Published in the North Central Chronicle on March 28, 2008.
February 3, 1997. My first Super Bowl. It was so exciting; the first game I remember seeing on television and my team was playing. It was my Green Bay Packers. And it was my Brett Favre.
My family hosted the party. I was decked out in my No. 4 jersey and brand new Cheesehead as I watched Favre throw touchdown after touchdown against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. He even managed a rare quarterback sneak for a score. He helped bring the Lombardi Trophy back where it belongs to Lombardi’s home sweet home; the legendary Lambeau Field. I felt so proud that the Packers were my team and that Brett Favre was my quarterback.
Unfortunately, as every football fan knows, good times like these never last long. Injury, free agency, or retirement always snatches our heroes away from us. Sometimes they make their exit after a tragic injury in the twilight of their career or after a triumphant Super Bowl victory. Brett Favre did neither; he left on his own terms.
My dad called me to tell me the news. “Favre retired.” I should have been somewhat prepared for this; sports writers and non-Packer fans have been calling for his retirement for years, but I was shocked. I felt empty. I have not known life without Brett Favre as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
I spent the next couple of days disheartened. I watched every highlight reel I could find of his top plays and memorable moments. I even got teary with him as he formally announced his retirement (not kidding). I pushed through all of the stages of grief, albeit superficially. I probably won’t reach full acceptance until the season opener when, for the first time in my memory, Brett Favre will not be there to take the snap.
I know this all seems melodramatic. After all, football is just a game and Favre is just a man. But I grew up with a legendary quarterback who started every game and made big plays when they mattered. I realize now how special and rare it is to have such a gift. I’ve never had to constantly shift my trust to the next fifth-round draft pick who would just let me down again. I’ve been able to turn on the television on Sundays during football season and know that, win or lose, the Packers would be okay.
I felt that way because Favre was more than a quarterback. He was the anchor and the image of the Packers organization and of the entire state of Wisconsin. Politicians cycled in and out while Favre kept driving down the Frozen Tundra looking for a score. But even more than that; he was a constant in my life in which I could find solace and inspiration as I trekked through the rockiness of childhood and adolescence. I felt safe knowing that Favre would remain, no matter how good or bad the Packers performed.
What Favre brought to the game was his playground antics, his improvisational skills, his grit, and his pure joy for the game. He was no cookie cutter quarterback. Even Vikings and Bears fans, the Packers’ true nemeses, fell victim of his charm every time he flashed that toothy grin after making a ridiculous play. He threw off of his heels constantly and scrambled in the pocket like a decapitated chicken. He threw the most touchdowns as well as the most interceptions. He was a true gunslinger, a rugged man’s man; the John Wayne of the gridiron.
Still, as hard as it is for me to say, it was a good time for him to go. He broke nearly every major NFL record a quarterback can break and had fun doing it. Even though he didn’t get the second Super Bowl win he wanted, he is leaving on top after arguably the best year of his career, Super Bowl ring or not. (I’m planning on repressing the memory of his last pass; an interception that cost a Super Bowl bid.)
With Favre hanging up his cleats, a golden age of quarterbacks has ended. Steve Young, Dan Marino, John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre all epitomized what was great about football and the everyday heroes it can give us. The Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings are talented of course, but they don’t have the spark that made Favre football fun to watch.
Outside of the realm of football, Favre is leaving behind a legacy decorated with not just wins and losses, but also the fond memories of a scrawny redhead who loved to run routes with his dad and imagine he was catching the winning pass in Lambeau Field from one of the game’s greats. That is a bond that time cannot erode.
The march to football season is going to be strange for me and my fellow Packers fans. We will be out of step for the first time in a long time. The sparkle we’ve grown to know and love has faded from the Packers franchise and from the NFL. But once we move on, we’ll be able to get back to beating the Bears and winning the Super Bowl. It is what Favre would have wanted.