I wish Brett Favre would go away.
I don't mean that in a bad way. He's my mother's favorite player. And as a Chicago Bears fan, I can say that beating the Packers won't be as much fun without No. 4 to chase out of the pocket. I mean I wish Favre would go away because what he's doing is profoundly unfair and egotistical, and it should tarnish his legacy.
In March, Favre announced his retirement from the NFL. It wasn't unexpected. He had considered retirement after previous seasons, and at 38, following 16 seasons of Hall of Fame caliber play, it seemed only sensible that Favre would walk away from the game. He was still playing at a high level, but he had made millions of dollars and despite absorbing hundreds of hits from runaway freight trains called defensive ends and linebackers, he was still in good health. It seemed that the next chapter would be naming a street after him in Green Bay, Wis. and inducting him into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2012.
That tidy little script went out the window this week. In a series of interviews, Favre made it known that he'd like to un-retire and play pro football this year. The Packers response has been a good bit less than welcoming. They've implied that they have no role for Favre on this year's team and that they have no intention of releasing him so that he can go play for another team. They have also accused one of their key division rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, of tampering by having improper communications with Favre.
As the story has played out this week, Favre looks like the little guy, who just wants to play football again. The Packers have fit the role of the heavy, heartless company unwilling to let little Brett do his crowd-pleasing tricks and lead the Packers to victory.
It pains me as a Bears fan to say this, but the Packers deserve better. They are completely in the right and Favre's actions in the last week are naïve at best and megalomaniacal at worst. When Favre announced his retirement in March, the Packers went into action with plans to move into the post-Brett era. Aaron Rodgers, who was one of the top college QB prospects when he was drafted by Green Bay in 2005, has been groomed as a replacement. The team drafted two other well-regarded signal callers, Louisville's Brian Brohm and LSU's Matt Flynn to fortify the QB pipeline. They put Favre on the Reserve/Retired list which enabled them to spend the $13 million they would have paid him on other players.
This is all business as usual, but there's another aspect. The Pack went 13-3 last season and nearly went to the Super Bowl. They rank second in both points scored and allowed in the NFC. They are in that enviable position of thinking that if a reasonable percentage of their plans work out, then they could play in the Super Bowl.
The ramifications of bringing Favre back to Green Bay go deeper than just telling Rodgers to wait another year. As has been mentioned, Favre is scheduled to make $13 million this season. The NFL has a rigid salary cap. Bringing a $13-million-dollar salary on board—or back on board—will require cutting players whose contracts total that amount.
Thirteen million! Even in the world of sports that's a lot of money. There are teams whose entire starting offensive lines don't make that much. To bring Favre back, the Packers would likely have to release three or four starters. In other words, there's no way for Green Bay to facilitate Brett's return without significantly weakening a team that was built with plausible Super Bowl plans in mind.
This brings us to the second scenario: Why don't the Packers just release Favre?
Green Bay shouldn't be in the business of making their rivals better. It isn't as if they could release Favre on the condition that he would go play for the Miami Dolphins or the Kansas City Chiefs or some other team that will have minimal impact on the Pack's Super Bowl dreams. The teams most likely to sign Favre, if he became a free agent, are two of Green Bay's principal rivals, the Vikings or the Bears. This would result in two games this season against Favre in an enemy jersey (and Favre probably knows the Packers' defensive tendencies better than most opposing offensive coordinators). The third likely suitor would be the Pack's former division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that went to the playoffs last season. Their coach, Jon Gruden, was once Favre's QB coach in Green Bay. That could lead to an even worse scenario than losing to the Vikings or Bears, losing to Favre in a playoff game.
Green Bay's intransigence is understandable, but it doesn't move the situation any closer to resolution. I'm sure Packers management is hoping that Favre will realize that this comeback attempt isn't reasonable and re-retire. That isn't likely. Athletes aren't known for choosing the discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor route, and Favre's legend is built on trying to do the impossible—squeezing passes between defenders, blocking on—reverse plays, and keeping huge opposing lineman at bay—and succeeding. He's the sort of athlete whose can-do spirit embodies what has made sport in America so immensely popular.
I'd like to think that Favre is a Packers fan, and that sometime sooner or later, he will realize the no-win position that he has put his team in. Either they bring him back and scuttle their Super Bowl plans for yet another edition of the Favre farewell tour. Or they allow him the freedom to go play for a rival. Since I don't think Favre is going to have this epiphany anytime soon, I imagine that this story will drag out and become uglier and uglier until the Packers release him during pre-season giving their rivals as little time as possible to pick up Favre and get ready for the regular season.
Meanwhile, I'm left wondering why Favre has a contract that extends through his 41st birthday. Were it not for the contract, this dispute wouldn't exist. Unless forced out by injuries like Steve Young and Troy Aikman, most elite athletes have a hard time walking away from the game. In this regard, Favre, a most unconventional quarterback has proven himself to be a very typical athlete.
Martin Johnson is a New York writer.