Commentary

Is Brett Favre too old, gimpy for this?

Updated: August 27, 2010, 11:01 AM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

The Brett Favre story has devolved into parody. I get it. Nobody wants to read more about him, and yet everybody seems to read everything about him. He's become the most polarizing man in sports -- part-diva, part-hero -- and wherever you fall you have to admit he's good for the collective conversation.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre fan
AP Photo/Tony AvelarVikings fans seem pleased by Brett Favre's return. Others are not so sure.

There's something troubling about his latest comeback, though, and it became apparent in the third of the four downs Favre played against the 49ers on Sunday night. To put it bluntly, the NFL is no place for a 40-year-old man with a balky ankle and an ego that makes him believe he no longer needs to train year-round.

On that third play, Favre went back to pass and found himself defenseless against a blitz by linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes. Willis is a couple of steps faster than Spikes, so he got there first and drilled a backpedaling Favre into the turf. His 40-year-old head bounced. If Willis had been two steps slower, he and Spikes would have hit Favre simultaneously.

Everyone always asks the same question about Favre: Will he or won't he? Maybe the question needs to be rephrased: Should he?

There's no question he had a tremendous season last year. There's no need to rehash that -- it was Favre at his swashbuckling, fun-loving, ass-slapping finest. Brad Childress stood there in stupefied admiration, the whole state of Minnesota fell in love with him and the Wranglers flew off the shelves faster than an old cotton farmer could slap a tin of Copenhagen in the back right pocket.

But there's more involved here than just a guy embarking on another lark through a 16-game schedule. Look it's his body and his brain and his life. I'm not trying to go all Big Brother on Brett. He's a big boy, or a big kid, or whatever the worshippers are calling him these days. A big part of his incessant unretirements, it seems, is a troubling inability to find satisfaction with anything else. You can put a positive spin on it and call him a workaholic, or you could assume that he's incurably intoxicated by fame. Maybe he just can't stand Hattiesburg in the fall. Whatever the case, he isn't adept at getting out when the getting's good. And last January, the getting was as good as it's ever going to get.

The guys lining up on the other side are getting bigger and stronger and faster. (Take a look at the official NFL note Chad Ochocinco found on his locker last week if you think the league's drug policy does anything more than catch the dimmest of the dim. If you can read or count -- either one, not necessarily both -- you're in good shape.) We're just getting hip to the dangers of head injuries, and Favre is a 40-year old man with a bad ankle, playing on a team that has no problem throwing him onto the field less than a week after the three-man cowboy cavalry -- including, for some reason, a kicker -- tossed a lasso around the ol' boy's ankles and brought him up north to play a little more ball and collect a few more million.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
AP Photo/Morry GashBrett Favre limped off after a big hit in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints. He needed surgery on his left ankle during the offseason.

In a quarterback roundtable discussion with Sports Illustrated last summer, Carson Palmer suggested that the violence in an NFL game could someday result in death -- not death at 50 caused by a degenerating, collision-related syndrome, but immediate death on the field, in a game. A lot of NFL players were shocked Palmer said such a thing for public dissemination, but it's not clear whether they disagreed or simply viewed it as a public airing of a private fear.

And not to get even more alarmist on you, but there's also this: Favre has a huge target on his chest. It's not just Gregg Williams and the Saints, who blitzed Favre mercilessly in the NFC Championship last year and have vowed to do so in the opener again this year. He will be blitzed all year, by everyone. The 49ers blitzed the man on the third down of the game Sunday -- an exhibition game, for God's sake -- and Willis looked far more than exhibition-game happy when he leaped over a prone Favre after the fact. Have Seahawks defensive linemen and linebackers ever been more excited about a preseason gameplan than the one for Saturday night? Probably not.

The NFL isn't a place for sentimentality. There might be a lot of graying, middle-aged dudes roaming the land wearing No. 4 jerseys (and Wranglers) rooting for Favre because he's carrying the banner for graying, middle-aged dudes, but none of them are playing defense in the NFL. As Willis showed, NFL linebackers are about as sentimental as the Chinese Taipei Little League team. In other words, if Willis was beating Canada 21-0, he'd score on a passed ball, too.

If you can remove the insufferable drama that accompanies the man, his return to the NFL is great theater. It's good for the league, good for the fans (pro or con) and as long as you're not Tarvaris Jackson, good for the Vikings.

The jury's out on only one guy: Favre.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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