Monday, July 14, 2008

With Apologies to Matt Forbeck...

When I was a kid, there was a commercial for Nestle's Tollhouse Cookies that featured a kid named Timmy (or Tommy, or Toby, or something like that) announcing very loudly that he was leaving home. "I'm leaving," he'd say, and go down a few stairs the knapsack on his back bulging with, well, I don't want to think about what that kid thought was appropriate running-away-from-home material. "I'm going." Walk a few more steps. You get the idea.

Mom, of course, was having none of it. Instead, she just baked delicious chocolate chip cookies, and little Teddy, or whatever his name was, announced that maybe he could stick around for a while before stuffing his piehole with delicious chocolate chip goodness.

He wasn't really running away, you see.

He just wanted to be told that he was loved.

Which brings me to Brett Favre, who recently stirred the collective soul of Cheesehead Nation like it was cheap fondue minus the kirsch by announcing that, no, he wasn't retiring after all, and if the Packers weren't going to let him come back, they should be gentlemen and release him so he could go play somewhere else that wanted him and loved him and would make him tollhouse cookies. Or something like that.

Now, I'm not usually on the ownership side when it comes to the NFL, and with good reason. They have the sweetest of sweetheart labor deals, they treat their workforce like Kleenex, they make obscene profits and yet cry poor to suck up untold millions of government money for publicly funded stadia, and they have the unutterable gall to have inflicted the "personal seat license" on the sports-viewing public. And yet, in this instance, I have to side with the Packers, 'cause as a sports fan, I really don't feel comfortable enabling Brett Favre's codependency issues.

It's not like he hasn't done this before. He's dragged out the old "I may retire, I may not" song and dance for each of the last few offseasons, and let's face it, some of those on-seasons were pretty off. Each time, he waited until the public outcry reached critical mass before going, aww, shucks, I guess I will play again if'n y'all want me to.

Once, it's charming. Twice, it's shtick. Three times, it's calculated theater. And this?

Well, he retired. Made a big deal out of retiring. And then in March, he let the Packers know that he wanted to un-retire. The Packers, by all accounts, bought into it enthusiastically. They told Aaron Rodgers that, once again, they'd rather be just friends. They prepped the announcement. They were ready to fly the top brass down to Mississippi to sign the deal.

And Favre backed out at the last minute. At which point, the Pack sensibly said "screw this noise" and set about constructing a roster suited to the talents of the quarterback they were sure would be there, Aaron Rodgers. They had to; they had no other choice if they wanted to field a competitive team this year. All the while, someone kept up a steady drumbeat of "Brett may want back in" rumors to the media. Someone kept the story alive, even after Favre himself had backed out when they offered him the team on a silver platter.

Which brings us to now. The team has moved on without him. Lambeau Field has not burned down, fallen over and sunk into the swamp in a goth-like stupor over missing Favre's manly presence. Wisconsin has not gone up in flames without him. The cheese industry has not collapsed, the foam cheese hat industry seems to be doing fine, and they're finding other things to protest in Madison.

In other words, no tollhouse cookies. Which, I think, is precisely why Favre let loose with this latest round, the guilt-trip demand to be released so he could find a new team - most likely the Bears or Vikings - to play with, and in the process no doubt incite something of a bidding war, a media frenzy, and, most importantly, a "we love Brett-fest".

To which the Packers, sensibly, said "Hooey." Why on earth would they want to do this? They've already bent over backwards - damaging their relationship with their putative quarterback and delaying their roster construction - to cater to Favre this year. They have absolutely no incentive to release him, potentially playing hob with their salary cap and strengthening a divisional rival. Indeed, as long as he remains a viable NFL quarterback, the best place for him to be is under there control...and at home.

Because no matter if he might be better than Rodgers this year, those curves are going to intersect irrevocably very soon, and the longer they riff on "Brett might come back", the more chance the Packers have of falling into post-Bonds Giantville. Because they don't do Favre any favors by playing this game - sooner or later, the body isn't going to be able to hack it any more, and the retirement will be forcible and real. The sooner #4 gets used to life beyond football, the healthier it's likely to be. And because it is absolutely and utterly unfair to the rest of the team to hold them and their fortunes hostage to whether or not Brett Favre is feeling sufficiently loved.

Favre has gotten a free pass on a lot of behavior that would have gotten him slammed were he anyone and anywhere else. The magic aura of Bringing A Title Back to Titletown makes the excuse for a multitude of sins - undercutting his coaches and GMs, careless ball handling, sandbagging his teammates when he didn't get the high-profile personnel adds he wanted, his gift-wrapping of the sacks record for Michael Strahan. He has undeniably been a great player, one of the greatest ever. But he's not that player any more, and the act has worn thin.

Enjoy retirement, #4. You're still loved. But from now on, it should only be from afar.
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