own fear.
The quarterback takes the snap and we see a montage of images; Favre rolling out of the pocket, Favre rearing back and releasing, just as the defenders engulf him. The scoreboard reveals his success, the crowd going wild, as the Vikings get the ball back and the cycle repeats. Incredibly, they tie the game, and win it in overtime. They rejoice and hug, and high five one another while in the stands, women swoon, and even hard men shed tears.
Cut away to Favre later on, standing at mid-field in an empty stadium, alone except for one other figure -- his young protege, Tarvaris Jackson. Wordlessly, Favre hands the football he’s holding to Jackson. They nod to one another. Brett looks skyward, pumps his fist a single time, and heads to the locker room; tired but victorious, vindicated.
That’s the way it should have ended. That’s the way legends go out. On top. Beloved by all. At least in the movies. And why should Brett Favre expect anything less? When was the last time he heard his name spoken in anything other than reverence? Even the players and coaches of teams he defeats talk about him afterwards with respect or outright awe.
And the broadcasters? The print media? The NFL, who has parlayed his triumphs into their profits so many times over?
They call him a hero. They call him a gunslinger. They repeat his long list of record-setting accomplishments. They talk about how many come-from-behind victories he’s had. How many times he played through pain, and never missed a start. His professional ups and downs (mostly ups) have sent them all into hyperbolic glee, for two decades.
And as they rode his shoulders and his coattails, he became more insulated. He began to believe the things they told him. The greatest, they said. The gunslinger. How many times has he heard somebody who makes his living from the NFL say, "He’s down, but Brett Favre always finds a way to win"?
That’s why Favre may be the only one left who doesn’t know how this story ends.
Brett Favre thinks that he’s Roy Hobbs in ‘The Natural’, overcoming age, injury and a treacherous femme fatale to win the big game in the last scene. He thinks he’s Rocky Balboa, withstanding punishment that would kill an ordinary man, and getting up to fight another day. Or John Rambo, or really, any other Sylvester Stallone character.
But what he’s going to find out, is that he’s Davy Crockett, in ‘The Alamo’ -- doomed. The odds are too overwhelming, and he’s not the fighter he used to be. Or maybe he’s more like Norma Desmond, in ‘Sunset Boulevard’; past his prime and used up by a cynical industry that’s already moved on to younger, fresher starlets.
Or maybe, he’s just a human being, after all.
The only thing the media likes better than putting people on pedestals is knocking them back off of them. And they built Favre’s pedestal very high. From that remote field of dreams in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Favre’s legend grew as fast as any NFL player’s ever had. And soon enough he was looked on as both celebrity and savior to the Lambeau faithful.
If you think I’m exaggerating, you didn’t spend any time in that state while Favre was their quarterback. "In Favre We Trust" was a popular sentiment. In fact in wasn’t unusual to see true believers in t-shirts with ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ on them. Except in that version, Brett Favre was ‘The Lord’. And John Madden spread the news of his good works, to all in the land, every Monday night.
Good luck trying to remain humble under those circumstances.
You might want to recall the fate of the last guy the faithful praised that much. Of course, in Green Bay, they’ve already denied Brett. But in Minnesota, the same people who loved the 14-2 Brett Favre of last year are tiring of this season’s 3-5 Brett. And so is Brad Childress, who got a nifty contract extension and raise based on last year’s success.
And then of course, there’s the league itself. It seems likely that Favre is about to learn a humbling lesson about crashing to earth, courtesy of the same NFL that in the past never let his feet touch the ground. Yesterday, the league met with Jenn Sterger, former New York Jets sideline reporter and eye candy. The subject of the meeting was a seedy little peccadillo, involving text messages and pictures that will probably end up as a very sad blemish on the end of a brilliant career.
While I recognize the ugliness of sexual harassment, both in and outside of the workplace, I can’t help but feel a certain skepticism about this whole business and the way it’s being played out. You and I will probably never know what really went on.
Which is how it should be. It’s not our business. I won’t pass judgement on Favre over this, even though the pictures are out there for those who care to see them. And I won’t pass judgement on Jenn Sterger, who, let’s face it, has a career wholly dependent on publicity. I might be willing to make some snap judgments on her lawyer and her manager, both of whom attended yesterday’s meeting with Sterger. I’m sure they have no motives outside Jenn’s well-being, although neither apparently has suggested that her tribulations were worthy of bothering the police over.
In fact, I don’t believe it’s the business of the NFL, although they disagree. The National Football League makes its considerable income promoting violent athletic competition. Acting as morality police for its players is just a hobby -- but it's also good public relations. The league has stepped into the sexual escapades of other players, passing judgement on Ben Roethlisberger even when the justice system found it unnecessary to do so.
But the NFL and Brett Favre have a much longer relationship, and I suspect that when the league interjects its high-minded brand of judgment on him, he’s going to find it harder to shake off than it was for Roethlisberger, who still has plenty of time left to repair his ‘legacy’. And while you can rightly say that the NFL made Brett Favre rich, you also have to admit that Brett made the league much richer.
Beyond that, there are the injuries. On the latest IR, Favre is listed with foot, ankle, and calf problems. He also just had eight stitches in his chin. If one more thing befalls him, Favre is going to merit his own personal injury report.
This is where his own press threatens to eat Brett Favre alive. After 20 years in the NFL, he’s never missed a start. And the media loves that about him; it's a great storyline: "the gunslinger is an iron man." He just keeps getting up, they trumpet his toughness and have for decades. And the poor guy is still listening to the flattery. He may even still believe it himself, even with his pain-wracked body insisting something different.
But the truth is, last Sunday’s overtime win against Arizona may be the worst thing that ever happened to Brett Favre, if it convinced him that he’s still got enough in the tank to turn around the season for the Minnesota Vikings. They have more problems than a young gunslinger can fix, let alone one who’s hobbled and in denial about the sad reality of the aging process.
I’ve never been a supporter of Brett Favre. I’m a fan of the Chicago Bears, and when he was a Green Bay Packer Favre ruined a lot of Sunday afternoons for me. His will he/won’t he flirtations with retirement over the last couple of years have been an irritating dance that bespeaks a man who can’t let go of the spotlight. This Sunday he’s coming back to Soldier Field again, for the last time, again.
He should have quit last week while he was ahead. If that seems a shabby epitaph to a great football career, it’s better than the one the media and the NFL are about to give him.
Are you ready for your close-up, Brett?
Fade to black.