Who will have last laugh in Favre’s finale?
‘Unnecessary Roughness’ is a new regular column on the NFL from an international perspective written by Simon Evans, a British born Reuters sports reporter in Miami.
There is something both admirable and tragic about the way in which Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is ending his NFL career and on Thursday we should get a clue to whether we are to witness one last year of fine passing and success for Favre and his Vikings or hobbling and interceptions from a soon to be 41-year-old quarterback.
What he says is the final season of his outstanding career begins on Thursday at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans – the very place where his aim of bowing out with a second Super Bowl triumph ended in a battering from the Saints defense and an unforgettable overtime interception.
Favre’s final push for Super Bowl glory, a horrible year after, in the Jets jersey, he had looked like a heavyweight boxer lumbering out for one ill-advised final pay day, was a storyline that ran through last year’s NFL season and will again this time.
Last year, the Rocky comeback script came up against another Hollywood ‘feel good’ story, as New Orleans, the city that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina just five years ago, beat up Favre and the Vikings and then triumphed over the highly-rated Indianapolis Colts to win the Super Bowl.
The NFL, always aware of the need for a compelling storyline, has made sure that the Saints and the Vikings meet up again on opening night and while it will be another great night for Saints supporters, many will have their eyes on Favre.
The media have it both ways when it comes to Favre. On the one hand they mock his inability to simply close the book on his career and every year articles urge him to quit and lament the annual saga of ‘will he or won’t he quit?’
Yet that very same media spend the summer months running ‘Favre Watch’ specials. reporting every little detail of his off-season routine and speculating over the eventual outcome. This year, his arrival at the Vikings pre-season training camp was filmed by hovering helicopters, filming his black SUV into the team’s training facility.
Favre is accused of hogging the limelight every off-season but perhaps he should be cut some slack, he does seem genuinely trapped by indecisiveness and that desire that so many sportsmen have to go out on top.
As a reporter who covered soccer in Italy for eight years, I can’t help but draw comparisons between the graying quarterback and another man who played into his forties – AC Milan and Italy defender Paolo Maldini.
Like Favre at Green Bay, Maldini became an emblematic figure at his club, but unlike the American he stuck with his team right until the end of his career. Favre playing for the Vikings, the old enemy and divisional rival of his Packers, is like Maldini ending his career with a couple of seasons at Inter Milan. Unthinkable.
Maldini was once offered the chance, in his mid-thirties, to make a lucrative switch to English club Chelsea and although the former Italy international would have loved to have spent a year or two in London, respect for his supporters, but also his own legacy, led him to reject that chance.
Maldini was so fit, such a dedicated professional, that he played well beyond the normal age of retirement for a soccer player and indeed he could probably have managed another season or two. But he retired, as he played, gracefully and without undue attention or fuss.
Put that difference down to character if you wish – Maldini and Favre are very different men in very different sports, but there is one element in their careers that surely goes a long way to explaining their diverse approaches to retirement.
Maldini hung up his boots after a 24-year career in which, as well as being Italy’s most capped player, he won seven Italian league ‘scudetti’ and five Champions League titles.
Favre has just one Super Bowl victory, claimed all the way back in the 1996 season.
The quarterback from Mississippi is placed by most experts as being among the best the game has seen but he really has very little to show for it.
That very limited return on his investment clearly annoys Favre and explains his determination to tip the balance of his legacy by securing one more triumph at the end of his career.
He can’t be blamed for that and if he succeeds he will deserve all the praise that comes his way. If he falls short again this year, he merits some respect and acknowledgement of all the great performances he has produced down the years.
The only part of the Favre story that jars, that doesn’t fit in with the film script and that irks the romantics, is that he isn’t making that one final push in the jersey of the Green Bay Packers, where he spent 16 years, but in the purple of their biggest rival.
That means there will always be a part of America that will feel somewhat sour if he does lift the Lombardi Trophy as a 41-year-old.
Indeed, there will be some hoping that he gets another bruising from the Saints on Thursday.
But there could yet be a more subtly painful ending to this story for Favre, The pundits in the previews are picking none other than the Green Bay Packers for Super Bowl success this year.
Paolo Maldini never had to worry about Milan having the last laugh on his career.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre speaks with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (L) during the second quarter of their National League preseason football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Minneapolis, August 28, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Miller
Children wear AC Milan jerseys bearing the name “Maldini”, before the start of the Italian Serie A soccer match against AS Roma at the San Siro stadium in Milan May 24, 2009. AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini will bid farewell to the San Siro faithful against AS Roma on Sunday in what may also be coach Carlo Ancelotti’s last home match in charge of the Serie A club. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo