It was always more than just football…

He retired today.

When I was growing up, on the north side of my house was a stretch of lawn, a modest 10 yards wide and about 40 yards long. After school, two neighbor friends of mine and I would go out and toss a football around. We’d play this game we called Interception, where one person was the quarterback, one was the receiver, and one played corner and tried to intercept the pass. It had this elaborate scoring system, and it was difficult to keep track of your points, but still,we played it because it was a good game for three people, and it fit the size lawn I had. Mostly, though, we played it because it was fun.

During the game, you’d rotate positions so each person got a chance to play each spot against each other. I was never very good at corner, and I liked receiver but I wasn’t all that fast, so I lived for playing quarterback. With such a short field, long touchdown passes were a lot easier, and because we played so often, we all got in such a rhythm with each other that it seemed fluid– we knew where each route was going, how each pass would hit our hands. We played as long as we possibly could, continuing well after the sun had set and the ball was just a dark shape flying through the inky blue twilight. By the end of the evening, when our parents would call us in for dinner, we would be tired, and often sore, but above all we would be content.

Over the past decade-plus I spent watching Brett Favre play, I was often reminded of those moments I spent in my yard. Watching Favre play reminded you that football was a game, and that it was supposed to be fun. With the stage of sports currently darkening, and supposed “heroes” falling left and right to steroid scandals, paternity suits, misdemeanors and the like, we’re losing more than just a talented football player, we’re losing one of the last great role models in sports. Who now is left for young kids to look up to? Tom Brady? Perhaps, but his GQ-modeling, supermodel-dating lifestyle is less than realistic. Peyton Manning? Maybe, but how many more years does he have left in his tank? Favre’s retirement is not only the end of his career and the end of an era for the Packers, but it’s the end of an era for the NFL as a whole.

During the seventeen years he played, Favre led the NFL to become the most popular and most profitable sports league in America. It was his face that sold the sport, his games getting the best ratings on TV, his picture showing up in magazine advertisements left and right. He was iconic, and the NFL will look staggeringly different without him. In each sport, there are players who define their era, who stick out above the rest not only because of their talent, but because of the impact they had on their sport as well as the culture around them. Baseball has had Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Williams, Maris and Mantle, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, and Cal Ripkin Jr. The NBA had Wilt and Russell, then Kareem, then Bird, then Jordan. Now the NFL has Jim Brown, Unitas, Walter Payton, Marino, Montana, and now, Favre.

He’d never claim to be the best. He’s had his great moments, but he’s had bad ones, too. Most fans will tell you Montana was better, Marino was better, maybe even Elway was better, and they’ll tell you that it’s only a matter of time before Manning and Brady pass all the records he just set this season. But when it comes down to it, they’ll also say that given the chance, they’d likely want Favre leading their huddle down by six in the fourth quarter. He was fearless, he was talented, and he was the ultimate leader. Now, he’ll become an icon and a legend.


1 Response to “It was always more than just football…”

  1. 1 Peyton Manning
    March 7, 2008 at 12:45 am

    I read a good article today about Brett. It said he may not be the best quarterback ever, but he is the greatest player to play the game. Whether that is statistically true, his departure demonstrates a definite shift for the NFL. I know there will be more quarterbacks like Elway and Montana, and I hope someday we get to see another player like Favre.

    Go Packers.

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