After Brett Favre stood on the sideline and watched his Minnesota Vikings lose on Monday night, he was asked whether he regrets coming back for a 20th NFL season. He insisted that he doesn’t.
“I’ll think more about last season than I will this season, but you take the good with the bad,” Favre said. “At least I won’t look back and say, ‘I wonder if I played could we have done this or that.’ We know now.””
But it’s those three words, We know now, that so perfectly demonstrate why Favre — though he’ll never admit it — certainly must regret returning for 2010. Favre cares about his legacy, and the last 11 months have done nothing but tarnish it.
Favre’s 2009 season was nothing short of extraordinary: He came out of “retirement” to join the Vikings in August and for the next five months far exceeded everyone’s expectations, putting together the best statistical season of his career in the year he turned 40. Yes, the season ended with disappointment in an NFC Championship Game loss to the New Orleans Saints, but 31 NFL teams end their seasons in disappointment every year. For Favre to take the Vikings to the brink of the Super Bowl would have been a fitting end to his Hall of Fame career.
If Favre had announced his retirement after that loss to the Saints, he would have remained a mostly beloved figure in the NFL, even if Packers fans would always feel some bitterness that Favre didn’t finish his career in Green Bay. Instead Favre decided, after another protracted offseason of flirting with retirement, to return in 2010.
And just as 2009 was better than anyone could have imagined, 2010 has been worse. Worse statistically (his 69.6 passer rating is his lowest ever, just as his 107.2 rating last year was his highest), worse in the standings (Favre has a losing record as a starter for just the third time in his career), and most of all worse for Favre’s public reputation.
If Favre would have walked away and stayed away after the 2009 season, his final year would have seemed noble. Instead he came back for a beefed-up contract in a 2010 season that feels like a cash grab. And consider what the revelations of 2010 have done for Favre’s personal reputation: Had Favre retired 11 months ago, we likely never would have heard about Jenn Sterger accusing him of sexual harassment. Or if we had, the story would have been confined mostly to tabloids, and not the focus of a season-long investigation by the NFL.
We don’t know for sure if Favre is done; his shoulder could heal sufficiently for him to get back onto the field this season for the Vikings. But at this point the Vikings are just playing out the string at the end of a bad season, and it will hardly even matter to NFL fans if Favre takes the field again.
Great performers know to leave the stage with the audience wanting more. Favre came back for a 20th season and is now leaving the stage with football fans wishing he would have walked away sooner.