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Michael Wilbon

Sunset on the Frozen Tundra?

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, January 10, 2005; Page D01

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Is it possible that it's over for Brett Favre? Even if he does return to the Green Bay Packers -- and that's no certainty now -- isn't it possible that his days of greatness are over, that he's no longer capable of those Indiana Jones fourth quarters or of leading a team deep into the playoffs? It's blasphemy, I know. My laptop may be confiscated for daring to write the words while sitting at Lambeau Field. Still, Favre was, well, terrible, wasn't he?

Actually, Favre called that description an understatement after Minnesota's 31-17 NFC playoff victory Sunday. The way it went down had such an impact that Favre talked with his coach about retiring immediately after the game and in his postgame news conference, he reflected on his career like a man already deep in soul-searching. "It'd be easy to walk off the field and say, 'I've had enough,' " Favre said. "But I can't base my decision on this game. I know I can still play, though I question that right now. I love to play the game. I don't think it's passed me by yet. The Packers would love to have me back, or at least I think they do. Some things I probably can't do like I used to. I can still win games for this team. Unfortunately, I'll probably think about this game until whenever."

"I know I can still play, though I question that right now," said Brett Favre, who suffered a four-interception afternoon. "I love to play the game." (John Gress -- Reuters)

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NFL Teams Eye USC Coaching Duo (washingtonpost.com, Jan 6, 2005)

That's because he played so poorly and because the Packers lost. After never losing a home playoff game in 70 years, the Packers now have done so for the second time in three years. And the reason they lost, as much as anything, was because Favre threw four interceptions. At home, snow swirling, on the frozen tundra, with the choking dog Vikings on defense, Favre threw four picks. It was the kind of playoff performance we've come to expect from -- let me see -- Jake Plummer. But not Brett Favre.

This has been brewing for a while, though. Even though the Packers went 9-2 over their last 11 games, Favre threw some horrendous interceptions, amateurish lobs and overthrows that should have been cause for concern. But everybody from coaches to teammates to opponents to sportswriters gave Favre a pass because, well, because he's Brett Favre. Part of what has made him so successful and appealing is the way he has tried to sneak the fastball in there and, in the process, has thrown some crazy interceptions. Several times a season, even on the way to the Super Bowl, Favre would toss one deep into the arms of a defender and we'd think, "What in the world was he doing?" But you'd never make a serious fuss because that's the swashbuckling way Favre played. And it worked. He'd make a mess, straighten his bowtie, dust off the lapels of his tuxedo and drive the Packers back to victory.

But not now, and maybe not again on any meaningful level. Two years ago here on a snowy cold night, Favre was bested by Michael Vick. On Sunday night, Favre again wasn't the best quarterback on the field. Daunte Culpepper was -- and by a million miles. Culpepper continued to have one of the great invisible seasons in NFL history, the best season by a quarterback not named Peyton Manning. Culpepper found receivers all day, beginning and ending the game with touchdown lobs to Randy Moss. Culpepper threw four touchdown passes, with no interceptions. His passer rating was 137.1 to Favre's 55.4.

Favre threw it up for grabs at least four times. And four times the Vikings came away with interceptions, one on the very next play after the Packers had blocked a field goal and seemed to have momentum. Packers receivers were wide open and Favre missed them more often than we have grown accustomed to seeing, especially at Lambeau in the playoffs. Granted, he threw six picks against the Rams a couple of years ago in the playoffs, but that was in St. Louis and the Rams were simply superior. The result was stunning not because the Packers are substantially better than the Vikings; twice this year, Ryan Longwell kicked late field goals to give Green Bay 34-31 victories. It was the combination of Favre playing so poorly and Minnesota getting its sorry act together that was so improbable.

Now, though, instead of looking ahead to a Saturday night prime-time showdown between Favre and Vick in Atlanta, the Rams visit Atlanta while the Vikings -- the 9-8 Vikings -- travel to Philly to see what's left of the Eagles.

And Brett Favre will not be there.

"I don't know what to do," Favre said. "I didn't anticipate going home this week. I hope that if I come back, I hope that Brett Favre doesn't come back to play for the money. If I come back, I want to play for the right reason, which is to try and lead this team to the Super Bowl."

The most hopeful cheeseheads will point out that Favre has hinted at retirement before, then recharged in the offseason and returned.

But Favre is 35 and there was a deep sincerity in his reminiscences about playing with Reggie White, who died Dec. 26. He spoke of the difficulty of winning in the playoffs, even when playing on a great team. He revealed that his coach, Mike Sherman, told him not to think seriously about retirement just yet, coming off such a painful loss. But Favre also said that when the two talked about a timetable for making a decision, Favre suggested the April college draft and Sherman said, " 'No, probably sooner than that.' "

His personal dramas have endeared him to millions of people who couldn't find Green Bay on a map. His wife's battle with breast cancer, Favre said, is "going to play into my decision-making.

"I know if my family was here, they'd say, 'He's coming back; we're not going to let him go out like that.' "

But it's going to take more than familial back-slapping to get Favre up for another season. "I've been to the top," he said, "and I know what it's like. I know how hard it is, how quickly it passes you by, and how difficult it is to get back."

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