When I woke up this morning I thought it was going to be just another regular Tuesday. I walked to the kitchen and toasted a bagel and then sat down at my desk to eat breakfast and check a few of my “usual” websites. After checking my emails I went to espn.com and froze in my seat when I saw the BREAKING NEWS Alert on top of the page. My outlook on the whole day (and perhaps the whole world, at least temporarily) changed when I read the headline “Favre tells Packers he’s retiring” in Chris Mortenson’s breaking story. I checked the time stamp on the story and it read 9:39am ET; I was reading it at 8:45am CT. The story had broke only 6 minutes earlier. To be fair, Jay Glazer may have actually been the first to break this story on foxsports.com, but that was probably only a few minutes earlier. I turned on ESPN and they hadn’t even interrupted Sportscenter and their other regular programming to report the story. I felt weird being one of the first to know something that was about to become a really big deal to a lot of people. I’ve been a Packers fan since I can remember watching football, it’s a tradition passed on to me by my dad, who became a Green Bay fan because his dad (my grandpa) grew up cheering for the Packers in Wisconsin.
Brett Favre has been the quarterback of the Packers for the past 16 seasons and holds nearly every possible statistical record for quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. He led the Packers to the Super Bowl twice, winning the championship in 1997; and Brett is only the player in NFL history to win the MVP award three times (and he did it in three consecutive seasons, from 1995-1997). But beyond all the stats, Super Bowls and MVP awards, Brett Favre became the most loved football player (not just quarterback) ever because of the character and spirit he brought onto both the football field and into life. Favre was the guy who was always jumping around after a touchdown and high-fiving lineman who had just knocked him down, and even in his older age this year he was often seen carrying receivers off the field or even throwing snowballs at teammates as the Packers went 13-3 and came within one game of the Super Bowl.
When Brett’s father passed away unexpectedly during the 2003 season, Brett responded by playing one of the great games of his career the very next day, throwing for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a Monday Night Football game that was televised around the world. It was an emotional game for everyone watching. The sports world watched closely when Favre’s wife Deanna, who had been his high school sweetheart, started battling breast cancer in 2004, shortly after her younger brother was killed in an ATV accident. With Brett and all of Packer nation’s support, Deanna became a spokeswoman for breast cancer survivors. Then, in 2005, Brett’s family home in Mississippi was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina and he became one of the several well-known individuals to play a role in helping with the hurricane relief. This past year, Brett Favre was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsmen of the Year. The cover story highlighted not just Brett’s career football achievements or how he has overcome so many personal struggles, but also told the story of a special friendship Brett had with a six-year old girl named Anna who had a rare brain disorder and who he had met through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
It’s because of stories like these that so many people — not just football fans and not even just Packer fans (read: even Vikings and Bears fans) — have grown to have a deep respect and appreciation for Brett Favre. Yet what I’ll remember most about Brett Favre’s career is not any of those specific career highlights or any of the touching stories I’ve heard about the ways he’s helped people, but the ways his career and personality have been a blessing on me and my entire family. Since I can remember, family gatherings (at least on my dad’s side of the family) involve a bunch of people cramming into my grandma’s basement to watch the Packers game (even when it requires my uncle climbing on the roof to turn the antenna because my grandma doesn’t get cable).
Four years ago, my mom gave my dad and I tickets to the Packers-Lions game in Green Bay for Christmas. So, on a snowy Sunday in late December we sat together in the Lambeau field bleachers and watched #4 lead the Packers toward the end zone where we were sitting to kick a game-winning field goal. It was a perfect day. The drive home was long and the weather was pretty bad, but it gave my dad and I a chance to talk for hours about the game and about life. We had such a great experience that we decided to make the drive to Green Bay for a game each of the next two years, each year going with a few of my relatives. In 2006, the season nearly everyone thought would be Brett’s last, my mom even made the trip with us to Green Bay (along with two of my uncles and three cousins) and before the game we joined hundreds of other Packer fans in the parking lot at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse for a tailgate party and then walked over to the stadium to watch the Packers defeat the Vikings in what we thought was Favre’s final game at Lambeau Field.
Along with everyone else, my dad and I were surprised when Favre announced he would come back for this past season, but we were excited because the Packers looked like a team that could be pretty good; but no one could have predicted what happened this year. My dad and I decided not to make the trip to Green Bay this year, but I still got to go to a Packers game when a group of my college friends drove to Kansas City to watch the Packers beat the Chiefs. I could not even attempt to remember all the games I have watched Brett Favre play on TV with my dad throughout my life, but in the past few years I can think of several Sunday afternoons I spent hanging out with my dad at a sports bar or at my parent’s house to watch the Packers and our favorite quarterback play football. I’m not saying my relationship with my dad is because of Brett Favre, but I will always be thankful for the ways a game like football and a player like Brett Favre have played a role in helping create memories for my dad and I…and I will always be proud to be a Packers fan and feel lucky that I got to see him play.
There’s going to be a lot written and said about Brett Favre in the coming days and weeks, and only time will tell if Favre stays retired — and as number 76,753 on the waiting list for Packer season tickets, I was hoping he would keep playing a while so my grandkids could watch him play (since they predict it will be about 74 years until my name makes it to the top of that list) — but as I’ve sat at my computer for the past two hours reading things online and writing this with ESPN on in the background, it sounds like this retirement story is for real. So on behalf of myself, my dad (who I had to email this morning to give the bad news, since he’s still in Tanzania), and Packer fans everywhere…thanks for everything Brett!
By the way, if you’re wondering what’s up with the picture on top of this post, it’s an image of my desk right now. I was drinking water out of my Packers glass when I read the story that Favre was retiring, and after the shock wore off I realized I had drank half the water, which I thought was fitting because it appears the Packers are now at a defining time in franchise history when the question must be asked, is the glass half full or half empty? I hope they can continue where the team left off last year, but regardless of wins and losses, I am confident there will never be another player (or person, for that matter) who is quite like Brett Favre.