Like it or Not, You’re Going to Miss Brett Favre

January 27, 2010

Alone and dejected after another blown NFC Championship

The actors went off the script again.  First it was Corey Webster jumping in front of an underthrown pass to Donald Driver in the frigid NFC Championship game in 2007.  That pass was supposed to be completed and the Packers were supposed to go on to face the unbeaten Patriots in what would surely be Brett Favre’s last game of his career, win or lose.  But the Giants had their own plans, as did the Saints.  On Sunday Brett Favre was supposed to drive the Vikings into field goal range setting up a showdown vs Peyton Manning in the Superbowl.  Only Tracy Porter picked off a horrendous pass to send the game into overtime.  After all this is Brett Favre, the wrangler-wearing aww shucks hall of famer, who plays by his own rules.  The Old Gunslinger, the kid out there just having fun playing football.  The script read for validation at the end of a hall of fame career but now it has shifted directions to the guy who throws away the biggest games of his career at the worst possible moments.  There were those 6 interceptions in St. Louis in 2002, the aforementioned pass to Corey Webster of the Giants and of course Sunday’s NFC Championship mistake.  Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to go.  Favre is the biggest draw in football; when he plays people watch.  He was responsible for the most watched show in the history of cable television this season and there he stood alone and anguished after Porter’s pick.  Now we’re left with the will he or won’t he retire debate that will rage until July.  If he comes back some will roll their eyes, others will rejoice; if this is the end there is one conclusion we can take away from his hall of fame career: Brett Favre is the most polarizing individual in American sports.

Born on the Bayou, spent his college days throwing footballs at Southern Mississippi, drafted by Atlanta where Jerry Glanville used him only when he wanted to see a football thrown into the second deck of the stadium from field level, traded to the Packers, paired with Mike Holmgren, won a Superbowl, lost a Superbowl, battled and overcame pain killer addiction, retired, unretired, traded to the Jets, retired again, unretired again, lead the Vikings all the way to the NFC Championship game in what was one of the most brilliant seasons of his 19 year career.  Along the way he was welcomed in as the favorite son of the NFL’s most loyal fanbase no matter how many hair pulling decisions he made…he was theirs.  Somehow many of those same fans that would take a bullet for him up until two seasons ago were vehemently rooting against him on Sunday and when Favre made his game changing pick they laughed.  He wasn’t their problem anymore.  Favre leading the Vikings to the doorstep of the Superbowl has no sports equivalent.  When Jordan retired he came back to the Bulls, but imagine if he decided to play for the Knicks for his second three peat?  What about if the Celtics and Lakers decided to trade Larry and Magic straight up for each other in the summer of 1985?  Or what if the most popular golfer of all time was admitted to a secret sex rehab clinic in Mississippi in the prime of his career?  Oh wait, scratch that last one.

Aikman is one of many that went from rival to spectator in Favre's career

By the time Favre won his first MVP in 1995 he had reached the point where watching his games became an event.  John Madden would endlessly gush about how he had a heated helmet and the whole legend of Brett Favre (and Frank Caliendo’s career ) was born.  No matter who the Packers were playing the game gravitated to Brett Favre’s direction.  This has continued for the last 15 years; Brett Favre resonated with just about everybody.  There wasn’t a more relatable superstar in professional sports.  He was living the life any red blooded male would have if blessed with his skill, a superstar quarterback without the glitz and glamour.  There are several people who fall in my age range who barely remember the NFL without Brett Favre.  He was the constant in an ever-changing league.  He played through the Cowboys’ dynasty, Elway’s swansong, the Patriots dynasty, 2 more titles for Pittsburgh, Spygate and a spoiled perfect season.  In an age where the NFL realized Pete Rozelle’s vision of parity, Favre remained.  He played some of his most memorable playoff games against Troy Aikman and the Cowboys and this past Sunday Troy Aikman was announcing the NFC Championship game featuring Brett Favre and the Vikings.  When you are in the public eye that often, everyone will eventually have an opinion about you.  Outside of Michael Vick a few years back Brett Favre’s possible retirement was the number 1 story in the NFL’s offseason for the better part of last decade.  Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t ignore Brett Favre.

