Brett Favre, QB of La Mancha
Tired, aching athlete? Yes. Diva? Yes. Dreamer, part myth, part reality? Yes.
Eaux Neaux! Say It Ain't Seaux, Jeaux! The Second- or Third-To-Last Brett Favre Retirement Story I'll Ever Write, Part 19
In Hell, Brett Favre is doomed for all eternity to short that throw.
And I am consigned, century upon century upon century, to watch him do it. And then condemned -- forever -- to read and write about it.
We all get what we deserve, apparently.
Flushed right, out of the pocket, running hard, pads flapping, throwing back left across the field and across the grain and the coverage and across decades and ages and logic and common sense, across four different teams and thousands of teammates and millions of bar arguments -- Hail Mary, here it goes! -- we're all sentenced to another late-game, late-season, late-life interception from the huckleberry everybody loves to hate (to love).
After which monumental brain-lapse and arm-shank, most of whom now await with great glee Huckleberry fin.
Hubris! Gall! Madness! Predictably unpredictable! But also inevitably inevitable! What was he thinking?
Who knows? What insight can a simple sports writer have into the workings of Fate or Destiny or the Ineluctable Penmanship of the One Great Narrator?
All of which mystical stuff came and went on little purple wings in the last few minutes of that NFC Championship Game, until those plot points that were necessary and destined to happen, happened. The spheres turned in their course and the story got told and New Orleans will at last go to the Super Duper Bowl, and Minnesota will fly home and again spend the winter making Tater Tot Hotdish and Seven Layer Salad and everyone everywhere will blame Brett Favre.
As it is written/so must it be done.
That is his eternal burden, to bear like Sisyphus the recurring weight of his spectacular failures. And like Tithonus of myth to live forever in the game -- but to grow old and broke down in the playing of it.
(This, no matter how many fumbles Adrian Peterson rains down on us all. If the Heimlich maneuver could be counted upon to cough things up with that kind of clockwork reliability, thousands of lives around the globe might be saved every year.)
So there's plenty of blame to spread across the Vikings' flameout, but that won't happen. Face of the franchise and reliable seller of books, magazines, newspapers and shot glasses, placemats and beer cozies, barbecues and dungarees, TVs and Internet banner ads, Brett Favre and his Q rating will wear this loss forever.
Branded again with The Scarlet Letters: I-N-T.
And because familiarity breeds contempt, Favre, now in the 900th year of his career, makes it easy. He is routinely blasted by the vampire sporting press for the rituals of his indecision. But in the interest of circulation and ratings and page views, if that long, lunatic annual vigil at the Hattiesburg compound didn't exist, they'd have to invent it.
Will he? Won't he?
Let's ask that question -- endlessly and profitably -- on a Mobius loop of mind-numbing, coast-to-coast newspaper columns and blog posts.
It seems to me that past a certain point in male middle age, a yearly assessment of one's vitals, of the bone and sinew and muscle, only makes good sense. Especially for a professional athlete. All those systems are prone to breakdown, after all. Just ask the marketing department at Cialis.
Which is not to say that Favre is not a divo (the gender-correct Italian, for those lexical Latinate geeks who care). He certainly is. Selfish, careless, thoughtless. Gifted. Which makes him no different than 1,000 other American celebrities who inhabit an identically opaque bubble of self-regard.
University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer, for example. Who -- in a sudden fright about his overworked ticker and his imminent mortality -- told America on a Saturday that he was retiring. This he did by trading on greeting-card sentiment and the gullibility of his constituency.
He was giving it all up he said (sniffle), because his health (sniffle) and his family (sniffle snuffle) were Just Too Important. (sniffle snort)
To which his daughter had replied (he said), "I get my daddy back."
He unretired the next day.
And on Saturday of last week, announcing that he'd be coaching UF's spring practice, went so far as to say about taking it easy, "I tried a day and a half, and it didn't work."
To better picture the upcoming Father Of The Year acceptance speech, just put those two thoughts, spoken less than a month apart, together for a second.
12/27/09: "I get my daddy back."
1/23/10: "I tried a day and a half, and it didn't work."
If Meyer were a woman, some sportswriting someone somewhere would have long since written or spoken the word "hysterical" by now.
UF fans can be excused for not seeing any of this, of course. Even in a court of law, insanity constitutes a kind of defense.
Anyway, by comparison, Brett Favre is as reliable as a German bicycle and his blindered devotion to his own ambition is appalling but refreshingly honest.
Thus does our NFL industrial complex have its narratives inscribed for the Super Bowl fortnight. The Saints will play for the 9th Ward and Bourbon Street and redemption, for le bon temps and love and loss, and the Colts and Peyton Manning will play for vindication or validation or in spiritual service of the Midwestern recession or rectitude or something.
Whatever. It doesn't matter.
The cliché could just as easily have been the Jets' four-decade resurrection, or Favre's un-aging grace. The stories don't even register in the face of all that spectacle.
Come the great moment two weeks from now, some of you will be happy and some of you will be sad.
This, thanks in some unknowable measure to Brett Favre, and to his myopic selfishness and his awful ambitions, his single-mindedness and his stubborn arrogance, his passion and his fortitude. Think of him then, we owe him that, in the moment of your joy or sorrow, his armor clanking and on the run, as old and foolish and beautiful as Quixote.
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Please continue to submit your answers to his question "What Are Sports For?" You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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