Michael Wilbon: Should Brett Favre call it quits?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; 1:09 PM
Don't try to separate Brett Favre's full performance from the interception that essentially ended his team's best chance to win the NFC Championship game Sunday. That's who Brett Favre is.
The pick is as much his legacy as playing every single game, as leading his team down the field so many times to dramatically win so many games. It's like Reggie Jackson and strikeouts, like Shaq and missed free throws. Brett Favre is one terrific quarterback; he'll take your breath away whether he's throwing it to his guy or your guy.
Yes, he had a wonderful season; how wonderful, at the age of 40, to lead a team to the conference championship game with a 37-touchdown, seven-interception season. Most impressively, perhaps, is that Favre displayed a discipline we didn't see in his gunslinger years. Who even knew he could keep it holstered week after week for an entire regular season?
Right through the final minutes of the championship game it looked as if old Favre had mastered some new tricks. Okay, he'd thrown one interception, but nothing about his performance suggested he was going to try to win the game himself by forcing ridiculous passes or opting to try risky plays. It absolutely looked as if Favre was going to settle for a game-winning, Super Bowl-advancing field-goal attempt...until he ran right and threw left across his body.
Favre, it turned out, couldn't help himself entirely. And he never has been able to. He leads his team brilliantly, which is how he got to two Super Bowls, won one and rewrote sections of the NFL record book. Favre throws the critical interception, too, which is why Favre isn't in that top group of all-time quarterbacks, the group that includes Otto Graham, John Unitas, Joe Montana, John Elway and Tom Brady.
Interceptions at the end of playoff games--and Favre has had sabotaged his team with three such interceptions in three OT playoff losses the last six years--keep you out of that group. And please, don't tell me about the 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty that pushed the Vikings back five yards. Favre is too good, his weapons in that Minnesota team too vast for him to be unable to find a play to pick up 10 yards rather than throw that pick.
Favre has earned every bit of credit he's received over the years and every bit of blame he's gotten for the killer interceptions. A veteran defensive back, just before the NFC Championship game began, told me that he thought Favre would be both brilliant and maddening in the title game, just as he so often has been in his career, and that veteran DB was right on the money. Favre is indeed the three-run home run and the strikeout swinging for the fences when a sacrifice fly would win the game. He didn't just play well Sunday in New Orleans; he played with guts considering he took more body shots than Ali did from Foreman and dragged his 40-year-old body back into the battle every time he was knocked down.
And now the waffling begins. Will Favre or won't Favre? There are 230 days between now and Week 1 of the NFL season and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Favre takes every one of those days (again) to decide what in the world he'll do for the 2011 season. He told ESPN's Ed Werder it's "highly unlikely" he'll play again. Perhaps the Vikings won't want him back, though that would qualify as a surprise. And if the Vikings don't call, why wouldn't the Cardinals if Kurt Warner retires, as many expect?
Favre will drag this out because that, like throwing interceptions, is now part of his legacy. There should be no question, really, because Favre's too good to retire now. Despite the drama, he loves playing too much, loves the streak of consecutive starts, loves the touchdown passes, loves defeating the people who think he's done, loves everything about it probably except the interceptions.
Favre ought to play, and he ought not to make some rash decision while the purple bruises cover his body in the hours after getting beat on by the Saints. He got the Vikings too close to quit now. He's too close to that third Super Bowl appearance, that second Lombardi Trophy. With that arm, those eyes, that athleticism, the ability and savvy to lead and win...Brett Favre ought to think the only thing he needs to do is cut out the odd interception, the slip-up, the bad judgment with the game on the line.
Whether he can is what makes watching Favre so utterly irresistible, of course. It's why more people watched his game Sunday than any non-Super Bowl game since 1981. It's why we care.