But why do we care about him so much?  After all, if we weren’t interested in his retirement saga Ed Werner may be able to spend the summer with his family.  Instead he’s camped out at the Favre residence telling us if someone said “Bless you” after Brett Favre sneezed today.  We love him for the same reasons we hate him.  We want him to make up his mind but sympathize with the fact that he can’t.  Some wished to see him fail but then felt badly for him when Tracy Porter intercepted his pass.  He left the Packers fans out to dry but the Packers didn’t want him when he expressed interest in coming back.  He wants to be perceived as a simple guy who likes to hunt and fish but then shills for mega corporations like Sears and Samsung.  He’s just having fun out there but reportedly arguing with his coach on the sidelines about play calling.  The Anti-Favre camp bemoaned the notion of having to deal with two weeks of Brett Favre in the Superbowl hype but 52 million people watched the NFC Championship Game.  He makes throws you’ve never seen made, then attempts passes that should never be thrown.  Some of this makes him hypocritical but all of this makes him interesting.

If Brett Favre finally retires maybe some will sleep easier and be happy that its over.  The media will have a field day of career retrospectives, fans will have memorials and the NFL will move forward.  He may end up on an unbearable pregame crew at a major network, or he may just lay low.  How many people have been a part of your life for that last 20 years?  You may think you’re totally sick of him right now and aren’t ready for a summer of will he or won’t he retire but you’re going to miss him.  The NFL is better with Brett Favre in it whether that’s because he does things no quarterback can do or because he recklessly throws away games at critical moments is up to you.  He always keeps us on our toes.

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Bruschi Hangs It Up

August 31, 2009

One thing I promise never to do is to turn into an insufferable blowhard that you can read, watch, or hear on several sports media outlets throughout the country.  In doing that I try to avoid phrases like “He plays the game…THE RIGHT WAY!” or “<<Player X>> should be ashamed of himself!” when I put these posts together.  After 3 weeks of Vick, Favre and now the recent Brandon Marshall drama, it is clear that sports journalists in all outlets have opinions to which they are entitled.  Personally I think that if you’re trying to find a moral compass by watching professional athletes, you should read a book instead.  Michael Vick is a scumbag, Brandon Marshall is a baby, the list goes on and on.  My recommendation would be to lower your expectations of millionaires who are overpaid and immature.

As we move forward into the 21st century it has become harder and harder to find likability in some of sports’ biggest superstars; maybe it’s due to over-saturation from the media, maybe it’s the money they make, maybe it’s the fact that a lot of them leave college or never attend, and maybe it’s a combination of all of it.  I don’t expect Eagles fans to defend Michael Vick but I do expect them to root for their team.  If he does well, so be it.  It’s not like you have to start loving a guy who drowned, hung, and electrocuted innocent dogs for several years.  Brandon Marshall’s pathetic display on the practice field is indefensible but if he comes back and starts scoring touchdowns in Denver I would expect the Broncos’ faithful to cheer.  Many reports indicated that Manny Ramirez flat out quit on the Red Sox last season and I still hold a soft spot in my heart for him, even after he’s been bagged for steroids as well.

tedyThis all leads me to today’s news that Tedy Bruschi is retiring after playing for the Patriots for 13 seasons.  You’re going to get blasted with stories of how he played hard every down, played the game the right way, and on and on as these retrospectives come together.  What I liked most about Bruschi is that he enjoyed being a Patriot, he liked winning, didn’t scoff during the Pete Carroll era and was a major cog on three Superbowl Championship teams this decade.  He’s a guy who suffered a stroke and then came back to play in New England again, and perhaps his best trait has been his loyalty.  In a 2008 interview with the Boston Globe Bruschi said: “There was a moment within an hour after I was drafted, I was in my college apartment telling my family that I want to stay with this team my entire career – I only want to be a New England Patriot. Growing up, seeing players going from team to team, coaches going from team to team, I never wanted that to be me.’’

After the Spygate mess early in the 2007 season that put both the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick under some serious scrutiny as to how the team had gone about winning their games, the Pats responded with a 38-14 beatdown of the San Diego Chargers in week two.  Belichick had been fined 500,000 dollars of his own money and the Patriots had to sacrifice a 1st round pick just days before.  As the Charger game was winding down there was a shot on the sideline of some of the Patriots’ players huddled around their coach showing support and there was Bruschi: arm around his head coach cracking a joke after the longest week of Coach Belichick’s career.  A lesser team could have cracked after their entire reign of success was called into question, but the Patriots, led by seven-time defensive captain Tedy Bruschi rallied and ripped off a perfect regular season.  There are days when watching sports and rooting for athletes isn’t fun, especially when you see Brandon Marshall taking a ball out of the ball boy’s hands and punting it into the stands.  But when you look at guys like Tedy Bruschi and how they handled themselves on and off the field it helps you remember why you like sports in the first place.

