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Vikings' Brett Favre limps into Redskins game

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 1:00 AM

As the go-long legend of Kiln, Miss., limps into FedEx Field this holiday weekend, all mortal and no myth with that dysfunctional Minnesota family in tow, I'm still grappling with how and why Brett let us down.

If this is how his career depressingly ends, we all would have been better off with Brett Favre dropping back in a pair of Wranglers, the scruffy man in white cotton and denim, frozen in celluloid.

He could have just kept motioning for us to go further downfield, till we either saw the revolving laces in that spiraling football over our left shoulder or the Ford pickup parked behind the makeshift goal line after the flatbed farm truck leveled us.

I suppose I should explain "us."

We're the millions of 40-ish or just-plain-old-and-crotchety Americans who believed we were once bona fide athletes, until someone at the high school or small-college level told us to do something else for a living.

We grew up, still enraptured by the games we were good at as children, and joined intramural leagues at the big colleges who wouldn't give us athletic scholarships.

We became weekend warriors and Turkey Bowl MVPs of our neighborhoods, designing brilliantly choreographed plays on our palms because we knew the "button hook" to be timeless, as useful at 10 as it is at 46.

Some of us won three-on-three trophies at Hoop-it-Up tournaments or used marathons to donate our ligaments and cartilage. We didn't care that we finished two or three or four hours behind the winners from Kenya or Ethiopia, most of whom were on layovers in Zimbabwe when we crossed the finish line; we were just happy to compete, to show we, too, still have an incredible human capacity for physical suffering.

Like, Brett at 39 years old. Or 40. Or, we hoped, 41.

See, he was our guy, the way Michael Jordan was our guy at first, when he came back at 40-something years old and pinned Ron Mercer's ball against the glass backboard.

Brett was our guy the way George Foreman was our guy when he knocked out Michael Moorer more than 20 years after Muhammad Ali had seized the heavyweight title from him. Brett was our guy the way Jimmy Connors was when he won a five-setter at the U.S. Open at 39, the way double-clutching like Kirk Gibson was as he hobbled around the bases in the 1988 World Series.

Something about an old head getting it done against the kids made us believe again, no?

Made us want to go back to the Y and yell, "Next!"

Made us want to oil the gloves we somehow found in our musty attics.

Or if we couldn't find them, at least get on the Stairmaster, start moving and sweating again, next to the peroxide blond undergrad and her iPod annoyingly pumping out techno.

If Brett could turn back the clock, why couldn't we?

Like the loyal spouse of 20 years lives vicariously through their single, dating friends, so too did we live vicariously through Brett on Sundays - the way he used guile and grit to get away from larger, stronger, much younger and faster men who were paid to hurt him. How he Indiana Jones-ed his way out of tight spots, funneling the ball to his receiver so theatrically, as if Brett had planned the whole game-ending touchdown all along.

But now there are no more NFC championship games. Now it's 17 interceptions for every 10 touchdowns. It's 3-7 on a Vikings team that just fired the coach, the guy who originally convinced Brett to come to Minnesota.

It's those overly maudlin news conferences, too, as painful to watch as to see woozy No. 4 play.

The gray doesn't look distinguished anymore; it just looks old.

He didn't let us down because he went from hayseed with a Hattiesburg twang to a Mort-and-Peter-King texting, NFL diva in a millisecond, who alienated at least two franchises, scores of teammates and at least two coaches. We knew the cameo in "Something About Mary" wasn't enough; he needed to make it All About Brett. Everything about his life and career has been public.

The texts Jenn Sterger allegedly received from him in 2008 when he was briefly Broadway Brett? Some of us were less disappointed about his inappropriate, adolescent overtures than we were about the fact he didn't use regular mail.

Most of us aren't even sore that Brett acknowledged he sent voicemails to women not his wife, Deanna, though it wasn't very classy the way America found out during Breast Cancer Awareness Month - especially since Deanna is a survivor.

We knew that anyone that had Tiger Woods over to watch last year's Super Bowl at his home in Hattiesburg, where Tiger spent time at an addiction-treatment center, has to know something about filling the hollowness inside with the shallowness outside.

Bottom line, we didn't care about Brett violating some unwritten morality clause in the contract between sports icons and their fan base, because we all forgave someone who played well for our teams, especially NFL teams. Look how some of us now embrace Ray Lewis, Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger.

It's when Brett starting looking old and feeble on the field; we couldn't stomach that - too close to home.

Brett faltering this badly on the field hurt our unhealthy belief in our athletic heroes past their prime.

That's Dad wheezing in the back yard, out of breath, physically unable to play with us.

Brett trying to come to his senses after another sack is our senile uncle, wandering aimlessly through each room of our house, looking for a hat he left . . . in 1972.

We knew not everyone was going to be Jim Brown, Nolan Ryan or Larry Bird. Any of those three should have written at least a pamphlet on how to retire gracefully, so others who came afterward would learn how not to destroy some of our memories and their own myths.

But we expected more than a guy who brought glory to one franchise for so many years to then start throwing the ball routinely to the other team in his fumbling farewell. Johnny Unitas already tried that.

We didn't expect Brett to remember the great Willie Mays, who, after falling down at the end of his career in the Mets outfield, admitted that, "growing old is a helpless hurt."

But we figured Michael Jordan's unseemly end in Washington would help Brett to know when a sports icon had overstayed his welcome.

We deserve some blame, too. We want the old guy raising the trophy one more time, if for no other reason to justify our own unfulfilled athletic glory.

It's not our ending; it's Brett's. Of course he deserves to go out the way he wants. Bottom line, we all wish we had the talent to scratch the itch at the highest level of the game before our bodies gave out in our 40s.

But seeing him look so old and desperate is not what we want to see from our guy. We would have rather had him play quarterback for any team in Hattiesburg this Thanksgiving, told someone to go long and just left it at that.

Why did Brett Favre let us down?

We don't mind knocking our sporting gods off their pedestals; we just hate it when they do it for us.

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