Commentary

Favre exits with undeniable credentials

A controversial divorce with the Packers and a rocky season in New York haven't tainted Brett Favre's status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, writes John Clayton.

Originally Published: February 11, 2009
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Brett Favre's exit from the NFL may have been intercepted by egos, resentment and a one-season stay in New York, but none of it tainted his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Favre's 18-year résumé is immune from much debate. He holds NFL records for passing yards (65,127), completions (5,720) and touchdowns (464). He leaves the league with the most untouchable record: 269 consecutive starts at quarterback (291 including the playoffs). His career regular-season record is 169-100 (12-10 in the playoffs, including the Super Bowl XXXI title).

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After announcing his retirement Wednesday, Favre can take the next five years to mend his disagreements with Packers ownership and fans before he dons the yellow jacket and makes his speech in Canton, Ohio, in the summer of 2014.

Most Hall of Fame quarterbacks retire with the franchise that made them famous. Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Terry Bradshaw and others left the game with clean reputations.

Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas had two of the worst exits. Ignoring the pain and limitations of his bad knees, Namath, looking much older than the 34 years on his driver's license, played four horrible games after being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1977. Unitas, then an immobile 40-year-old, pushed his career one season too long by playing with the San Diego Chargers in 1973.

Both made the Hall of Fame.

Favre's last season was more reminiscent of Joe Montana, whom the 49ers traded to Kansas City after the 1992 season. Montana fought through elbow problems and gave Chiefs fans the playoff victories that had been lacking for years.

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The Jets acquired Favre with the idea of turning an easy schedule into a trip to the playoffs. The plan almost worked. After beating then-unbeaten Tennessee on Nov. 23, the Jets were 8-3 and the toast of the NFL. Favre was getting some consideration for MVP.

Then cold weather hit, and his torn biceps tendon (which he didn't reveal until after the season) started to affect his throwing. The Jets lost four of their final five games, and, finally, Favre didn't look immortal. The end was near and his body was telling him so.

Favre's one-season fling with the Jets won't change the inevitable: He will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2014. Favre was the iron man among quarterbacks and gave Jets fans some flashes of the magic he displayed in Green Bay.

Packers fans might detest Favre's final chapter, but no one can argue about the entire body of work. He was one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer