The fact that Brett Favre may be retiring from professional football following the final game of the season against my beloveds tonight is not the end of the world – although I may get an argument about that from Packer fans. The title of this post, taken from Kate Wilhelm’s brilliant doomsday novel, refers instead to another theme brought out in her Hugo Award winning book; the original is always better than the copy.
The novel highlights a possible solution to keeping the human species alive following an environmental collapse; cloning. The problem is that eventually, the clones lose many abilities we humans take for granted – mainly spacial acuity and intuitive thinking skills but in other ways as well. Wilhelm doesn’t come out and say it but the reason for this is that the clones chose to forgo sexual reproduction. This idea is explored when two clones have a baby the old fashioned way – a strange and wonderful boy who possesses insight and abilities that the clones lack. He was not simply a copy of one of the other clones; he was an original, possessing the genes of two clones.
For much of Brett Favre’s 15 seasons in the NFL, scribes and pundits have touted this rookie or that as “the next Brett Favre.” The futility of such comparisons is born out in the fact that none has emerged nor is one likely to anytime soon. At 6’2. 225 lbs, Favre possesses size and strength that until he showed up, was a rarity among professional quarterbacks. Now, of course, we have monsters like Ben Roethlisberger (6’5”. 240), Daunte Culpepper (6’4”, 265), and Vince Young (6’5”, 235). I can remember when NFL defensive linemen were that size.
But Favre is more than simply a mold-breaker. He is a true throwback – an in your face, smash mouth, chip on the shoulder, swaggering gunslinger of a signal caller with the heart of a champion and the soul of a warrior. He is not enamored of football as a ballet or an art form as some who may take pride in the beauty of a well executed play or the breathtaking thrill of a perfectly spiralling ball arching over the hands of a DB into the waiting arms of a receiver hit in full stride.
It’s not that Favre is incapable of such play; it’s just that his brilliance lies not in perfection but rather in what might be termed anti-perfection. I have seen Brett Favre complete passes 20 yards down the field while in the grasp of two tacklers and on the way down to the ground. I have seen him throw a two handed, basketball-like chest pass for a first down. I have seen him throw the ball sideways, sidearm, underhanded like a bowler and pushed like a shot putter.
And he is as tough a customer as anyone who ever played football. I’ve seen him absorb titanic hits and get up laughing. I have seen him take off running for a first down and by the sheer power of his will, bull his way for the necessary yardage. He has started in 236 regular season games, more than any other quarterback in history. He has done this despite broken fingers, tender toes, twisted knees, cracked elbows, sprained ankles, and numerous other nicks and bruises too many to list.
He is older now, perhaps a little wiser in that he won’t expose his body to the kind of punishment he endured in his youth. The arm is still strong, which allows him to still try and force the ball into coverage; less often succeeding these days. And while still a god in Green Bay, the Packers themselves are torn between loyalty to their icon and the franchise necessity of having to develop a replacement for him.
All of this weighs on Favre as he contemplates his future. Should he buckle it up for one more year? Early this season as the Packers struggled, it almost seemed a foregone conclusion that Favre would hang it up after this year. But Green Bay has shown some life at the end of the year and will enter tonight’s game against the Bears owners of a three game win streak and perhaps an outside shot at a playoff spot.
With an improving team in a weak conference, Favre may feel that he could have one more shot at the brass ring before he retires in one or two years; the Super Bowl. But he is apparently weighing all of this against the fact that he has accomplished everything that a quarterback could possibly accomplish in a career; three straight MVP awards (only many ever to win more than two MVP’s in a career), a Super Bowl victory, passing records galore, and the certainty of a first ballot Hall of Fame induction.
In several interviews over the past two years, Favre has expressed a love for his 465 acre home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi that makes one believe he actually looks forward to the time that he leaves the NFL for days filled with hunting, fishing, and being with his family. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the competitive juices that make Favre the player that he is will not allow him to walk away until either he is carried off the field or his skills have diminished to the point where he can no longer help the team.
So I fully expect to see Favre adding to his Hall of Fame numbers next year as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers; a team I love to hate but a player who I and everyone else who loves the game of football will never forget.
As for the game tonight, my beloveds have nothing to play for, nothing to prove. Despite the optimism of Coach Lovie, I get the feeling most Bears fans are resigned to the idea that the team will not do anything in the playoffs this year. The secondary is a shambles (something Favre will probably expose in a shocking way tonight) and the defensive line is a shadow of its former self. The loss of Tommie Harris for the season seems to have taken something out of everyone on the line except Rookie of the Year candidate Mark Anderson whose 12.5 sacks is just two behind the rookie record.
Giving up more than 300 yards in total offense each of the last 5 games, the defense has allowed numerous big plays both in the running and passing game. The once fearsome pass rush has been missing for the last half of the season. In short, the Bears defense is now an rather ordinary group. This means the team will probably have to outscore their opponents in the playoffs in order to win. And given the inconsistency of Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman at quarterback, the prospects for advancing to the Super Bowl are bleak indeed.
But any Bears-Packers match-up is special. The weather will be rainy with possible snow showers later; a perfect throwback game as both teams will wallow in the mud at Soldiers Field before it’s all over.
I fully expect the Bears to lose. The line has dropped from the Bears being favored by 5 points to 3.5 in the last 24 hours – a sure sign the oddsmakers sense what I do. With nothing to play for, the Bears will probably lose big, perhaps by more than 2 touchdowns. And Brett Favre will prove once again why he is the best to ever play the game – as if we needed any more proof than he has brilliantly supplied over the past 15 years.