I'm beginning to recover from the catastrophic news that broke early this week. The initial shock has passed, and I'm coming to grips with the retirement of my best friend I've never met.
After announcing his retirement via voice mail on Chris Mortensen's cell phone (who does that?), a media frenzy ensued. Talk radio, news stations, websites, and blogs have spent the last four days examining the man and his contributions to the game of football and the world of sports. This retirement has dominated sports media in a way we have never seen, to the point I was borderline relieved when I clicked on ESPN.com this morning to find Marion Jones' jail arrival as the top story. Sheesh.
This said, all of the publicity is probably warranted. Brett Favre is an icon, and played America's favorite position in America's favorite sport (apologies to NASCAR and MLB). He has captured the hearts of more American sports fans than probably anyone else in his generation, Michael Jordan included. It's a shame that it took his retirement to make me realize all of this.
His stats speak for themselves: 253 consecutive starts, 442 career touchdown passes, and 61,655 career passing yards are all records that will not be touched anytime soon. These achievements are not what sets him apart from the other quarterbacks of his generation, however.
So what does set Favre apart from Montana, Marino, Brady, Young, and Elway (to name a few)? I've read countless articles and listened to hours of analysis, but I think one statement from Wright Thompson's article sums it up best: "If Tom Brady is what America is, then Favre is what America was and, sometimes, I think we wish we could have that America back" (great article BTW, read the full version at http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3276537).
Favre is a man's man, and that appeals to the common fan. We don't see him dating supermodels or walking the red carpet at Hollywood events. He is a spokesperson for Wrangler jeans, the same company that sells its products at Wal-Mart. He probably wears the jeans from those commercials and a Carhart jacket on his days off. Brett would probably choose to eat at the local Home Town Buffet over Geisha House.
These are the types of things that set Brett Favre apart from the other quarterbacks of his era.
We didn't ostracize him when he admitted to his addiction to pain medication or his alcoholism. These confessions only made him more lovable. Everyone has their own struggles, so his vulnerability bridged the gap between the pedestal athletes are placed upon and our own lives. Brett Favre has the flaws of your older brother or firstborn son -- the flaws you will vehemently defend if someone wants to be critical.
Where does he rank amongst the all-time greats? I don't know. Some will argue that a quarterback's greatness can be measured by the number of Super Bowl rings he has won. If so, Brady and Montana, among others, can be called better quarterbacks than Favre. Does this mean Trent Dilfer had a better career than Dan Marino? I think not. Great players elevate the play of their teammates and come up big in the clutch. Icons change the landscape of the sport by growing its fan base.
Favre grew the fan base of the NFL by appealing to the coal miner and the housewife. This cannot be said for any other quarterback in recent memory. And that is exactly why he will be so missed.
See Favre's "goodbye" press conference at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kACbVGsWN74.