Hayseed Turned Diva

By Mike Wise
Thursday, August 7, 2008

There should be a manual for sporting deities called "How to Step Away Gracefully," written by maybe Nolan Ryan or Jim Brown or Larry Bird, and it should be a must-read for every icon like Brett Favre before he retires. Because this unseemly saga that pushed into early this morning, with Broadway Brett headed to the New York Jets, severely damaged the myth of the heart-on-his-sleeve hayseed who restored glory to Green Bay.

Each telenovela with Greta Van Susteren, each new text message to "Mort" or some other soul whom Favre believed would buy his sorrowful tale of being wronged by a team he voluntarily retired from, deeply hurt the small-town fable of one of the most exciting, unpredictable players in modern NFL history.

Favre, in weeks, has morphed from the go-long-till-you-hit-the-barn legend of Kiln, Miss. -- a real-life Wrangler jeans commercial -- into the old guy who now needs the game more than it needs him.

The most lauded and legendary Packer since Vince Lombardi will show up in New York any second now, the way Johnny Unitas showed up in San Diego after Baltimore, throwing passes to the other team. Or the way Michael Jordan showed up in Washington after Chicago, icing his knees and his ego before he ruined his ending.

Willie Mays emerged in the New York Mets outfield at 41, chasing an athletic prime he could never run down the way he ran down Vic Wertz's deep shot to center field in the 1954 World Series.

After Mays fell down clumsily in the outfield in his last season with the Mets, blinded by the glare of the sun, the Say Hey Kid said, "Growing old is just a helpless hurt."

How Favre must feel that ache today, mostly the pain from having no idea what to do with his existence after leaving the grandest stage an athlete can imagine.

Whatever happened with Favre, it was certain to be emotional, and it was going to be out there for everyone to see. Everything about his career and life has been emotional and public.

Favre's early addiction to painkillers, his father dying before a Monday night game in 2003, his wife's battle against breast cancer, even his mother's house being demolished by Hurricane Katrina, have preceded a tearful, genuine man letting us into his world. Via television, Favre might have cried in our living rooms more than family members.

As differences became irreconcilable in Green Bay, paving the way for the Packers' trade with the Jets, it's hard to decide whether his behavior reflects an egotistical gunslinger who can't stand someone else stepping into his limelight or whether he's merely a sweet, immature kid -- 38 going on 18 -- who suddenly realized he hasn't made any plans to be a retired legend. Maybe he's lost at sea, this tortured Hamlet character, fighting himself internally as much as he was fighting the Packers.

Maybe it's a little of each. Either way, Favre has got to know his decision to play again has affected more people than himself.

He has preempted Green Bay's offseason, Aaron Rodgers's development and, inexplicably, part of Darrell Green's Hall of Fame induction speech on the NFL Network. He caused a minor distraction in Tampa, where, correct me if I'm wrong, the Buccaneers have a quarterback who went to the Pro Bowl last season, and now a major one in New York, where Chad Pennington will need to find a new employer and the growth of potential starter Kellen Clemens will undeniably be retarded by Brettmania.

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