By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 5, 2008 1:25 PM
On so many levels, Brett Favre's rationale for retirement stated in his voice-mail message to ESPN's Chris Mortensen on Tuesday makes so little sense, especially for a future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who has always been revered for his so-called gunslinger's style.
In a somewhat bizarre message, Favre suggested that the "stress" involved in playing football at this point in his life was simply too overwhelming for him to return for an 18th season, a year after leading the Green Bay Packers to within a game of the Super Bowl in 2007.
Playing professional football?
In front of thousands of adoring spectators?
For millions of dollars?
In a town and a state where most citizens have been known to genuflect in his very presence?
You want stress, Brett, go down to the unemployment line and talk to the guy who just got laid off with a wife and four kids to feed, and $4 gas just around the corner.
You want stress, Brett, think about all those victims of the sub-prime mortgage crisis trying to keep from having their homes foreclosed.
You want stress, Brett, talk to mamas and papas with kids stationed in Fallujah.
Favre also spoke about expectations in that voice mail. He insisted that unless his team won the Super Bowl next season, he personally would consider the year a failure.
"I know it shouldn't feel unsuccessful, but the only way to come back and make that be the right decision would be to come back and win a Super Bowl," Favre said in his voice message to Mort. "And honestly, the odds of that, they're tough. Those are big shoes for me to fill, and I guess it was a challenge I wasn't up for."
The more you listen to that tape -- and ESPN has been playing it non-stop, day and night ever since it came in -- the more you have to conclude that Favre has made a far too hasty decision to retire, one he's likely to regret the closer it gets to summer training camp at St. Norbert College.
In more than 35 years of covering professional football, I'm having a hard time recalling a top-tier quarterback retiring from the game without someone ripping the uniform off his back and telling him it really was time to go.
Remember John Unitas trying to pathetically play out his string in San Diego? Joe Montana limping around Kansas City? Sonny Jurgensen howling in protest when George Allen coldly informed him in 1974 that his services were no longer needed? Jurgy was 40 at the time, but fully convinced he could still play and lead the Redskins to another Super Bowl.
Roger Staubach, Steve Young and Troy Aikman might still be pitching, if not for the multiple concussions doctors told them could cause permanent brain damage if they decided to keep playing. Joe Namath and Dan Marino got similar messages from their wounded knees. And Lawrence Taylor took any decision-making away from Joe Theismann, even though Joey T still wanted to try a comeback two years after his leg was snapped in two, certain he still could play even if one limb was a little shorter than the other.
John Elway remains one of the few quarterbacks who actually was able to quit when he was very much on top, as the quarterback of back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams in Denver. He was a 38-year-old man who truly had nothing left to prove when he pulled the plug on himself, very much the way we'll always think about 38-year-old Favre and so many other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, even those who left the game kicking and screaming that they still had something left in the tank.
Favre obviously has plenty of gallons left. You only had to see him in action last year, when he had the highest passing completion rate of his career (66.5 percent), threw for 28 touchdowns and exceeded 4,000 yards in the air for only the fifth time in his career. More significantly, he still played the game with that youthful enthusiasm rarely seen in a man his age at the professional level. Not only was he throwing footballs at the end, he was pitching snowballs in the playoffs.
He may not realize it now, less than six weeks after the last pass he threw in the 2007 season was intercepted in overtime by New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster, setting up a game-winning field goal that sent the Giants winging toward Phoenix and one of the greatest upset victories in Super Bowl history.
But Favre's performance in 2007 in carrying a young, underrated Packers team on his shoulders all the way to the NFC title game after an 8-8 flop in 2006 is definitely worthy of an encore in 2008. I also suspect that his decision to announce his retirement in the first week of March is going to be followed in a few months by an announcement that he probably spoke too soon and has decided to come back for one last hurrah.
I also don't believe for a Green Bay minute what his longtime agent, Bus Cook, told reporters on Tuesday. "No one pushed Brett Favre out the door," Cook said somewhat cryptically, "but then nobody encouraged him not to go out the door, either."
All you had to see was the glum demeanor of head coach Mike McCarthy and listen to his comments at a press conference in Green Bay Tuesday afternoon to know that the Packers were totally taken by surprise, and had expected their leader back for one more year.
"He was clearly wanted back," McCarthy said. "How could you not want Brett Favre's career to continue? The reality of it hit this morning."
But there is another reality, as well.
The Packers don't need to have Favre come to Green Bay for mini-camps in April and May. They'd be far better off leaving him alone back home in Mississippi, where he'll play a lot of golf, spend time with friends and family, party with his pals and get rejuvenated in mind and body through the spring, when his longtime backup Aaron Rodgers can take all the snaps with the first team.
But you heard it here first. The lines of communication between Green Bay and Kiln will remain open over the next few months. Some of his old teammates will call and beg him to reconsider. Back-channel contacts with Favre and his agent will continue, and Favre eventually will forget about the so-called "stress" of playing football and allow his inner child to emerge one more time.
He'll come back.
The great ones almost always do.