5.3.08

KNOWING WHEN TO WALK AWAY. My Illinois readers who are savoring Brett Favre's retirement ought think again.
Favre gave the organization he loves the greatest gift of all: The best chance to succeed in 2008 and beyond.
One indicator:

I’m convinced that his decision to retire was the right one for the Packers. And though Favre, like most fierce competitors, probably wouldn’t concede this – and, in truth, likely isn’t even conscious of it – deep inside, this was an act of selflessness made with the franchise’s best interests in mind.

As terrific as Favre was in 2007, as deliciously surprising as it was that he returned to Pro Bowl form after two shaky seasons, what went down at Texas Stadium on Nov. 29 was drenched in symbolism. In the biggest game of the regular season in the NFC, Favre, for whatever reason, looked positively awful against the Dallas Cowboys. He was 5 for 14 with 56 yards and two interceptions before getting knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a separated left shoulder and bruised right elbow.

At the time, the Packers trailed the Cowboys 27-10 and seemed to be overmatched against their aggressive hosts. What happened next, to most outsiders, was somewhat stunning. Aaron Rodgers, the former first-round draft pick who’d been chilling like the old hamburger buns in the back of a freezer for three seasons, ran into the huddle and played like, dare I say, the young Favre.

He got Green Bay back into the game, cutting the Dallas lead to 27-24. The Cowboys ultimately prevailed, 37-27, but Rodgers was a revelation. He looked smooth, unruffled and utterly in command, completing 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.

The columnist suggests only Mr Favre could pass the torch.
Eventually though, someone had to end The Streak for the Pack to move on, and neither coach Mike McCarthy nor general manager Ted Thompson was willing to do the deed. Thankfully, Favre chose to end it himself, rather than let some ferocious defensive end or blitzing linebacker do the honors.
Vince Lombardi once, controversially but probably correctly, pushed guard Fuzzy Thurston into retirement, and the last two or three seasons of Bart Starr's career were rather sad, as he endured repeated shoulder separations in ultimately futile quests for one more Super Bowl run.

Some of the fans leaving Lambeau, at least those who could move their mouths, uttered the unthinkable to one another: “Maybe we’d have won the game with Rodgers.”

Favre didn’t see Webster lurking when he floated that ball to Driver, but the great quarterback’s vision was impeccable when it came to looking at the big picture.

Because of Favre’s stellar season, many assumed he’d want to come back in ‘08 to enjoy the Pack’s surprising revival. But Favre knew it wasn’t that simple, especially in today’s NFL of sudden rises and falls.

At one point in January, Favre referenced the Saints and Bears – the teams that battled in the ‘06 NFC title game but missed the playoffs in ‘07 – as proof that nothing about the Pack’s ‘08 prospects should be taken for granted. Even after his fantastic performance led Green Bay to a 42-20 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, he voiced that sentiment, saying in his postgame press conference, “We could be 3-13 next year. Who knows? So enjoy it and try to get the most out of it.”

I think Favre is at peace with himself, with his career and with his decision to walk away. He was never particularly nurturing toward Rodgers, as most of us might not be to the young worker we feared was brought in by management to take our jobs, but he also knows that the kid’s time has come. The Packers had the league’s youngest roster in 2007, and they’ll gravitate toward Rodgers’ refreshing energy, even as they stumble and fall while trying to forge what could be a nice run of prolonged championship contention.

This columnist suggests the apprentice is ready for Urlacher.

It's impossible to replace Brett Favre's personality, but replacing Favre the quarterback is not as tough as you might think. Heir apparent Aaron Rodgers' playing style and talent better fit coach Mike McCarthy's offense.

It certainly will be easier to convince the much younger Rodgers to not take as many gunslinger's chances in throwing downfield. He will be called upon to spread the ball around in the passing game, playing wisely off the running game.

Rodgers will have trouble matching the pure passion of Favre -- which current NFL quarterback can, really? -- he has the skill set and enough time and "experience" to keep Green Bay's offense humming.

There's also an opportunity cost to protecting a franchise player.

The team benefits hugely from a loyal fan base that isn't going to wane with the departure of one player, no matter how prominent. There are over 70,000 people on the waiting list for Packers season tickets. Those at the top have been waiting since the mid-1970s.

And now, the Packers can spend the $12 million they would have paid Favre in 2008 on free agents or locking up current players to longer contracts.

One columnist notes that the timing of the curtain call is correct.

In recent years, as Favre's play declined and the Packers struggled, we kept thinking that those would be the key factors in his decision to step away from the game. Instead, he kept coming back. Kept trying to win again, and to play up to his previous Hall-of-Fame standards.

And then he did, last season. The Packers won again, and Favre flashed so much of his old magic. With a young and potential-laden team around him, it seemed like retirement would be the last thing on his mind this offseason. I thought for sure he couldn't walk away with so much going for him now, having endured the lean years in Green Bay.

So of course, he did. He said no to the lure of more glory -- something few professional athletes ever overcome -- and called it a career after the memorable comeback season that added an exclamation point to his legacy. He's leaving on a high note, just like all great entertainers do. We might all want more, but he's smart not to give it to us. In the past 17 years, we've seen more than enough from Favre, and that'll just have to do. It was his show all along, and knowing just when to end it was his last good call.

I'll give the last word to the editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

But there was something else that helped make Favre a favorite wherever he went - for fans and for us, too. Despite fame and fortune, he was still human, painfully and publicly struggling with his wife Deanna's breast cancer, with his own problems with alcohol and pills and with the death of his father and other loved ones.

And, oh, yeah, the toughest guy on the field wasn't afraid to cry.

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