There are three plays that I stand out for me when it comes to Tedy Bruschi, and since the NFL has done a wonderful job with their network and NFL Films footage they are impossible to track down.  If I can find the videos I will post them later, but they are (in order):

dynasty3.  December 7, 2003:  The Patriots were in the middle of what would turn into a 21 game winning streak when they hosted the Miami Dolphins at a snowy Gillette Stadium, they clinched the division title with a 10-0 win, and the lone touchdown was Bruschi’s interception deep in Dolphins territory.  He gleefully ran to a snow bank and tossed some of the white stuff that had been accumulating all weekend up into the air, a tradition Patriots fan carry to this day when the weather turns nasty in December.

2.  AFC Divisional Playoff, January 16, 2005:  The height of the Pats v. Colts rivalry, after the Patriots derailed the Colts the year before in the AFC Title game they hosted Indianapolis again in the 2005 divisional round.  The Colts much-ballyhooed offense came into town after crushing the Broncos 49-24.  The Pats were up 6-0 early and the Colts were driving until Bruschi literally ripped the ball out of Colts running back Dominic Rhodes’ hands.  A message play to the softie Colts to say, “I want this more than you do.”  The Patriots ended up winning the game 20-3.  My favorite postgame Bruschi moment came this game as well.  After Colts GM Bill Polian cried about the Patriots physical secondary play in the previous year’s title game, the NFL instituted its “Illegal Contact” penalty, which says you can’t touch the receiver past 5 yards or it’s a 5 yard penalty and an automatic first down.  After beating down the Colts even with the rule change Bruschi quipped: “What rules do they want to change now? Maybe it’ll be, ‘We can’t play a game if it snows.’ I don’t know. I was just tired of it. I was tired of hearing this and that, talking about the last game and how we didn’t win the game, they lost the game by giving the ball away. Last time I checked, turnovers are when defenses take it away. And we just took it away again today. To hold that offense to three points, I mean, their players are great. I respect what Peyton Manning did this year. I respect those players. Sometimes you’ve just got to be quiet and play football.”

1.  Superbowl XXXVI:  The beginning of the dynasty, on a 3rd and short play in the first half with all-world running back Marshall Faulk in the Rams’ backfield, St. Louis calls on Faulk to pick up a yard and Bruschi stonewalls him for no gain.  Leading up to that week all the Patriots heard was how they didn’t stand a chance against the greatest show on turf.  This play personified that team and what would happen in the years to follow.  I remember this being the play where I began thinking “You know, the Patriots could win this game.”  For you fellow Patriot fans it’s on the season recap DVD, Bruschi jumps up after the stop and screams.  Little did we know this was the start of something unimaginable just 3 years before with Coach Carroll on the sidelines.

One final note, in today’s press conference officially announcing Bruschi’s retirement the usually emotionless Bill Belichick (especially to the media) delivered these remarks according to the Globe’s Mike Reiss:

From Boston.com:

(10:56 a.m.) Bill Belichick says he’s coached a lot of great players and he puts Bruschi up there with all of them. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do what he’s done,” he said, reflecting on how he made the transition from defensive end to linebacker. Belichick said “instinctiveness” and “passion” are two words that he thinks of with Bruschi. He calls him the “epitome of everything you’d want in a football player.” Belichick is emotional as he delivers his remarks.

(10:59 a.m.) Bruschi is wearing a beige suit with a blue shirt. A lot of smiles throughout the first 10 minutes. He seems at peace with his decision.

(11:01 a.m.) Belichick repeats that Bruschi “always did the right thing.” He lists some plays that stand out in his memory. As he talks about Thanksgiving Day interception in Detroit, he looks back at Bruschi and the two smile at each other.

(11:03 a.m.) “How do I sum it up? How do I feel about Tedy Bruschi in five seconds. He’s a perfect player. He’s helped create a tradition here we’re all proud of.” Belichick walks off the podium and the two embrace.

If you play so hard that you can draw that kind of praise and emotion out of Coach Belichick, you’ve done something substantial on the football field.  As a Patriots fan I’ll miss getting to watch him each day but am sure he will be involved in the organization moving forward.

Post Script: Here’s video of the press conference today. Again it just speaks to the kind of player and person Tedy Bruschi is to catch Coach Belichick with a lump in his throat.