Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Don't fault Favre for returning
By Seth Wickersham ESPN The Magazine
Seriously, don't let it happen to you.
Don't become one of those fans who view Brett Favre's comeback with the Minnesota Vikings as another power trip, staged by an aging jock who's in denial about his fading ability, purely motivated by ego and selfishness and an addiction to the spotlight.
After all, that was so Favre 2008.
Favre's decision might seem like the same old story -- a continuation of the "Favre Saga" -- but it isn't. Unlike his previous retirements and comebacks, he handled this one well.
Unlike his dealing with the Green Bay Packers last year and seasons previous, Favre didn't hold up the Vikings while deciding whether or not to play.
Heck, he wasn't even on the roster. He was more upfront -- both with them and us -- about his desire to play and about his doubts that his surgically repaired right rotator cuff would hold up. He said he didn't know, but if he could throw without pain, he'd play.
He wasn't toying with a comeback, and by virtue of that, with us. He was leveling with us, as honestly and plainly as possible.
Last year, Favre flew into Packers' training camp, despite not being welcome, and staged a media event that rivaled many of the year's campaign rallies. This year, his comeback was as discreet as it could be for a future Hall of Famer who knew -- along with everyone else -- that he can't find anything in life more fun than football.
He didn't fly to Bristol, Conn., throw deep outs to Cris Carter on live TV and purposefully dominate coverage for another offseason, which many fans believe is his sole goal.
No, he practiced with high school kids in a tiny Mississippi town, far away from the klieg lights. He didn't court attention; attention courted him. That's egotistical?
Oh, I know what you're going to say: It takes a monstrous ego to march late into camp, push aside Tarvaris Jackson, and presume that you're the team's leader. True. But Favre didn't decide to do that.
Coach Brad Childress asked -- no, begged -- him to play. Question Childress' management, leadership and rationale all you want. But he created the "Favre Saga" this time around, not Favre.
What professional athlete -- least of all the winningest quarterback in NFL history -- who thinks he can play, wants to play and has a coach begging him to do so says no?
"There's no substitute for playing on Sundays," Favre said.
There are still plenty of questions. How will Favre's shoulder hold up? Why should anyone believe he heals better at age 39 than 25?
Will he follow the game plan or force the ball like he did late last season with the New York Jets, costing another team a berth in the playoffs? Will he be a true teammate, or will he dress in a separate room (again), shower in a separate room (again), and receive the preferential treatment that fractures a team (again)?
Will he help Jackson and Sage Rosenfels -- or will he stonewall them like he did Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Jets signal-caller Kellen Clemens?
Nobody knows. And that's the point. Favre isn't promising anything.
Only three weeks ago he kinda sorta passed on playing because he didn't know if his body could take it. What's changed?
Nothing, except that he wants to see what will happen. He wants to try. That's what makes sports fun. If the Vikings were willing to take a chance on him, he said, "I was, too."
Don't worry, though. You'll find plenty of folks, many in the media -- many who should know better -- who will rip Favre for being exactly what we've always loved about our athletes: Human. Imperfect. Flawed. Daring. Honest. Yes, he changes his mind a lot. So often, in fact, that it's laughable.
Strangely, Favre's discontentment with riding a tractor when he -- maybe, possibly -- could be throwing touchdowns (and interceptions) rubs people the wrong way. Strangely, Favre doing what he's done better than any other quarterback -- play every Sunday, a record 269 consecutive regular-season games and counting -- is off-putting.
Strangely, some people are rooting for Michael Vick's success more than Favre's. Talk all you want about how he's ruining his legacy, but as he says, "It's mine."
And so it's fitting that Favre prepped for this comeback on a high school field, surrounded by kids whose football careers will also end earlier than they wish. He's one of them, really. He always will wish his career lasted longer.
Quarterbacks often say they only have so many throws in their arms, and those throws do you no good once you're retired. Favre literally wants to throw until he can't. It's noble.
"I'm in it for the right reasons," he said. "If people can't understand that, I'm sorry."
No need to apologize.
Seth Wickersham is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a columnist for ESPN.com.