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The Final Hail Mary

Should Brett Favre have packed it in as a Packer?

By 2.13.09

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Brett Favre retired on Wednesday. Probably for good this time. Did he make the right decision? Hard to say. He'll probably be asking himself that question for years to come.

Some say Brett overstayed his welcome. Better to leave on a high note, like John Elway. He ended his career with two consecutive Super Bowl victories -- the first of which came at Favre's expense, ironically.

Fate handed Favre a similar opportunity in 2007. Two years after a disheartening 4-12 campaign -- the only losing season in his pro career -- the Packers surprised everyone but themselves and went 13-3. The playoffs began with a resounding victory over Seattle in snowy Lambeau Field.

The New York Giants were to be the next victim. But they didn't read the script. They picked off Favre's final pass as a Packer, triumphed in overtime, and went on to win the Super Bowl.

So it goes.

Still, there's no shame in losing to the champs. This was his chance to go out on top. And he tried to. It had to be hard walking away like that, knowing he could still play. So he came back for more.

But the Packers had moved on. Aaron Rodgers was the starter now. There was no longer a place for Brett Favre in Green Bay, strange as that sounds. After much drama and even more hard feelings, Brett began his comeback 2008 season wearing a New York Jets uniform.

It looked funny, to be sure. But at times, it also looked right. Brett kept making the same old plays. He threw a career-high six touchdowns against the Super Bowl-bound Arizona Cardinals. The Jets started the season 8-3, and looked like Super Bowl fodder themselves.

Then the collapse. The middling 9-7 finish. No playoff appearance. Not all of it was Brett's fault; there were 52 other players on the Jets' roster. Even so, the starting quarterback is by far the most important player. Some of the blame is his to bear. Should he have stayed home in Mississippi?

It seemed like it by the end. Favre finished the year in pain, and found himself consistently underthrowing receivers. Opposing defenses took advantage. They snagged nine interceptions and allowed only two touchdown passes in the final five games.

Now we know that Brett played those last games with a torn biceps tendon in his throwing shoulder. With surgery, Favre could be ready to play next season.

No, he said. Enough. No surgery. No football.

No storybook ending, either. But then, Brett Favre is not John Elway. He is his own man.

Favre is retiring when he wants to, not when the media demands it. Sports pundits routinely scorn Emmitt Smith's lost years as a Cardinal, and Joe Namath's pathetic finish as a Ram. Brett was added to that list the day he was traded to New York.

Why the contempt? There is no shame in doing what you love. Brett did that in 2008. Most people should be so lucky.

There is something to be said for going out on your own terms. Not ESPN's terms. Yours.

Retiring after the miracle 2007 season might have made for a happier ending; the inevitable NFL Films hagiography couldn't have asked for a better plot. But Favre wanted another shot, and had the determination to pursue it.

One more shot seems to have been enough. Last season was a difficult one. Brett's legendary right arm finally seems to be going out on him. Now is the right time to say goodbye.

Some say Brett tarnished his legacy by coming back. I say he added to it. Remember, his terms. Not SportsCenter's. Favre's career, like his playing style, wasn't always aesthetically pleasing. But he gave his all, and he did it his way. That deserves respect.

At 39, Brett is at that odd age where he's old for sports, but young for most anything else. What's next for him? Nobody knows. Not even him. But if he approaches it with the same tenacity as he did football, watch out.

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About the Author

Ryan Young is Fellow in Regulatory Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.