The most durable, most compelling, most watchable quarterback of our NFL generation is going to call it quits. The official announcement might not come for a week or two, but it will come. That's because Brett Favre's secret was betrayed by his tear ducts, which were powerless against the suddenness of the moment.
One minute he was being hoisted off the field by teammate Donald Driver and then enveloped in a sideline group hug. The next minute he was semi-sobbing in front of a national television audience as NBC's Andrea Kremer gently and expertly let his wet eyes answer her questions.
How could you not watch Favre in the aftermath of the Green Bay Packers' 26-7 woodshed win against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field Sunday evening and not think that for all intents and purposes, he had decided to retire after 16 years? How could you not watch the heartfelt handshakes and embraces with fellow Packers and opposing Bears and not understand that this was his way of saying goodbye? And how could you not secretly hope that maybe, after the emotions recede, and the Packers presumably detail to him their grand plan to improve this 8-8 team through free agency, that Favre calls a timeout and decides to return in 2007?
But Favre has never been very good about hiding his feelings. He wears them on his Packers jersey sleeve, and Sunday night's game against the supposed No. 1 team in the NFC was no exception.
He yelled at wide receivers when they cut their routes short. He pumped his fist after a score. He sought out Brian Urlacher for a handslap after the Bears linebacker somehow tipped away a would-be Favre completion. He tapped Bears' defensive linemen on the helmet tops after tackles. He patted Bears' defensive backs on the shoulder pads at the end of plays. He attempted a block on a goofy reverse. He grinned on the bench. He was 37 going on rookie from Southern Miss.
But the gray hair gives it away. So does the fact that he has a daughter going off to college, and another child at home, and a wife who might not mind having her husband back. His own father died before his time and, well, at what point do you say enough is enough?
Favre can still play. My gawd, how he can play. I'd pay money to watch him during pregame warmups.
Nobody in the league plays with the same Pop Warner joy as Favre does. Nobody, with the exception of perhaps Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Steve McNair, is so willing to say, "`I'm going to win this game, or die trying." Nobody is likely to touch his astounding record of 237 consecutive NFL regular season quarterback starts (257, including playoffs) for at least another six years.
I can't help it: Favre is my all-time fave. And he might be the favorite of most everyone he played against. He earned respect not just by those 50,000-plus career passing yards and those 400-plus career touchdown throws, but by the way he played, win or lose.
Can you remember the last time he made an excuse? Can you remember when he wasn't playing in some sort of pain? Can you remember the last time he backed down from anyone or anything?
It was no accident that Urlacher made a beeline for Favre at the end of Sunday night's game. An embrace. A few words between professionals. Respect.
I know that the Bears might not have been fully engaged in the regular season finale. They had already secured a first-round playoff bye and home field advantage through the NFC Championship. And most of the regulars were on the sidelines by the third or fourth quarters (or in quarterback Rex Grossman's case, benched after a first half from hell).
But they still had a 13-2 record, were playing at home, and were playing against a Packers team that had been eliminated from the playoff equation much earlier in the day. Favre didn't care. He played as if a Super Bowl ring was at stake. He always does.
If this was indeed his final game in a Packers uniform, it ended the right way: with a victory against his NFC North rival Bears, with his loyal receiver Donald Driver giving him a ride to the sidelines, and with Urlacher paying his respects. The only thing missing was the chance to do the Lambeau Leap. And to be honest, the Soldier Field crowd might have let him do it there. But only Favre.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm not reading too much into a two-minute postgame TV interview. But Favre sounded like a guy who had made a decision.
Now isn't the time to discuss Favre's football legacy. All you need to know is that he'll be wearing one of those yellow Pro Football Hall of Fame blazers in five years.
Weird. An NFL without Favre.
I think I'm going to cry.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.