To her, a lifelong Packers fan, Brett Favre #4 was a representation of everything that was sacred about the life she left behind. In the mess of all the anger and rage of Eagles fans around her, she cherished the times that she could talk to someone about the Packers - in one case, a 200 pound kid she taught from West Philly who wore a giant puffy Packers sideline parka. And this was going to be her first season without Brett Favre, and she couldn't quite remember the Packers without him - the Packers of Don Majkowski, Lindy Infante and Randy Wright.
When she found out I was a Jets fan, with Favre starting for us that year, she looked at me as if I were her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend. It had been a complicated breakup. She didn't want him back; after all, he had called it off in the first place and had left Green Bay earlier in the year, and then suddenly he had wanted back in when it was convenient for him. Since then, Green Bay had matured, settled down and married her younger boyfriend named Aaron who didn't seem all that much fuss over, but then who can say what's in the eye of the beholder, but love? Green Bay told Brett that she still cared for him, but things had changed, and it was time to let go. As for me (once again, in this analogy playing the new girlfriend of the old boyfriend) she expressed a hope that I'd be happy with Brett, though I could tell there was still some reluctance in her eyes about not having him around anymore. Women - even proverbial women in an uncomfortably extended metaphor - know these kinds of things about one another. She was still a little jealous.
I didn't have as much time with Brett Favre as she did, certainly not enough time to think of him as a personal icon the way Joe Namath is to me. At first, he was just Brett Favre, football legend, like other legends who made their name with another team before coming to the Jets, but I certainly knew how good he could be. And then, after the October win against the then-unbeaten Titans, with the Jets at 8-3, I forgot all the other bleak Decembers of seasons past. It was all new and alive with possibility. Only Brett Favre could have accomplished that, and like all late converts, I fell hard for the magic he so effortlessly wielded, only to be betrayed in the end. By December of that fateful season, though, my Wisconsin friend gave me a commiserating expression. The romance, such as it was, practically ended before it had begun. She could have told me I told you so. But she didn't. Oh gosh, my friend from Wisconsin seemed to say, with all of that kindhearted rural pity in her eyes. Yeah, that's Brett. Kind of lets you down in the end, doesn't he? I remember when he did the same to me. Hurts like heck, I know. But you'll get over him. I promise.
I did, of course. Now I see the whole thing as an unbelievable story. And what's never stopped bothering me is the stone cold truth that, at the end of that season, New England Patriots fans must have been laughing themselves to sleep every night. Maybe they're still laughing about it, if they ever give it so much as a second thought - especially now, as their team prepares for yet another Super Bowl.
It's the number worn by punters, line judges, and Lou Gehrig. Until Brett Favre came along, who knew or cared about #4? At one time, Favre himself ranked in the catalogue of What If's in our world of the Jets. Onetime Jets executive Ron Wolf had been interested in the rookie quarterback from Southern Mississippi, though as Favre himself attested, considering how wild he was in Atlanta, he would probably have been killed by the experience of living and playing in New York. The Jets would probably have dealt him away just as Atlanta did.
|Brett Favre, Jet (2008)|
Did he belong with the Jets, or even the Vikings? The real question was, after the years, the records, the playoff games and various dramatics on MNF, did Brett Favre really belong anywhere other than in the mythic imagination where all of us are still young and beautiful, charismatic and new? The answer was obviously no. But like all mythical figures, Favre stoked our desire and capacity for wonder. With a seemingly confident offense, he led the team (and here I repeat) to a rare 8-3 record by Week 12. So complete was the general consensus that the Jets would win big in January (and February) that even I began to believe it. And I had been a Favre doubter from the start. Then, when the team went 1-4 the rest of the way, pulling out of the playoffs, it felt like I had awakened from a fever dream where Brett Favre was my quarterback, and he was leading us to the Super Bowl.
My single favorite Favre moment from that season came after the Jets defeated the Titans - a moment that seemed to prove the brilliance of their decision to sign him in the first place - when Eric Mangini was being interviewed afterwards on the field, and someone approached him from behind and smacked his ass with such excessive congratulatory force that the coach yelped out, angrily at first, until he realized that his assailant was his quarterback. No matter, then. Let the boy be the boy.
The team never did take to him, though. Hurt or healthy, Chad Pennington was respected by his offense. To players like Laverneus Coles and Thomas Jones, Favre was a snake-oil salesman, pretending, without much effort, to care about something as big as what our team means to us. The criticism among Jets players was that he was not a team player, but while we've thought about him as a kid out there, what we were really saying was that he was only one type of kid. He played for himself, first and foremost. Commentators, with their lilting platitudes about how lovable Favre always was, ignored his inherent selfishness. And why not? Everybody needs to believe in a ridiculously talented, self-reliant, self-assured, though flawed protagonist. Such is the character description of the American hero. But in reality, Favre was simply the kind of popular high school jock whose shenanigans, disobedience and blase attitude are often ignored by the classroom teacher because, secretly, he knows that to deny that kind of kid is to deny the potency of an archetype, of a dream.
So we released Chad Pennington and took Brett Favre. Who wouldn't have done the same? And when the magic flared brightly at 8-3, we believed in the myth. When it burned out, we remembered what we had always been told about him: that he's just a kid out there. A really, really talented kid who plays brilliantly throughout a game, but throws against everyone's better judgment across the field for an interception to lose the game.
My friend moved back to Wisconsin a year later because neither she nor her husband liked it in Philadelphia. It's an acquired taste. After years of being verbally abused by bartenders and waiters in New York, by cab drivers and cops, I was ready for Philly and its angry people when I first moved here. Not everybody can or should be groomed for it. But I often wondered what she thought about Brett Favre's texting scandal. My God, I could just see her thinking, and to think I used to be in love with that guy. What a loser. Did Brett Favre send pictures of his penis to women when he lived in Mississippi or played in Wisconsin? Was it just that he was happy to be finally living in Joe Namath's old playland, eager to be drawn out by a latent desire to be bad in the big, bad city? It's mildly tragic, I suppose. He could have just finished in Green Bay as he was going to, but then he would have had to have been satisfied with being merely a name, like Tennyson's Ulysses. "As thought to breathe were life," Ulysses says. "I will drink/Life to the lees..."
Still, yet another characteristic of the popular high school jock who gets away with everything is that he always goes too far, and he ends up texting an obscene image of himself to the wrong cheerleader. Then suddenly the teachers and administrators start to remember all the things he's been getting away with all this time. And with that, he goes from being the archetypal hero to being Biff Loman, an outcast, with his days of embodying a mostly phony dream gone for good.