[Editor's Note: Brett Favre has asked the Packers for his release. This column was originally published at the time of Favre's retirement announcement in March.]
Brett Favre will regret his decision to retire at some point this fall.
He'll be sitting at his home in Mississippi on a Sunday afternoon, relaxing with his family and he'll realize what he's missing, how precious an opportunity he passed on. It might be a simple pang of heartache. It could be a sudden jolt that sparks him to reminisce. But he will surely feel something that will remind him of how big a mistake he made when he finally ended his career as the Green Bay Packers quarterback.
When news of Favre's retirement broke Tuesday morning, it surely left many football fans shaking their heads in disbelief. Yes, the man had been flirting with leaving the game for most of the past three years. The reality, however, is that the 38-year-old Favre had more reason than ever to stick around for an 18th season.
The Packers had just come off a year that included a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. They were certain to be competing for a spot in the Super Bowl when the 2008 season kicked off.
That's what makes his decision so baffling. Favre loves playing football and he loves winning. Did you watch him this past season? If it weren't for his gray hair and beard, you would've thought he was a wide-eyed 22-year-old -- a kid filled with the unbridled joy that comes from knowing he makes millions playing a simple game -- all over again.
After awhile, it seemed like the greatest gift Favre's younger teammates gave him was the realization of how many surprises were still left in a glorious career that already included three MVP awards and a Super Bowl victory.
It doesn't make sense for Favre to turn his back on those kinds of memories now. Sure, he earned his place in history this season -- he set NFL records for wins, passing yards, touchdown passes and, fittingly, interceptions -- but we all knew he'd do that eventually.
What we didn't see coming was the way Favre changed his game to help his team win. The same quarterback who earned the gunslinger reputation for his free-styling ways, began operating with the cunning cool of a committed game manager. He thrived off efficiency and learned how to trust a young receiving corps.
That transformation alone should've helped Favre see the possibilities that existed for the coming season. He didn't have to carry the Packers. He could let the team carry him when necessary, in much the same way the Denver Broncos aided John Elway toward the end of his career.
The Packers had the youngest team in football in 2007, a squad blessed with an aggressive defense, a dependable offensive line and a rising star at running back in Ryan Grant. There's no reason to think the team wouldn't have improved with another season of playing together.
But let's face it: Favre always had a tough time buying into all the magic that was happening around him last year. He was skeptical when the Packers opened the season 4-0, and Favre was still imploring the public to lower expectations when Green Bay had a 10-1 record heading into a heavily hyped matchup with Dallas. His company line was always the same, too. This team had so much youth that you had to wait and see how it responded to all the success it produced. It was like he was finding ample reason to not raise his own hopes.
The irony is that Favre finally started to truly believe in this team's possibilities when Green Bay faced the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. Before that contest, his wife Deanna encouraged him to accept the idea that things were going the Packers' way and there was nothing wrong with dreaming about what could happen for a team nobody saw coming.
Of course, Favre's willingness to start dreaming eventually ended with his playing his worst game of the season. His biggest mistake came when he threw an interception to Giants cornerback Corey Webster in overtime -- it set up New York's game-winning field goal in that contest. You would've thought that moment would've given Favre more motivation to return to address unfinished business.
Now that he's leaving, we can see what he was after this past season. The records clearly were a big factor in his willingness to return, but he also wanted to leave on a higher note. The Packers had won just four games in 2005 and eight in 2006. Favre simply had too much pride to walk away with people knowing he played on teams without winning records. At the very least, he needed to be remembered for his successes and not his failures.
But it's also apparent that he'd reached a point where he needed more guarantees for his future. As soon as New England Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss became an unrestricted free agent, word leaked that Favre wanted the Packers to make another run at acquiring Moss (he wanted the team to do the same thing last offseason when the Oakland Raiders were looking to trade Moss). If that's true, that request would say plenty about where Favre's head was after the 2007 season. If he could have one more weapon on an already dangerous team, he'd feel better about taking another shot at leading the Packers.
Well, we will never know how much Moss' decision to re-sign with New England impacted Favre's decision to retire. What we do know is that Favre didn't need Moss to feel good about working one more season in the NFL. The man just spent five months having a blast playing for a strong team and proving that he still had plenty to offer this game. Now that he's gone, he'll eventually realize that he should've held on to that gift for as long as possible.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com. He is a guest commentator on "Rome Is Burning" this week on ESPN.