If Favre is done, that's the right call

Ask just about any coach at any level of the game to cite the quality that best defines a successful quarterback, and he'll probably tell you that the most critical ability is decision-making.

Sure, accuracy, arm strength and command of the huddle are crucial traits at the game's most important position. What sets the great quarterbacks apart from the mediocre ones, however, is their decision-making acumen, the ability to quickly assess a situation and then make the right move.

If Thursday's reports are accurate, that Brett Favre has apprised Minnesota Vikings officials that he will stay retired rather than pursue his second comeback in as many years, it might be the best decision the veteran quarterback has made in a long time.

That's not to say that Favre would have fallen on his face had he returned, or to suggest he would not have steered a talented Vikings team to the playoffs. Clearly, to Minnesota coach Brad Childress and his staff, Favre is a more viable option than the alternatives, Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels. But convincing Favre to park the tractor in Hattiesburg, Miss., and pick up a football in Minneapolis would have been akin to applying a Band-Aid to a bad cut.

The immediate fix is effective, but it doesn't do anything to promote long-term healing.

The Vikings won the NFC North in 2008 without Favre. They can certainly do the same thing in 2009.

In his column for the New York Daily News on Thursday morning, Gary Myers characterized Favre as "more pathetic than sympathetic."

Myers' take on the situation might be construed by some as overly harsh. But the reality is that quarterbacks aren't vintage wines; after a certain point, most don't get even an iota better as they get older. At 39, Favre would have been the oldest starting quarterback in the NFL, a veritable geezer compared with other players at the position.

But was Favre getting any better as he got older? Truthfully, probably not.

Every year, when he blew out the candles on his birthday cake, Favre lost some ability to blow away defenses.

In retrospect, what was the bigger aberration? His brilliant performance for the New York Jets over the first half of the 2008 season? Or the questionable decisions in the latter stages of the campaign, when Favre wavered in his judgments and threw nine of his league-high 22 interceptions as his team finished 1-5 in the final six games and out of the playoffs? Probably the former of those two.

Those who love and admire Favre, and there is a legion of even casual fans in that subset, might suggest he was some semblance of his old self in the first half of 2008. The numbers, though, say otherwise.

In his final five NFL seasons, 2004-2008, after Favre had turned 35, he threw 118 touchdown passes and 101 interceptions. That's an anemic average touchdown pass differential of plus-3.4 for the five years. In that span, Favre's teams had a cumulative record of 44-36.

It might be apples and oranges, but let's compare Favre's five-year numbers with those of Peyton Manning, the only other three-time most valuable player in NFL history, over the same period. Manning rang up 166 touchdown passes against just 55 interceptions, a touchdown pass differential of plus-22.2 per year. In that span, the Indianapolis quarterback posted a 63-17 record as a starter.

As the numbers indicate, Favre's decline didn't just emerge in 2008. Instead, it was the cumulative sum of growing older every season. The Favre fans among us would prefer to remember him as the young, passionate, impetuous playmaker. Personally, I'd love to remember the Brett Favre whom I met when the Atlanta Falcons originally drafted him, the guy who graciously welcomed me and a photographer into his home when we visited Kiln, Miss., the kid who rounded up his buddies so we could drive over to Bay St. Louis and have some shrimp po' boys for lunch.

Alas, there is no fountain of youth, even for the game's greatest players. On Thursday, probably somewhat grudgingly, Favre was forced to concede that he isn't immune to the passage of time.

Better he walk away with his legend untarnished by a spate of interceptions and a bunch of sacks. From the start, it seemed bull that Favre could have returned in 2009 as little more than a shadow of his old self.

Clearly, some folks in the NFL aren't familiar with the Aesop fable, "The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf." Maybe now, Favre, who won't have to yell "Wolf!" for a third time, can read it to them. After all, it seems he'll have plenty of time between tilling the fields of his Hattiesburg farm.

Then we can all recall Brett Favre as a gunslinger, not a manure-slinger.

Because the guy whose judgment was frequently questioned made the right decision.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.