Packers need new course, not an old hand at QB
So here comes Quarterback X for another year. He's your guy, because he's on the team you care about. You certainly deserve to know what you're getting for 2007, so let's take a quick, dispassionate look.
First off, your guy is 37, heading into his 17th year of getting bashed around in the NFL. Not as nimble as he used to be, though he still moves. Good arm, trending toward the erratic these days. Total competitor. He never misses a start, even when maybe he should.
And here's the rest: Last season, your guy rated 25th among NFL quarterbacks who played regularly. He threw as many interceptions as touchdowns. The team around him was 4-8 before rallying to win its last four games and fall just short of the playoffs, and he sounded an awful lot like a retiring pro after that final Sunday, before he evidently changed his mind over the past few weeks.
You excited yet?
None of this is to suggest that Brett Favre is like anyone else in the NFL, nor that Favre's relationship with Green Bay and the Packers fans could ever be so casually reduced to numbers and skepticism. Favre is the modern history of the franchise. It's no problem imagining that Friday was a good day in Wisconsin, with the QB's announcement that he'll return for 2007 being made public via a story on the Biloxi, Miss., newspaper's Web site.
But for the Packers as a franchise, this is mixed news at best. It suggests, as much as anything, one more season of sliding sideways rather than charting a new course for the competitive future. Because the truth, once you scramble past the legend and the passion of Favre, is that a very mediocre quarterback is going to be behind center in Green Bay next season, albeit one chasing some luminous records.
It's weird, isn't it? Even putting mediocrity and Favre in the same sentence feels like an insult. But it's not, anymore; it is simply the statistical shape of things. Favre was once as dominating as any quarterback in memory, but the here and now is the unforgivable fact of life in the NFL. In the here and now, Favre is just OK back there.
I used to be much bigger on orchestrated endings to brilliant careers, but if there's one thing that years of covering sports suggests, it is that the Ted Williams walkoff scenario almost never happens. For every John Elway, there are three Michael Jordans, Roger Clemenses and Karl Malones. It's so hard to get away clean. No fault to Favre for seeking a better closing statement than 8-8.
For that matter, there's something inspired about a 37-year-old who can still command the position of quarterback, and Favre has lost none of his sense of command in the huddle and on the field. That's especially true for a Green Bay team that is mostly young and quite possibly still on the rise.
But Favre, straight-up, as the quarterback? Well, ratings can lie, but look again at those numbers from last season: 18 touchdowns vs. 18 interceptions; a 56 percent completion ratio; a 72.7 rating that not only put Favre near the bottom of the NFL but was well below his career number of 85.0 -- a more interesting and perhaps meaningful comparison.
Those are the kinds of numbers that may have explained the somewhat less than ecstatic reaction from the Packers' front office when the news broke. A statement quoted general manager Ted Thompson as saying, "The Packers are excited by his decision and look forward to a successful 2007 campaign." Way to lay on the superlatives, big man.
Favre sounded much more enthused than that, speaking of the team's youth in terms of its promise rather than its callowness. Of course, he has plenty of reasons beyond the simply competitive to want that to be so. Favre can pass Marino in career touchdown passes with seven in the coming season, and might even get Marino's all-time passing yardage record in the process.
Only a fool would fail to connect those possibilities with Favre's decision to give it one more run in 2007. No shame in that; it is simply a great player burnishing his own legend. But as for Quarterback X, the 25th-rated guy coming back for another shot in Green Bay, it's no surprise that some will curb their enthusiasm. They're not getting the legend. They're getting the veteran.
Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland," published by HarperCollins, is available nationally and at markkreidler.com. Kreidler, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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