Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brett Favre.

I hated myself last night. I had been convinced that the story I saw last week about Brett Favre's retirement being posted on the Packers website had just been a big mistake, and that there was no way he was going to retire after that unbelievable, MVP-calibre season he had last year. Furthermore, he is a guy who has weighed that question a lot over the past few years, and it seems to be a decision at which he would not arrive lightly. Therefore, when I heard the announcement yesterday, I knew it was final. Now, I am the biggest Favre fan in Ottawa (likely not the world - there are bigger fans in Wisconsin, I am sure. Also, there's John Madden.) And yet, right after I heard the announcement yesterday, I hated myself. The reason I hated myself was that horrible thoughts flew through my head right away. Why would a guy, coming off a major career resurrection, still one of the top three quarterbacks in football, an MVP candidate who went all the way to the NFC championship hang it up? It's basically the second "prime" of his career! Who else has a career with two "primes" of such magnitude?

Well, here's the answer that immediately flashed across my brain. Roger Clemens. Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Rafael Palmeiro. Lance Armstrong. Crap. And I remember thinking "why couldn't these guys leave well enough alone? Had they retired, got out before the steroid thing hit big, there would be no controversy and no one would care!" I lamented Roger Clemens being boneheaded enough to stick around long enough to be caught. And now...this is the first thing I think when my hero retires? Oh my God what if he was on steroids? I had many childhood sporting heroes, but I certainly didn't think anything cynical like this when Rickey Henderson and Clyde Drexler and Dale Hawerchuk retired. And let me state, for the record, that I do not believe for one second that Brett Favre has ever used steroids. I believe that this man's personal integrity is above reproach. But why would the thought ever cross my mind?

The answer is sports in general. Nothing shocks us any more. Nothing would shock me when it comes to steroids, unless someone discovered that Roger Maris used HGH in 1961 when he broke the home run record. Sports has made a cynic out of me, it has destroyed the illusion I had of supermen when I was a child. It's not just steroids either. It's Chris Simon, and Pacman Jones, and Michael Vick and Tony LaRussa. In short, it's the absence of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Brett Favre. Favre was my hero because when I, as a twelve-year-old Packers fan, watched him play the game, I felt his joy. When I watch Peyton Manning complete an impossible bomb to Marvin Harrison, I might be on the edge of my seat cheering, and I applaud the skill it took to make the play. When Favre gunned a ball between two defenders that hit Sterling Sharpe on the run at 90 miles an hour, leaving him untouched as he raced down the sidelines for a touchdown, I was there, in the play, with him. As he jumped into the arms of Dorsey Levens before Sharpe even reached the end zone, I was jumping too. I was pumping my fist, as he did, and his elation was mine as well.

That is what is missing in sports today. Oh sure, some players still have it. Manny Ramirez has it. Alexander Ovechkin has it. LeBron James has it. But those players are not Favre. All they really have is the joy. The unbridled enthusiasm that any kid would have if he got the chance to play that game at that level. Favre was that, and so much more. He was the heart and soul of his team. He was the guy who could lift his entire team onto his back and MAKE them win, and have an absolute blast doing it. He was the guy who would never, ever take a play off, much less a game, and perhaps the only quarterback in memory whose toughness was never questioned. Mental toughness, physical toughness, and the emotional toughness to never quit loving what he did for a living. And now that he is gone, my mind immediately leaps to steroids and controversy. I am ashamed of myself, but more so, I am ashamed for all of sports. Screw you sports. Without Brett Favre, is there any reason to continue watching at all?

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