One of the best bits of advice that I have heard about retiring came from legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson. He said, in what was to be his last game in the broadcast booth, “if you want to leave at the appropriate time, then plan on leaving early.”
Of course, Jackson didn’t follow his words. He said this in a 1998 game but came back and didn’t finally retire until the Texas-USC Rose Bowl in 2006 (at which point he might as well have said that he won’t ever see a better college football game anyway).
Brett Favre obviously never heard Jackson’s advice either. Tuesday night he announced that he’s going to try a second post-retirement comeback, this time with the Minnesota Vikings. I can’t say I’m surprised. I expect that in 2015 I’ll be writing about Favre’s latest post-retirement comeback.
Favre’s return to the NFL with the Vikings has been rumored for several months. It seemed that the only thing that could stop this latest publicity stunt would be Tarvaris Jackson, the Vikings starting quarterback in 2008, suddenly turning into Warren Moon in his prime. That didn’t happen in one preseason game, so we’re left with No. 4 in purple and yellow.
I had hoped that the Vikes would be above these kinds of maneuvers because as a New Yorker, I saw what Favre brings to the table these days. The 2008 NFL season was ample demonstration that Favre is through. He led the Jets into playoff contention last season, a major rebound from their 4-12 season in 2007. But a revived defense, a repaired offensive line and new running back, Thomas Jones, had a lot to do with the Jets’ surge. Favre, who was 39, played solid football, but no better than the man he replaced, Chad Pennington, did with his new team, the Miami Dolphins.
Then it all fell apart. The defense stayed strong; the running attack didn’t wane, but Favre, seemingly the most reliable part of the Jets’ revival, faltered. The Jets, who started the season a robust 8-3, lost four of their final five games to fall out of the playoff picture on the season’s final Sunday. During those five games, Favre threw two touchdown passes and nine interceptions, which suggests that his old gunslinger’s mentality hadn’t faltered, but the slinger itself had. His quarterback rating was 61 or less in each of those games. A rating of 61 for two games gets all but the most revered signal callers benched.
The Vikings’ interest reflects their impatience with Jackson. Jackson can be shaky at times. He throws off the wrong foot a lot, and his accuracy isn’t optimal. The Vikings feel that their defense is Super Bowl caliber, and they have a great running back, Adrian Peterson, entering his prime. The general belief is that what separates them from a serious Super Bowl push is a top-flight QB. Yet this pursuit of Favre won’t get them one. In Favre’s final five games with the Jets, he couldn’t top a QB rating of 61; Jackson’s final five starts with the Vikings produced a QB rating of 95.4 with nine touchdown passes and two interceptions—a nifty opposite of Favre’s production with the Jets.
There is an attractive angle to the story about Favre wanting revenge on the Green Bay Packers, the team that released him in the summer of 2008. Yet there’s more to performance than motivation; athletic ability tends to decline for everyone in their 30s. NFL quarterbacks are no exception to this rule. Favre at 33 was better than Jackson is today. But Favre at 40 won’t be. The Vikings would be better to be patient with Jackson’s development rather than playing for the headlines and drama that come with bringing Favre to the Twin Cities.
In two of his last three seasons, Favre has performed like a mediocre player, not a legend. If he keeps this up, then by the time he actually does retire, no one will remember what a transcendent player he once was.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.