I would describe myself as a pretty huge Packer fan, and before I proceed I would like to point out that I even have a few favorite players (Woodson in particular), so I'm not some soulless automaton. But I have to confess, I don't really understand the histrionics and hagiography about Brett Favre, and I never have.
Maybe it's because baseball is my first love, and free agency long ago ended any strong loyalty to individual players, especially for small market teams like the Brewers who are almost assured to lose most players when they hit free agency. Maybe it's because even Joe Montana played for the Chiefs over two decades ago. Maybe it's because Vince Lombardi didn't even finish his career as a Packer. It's probably all of those things to some extent, but I find it both fascinating and maddening that so many could get so upset with a professional football player about switching teams, and perhaps more maddeningly, that so many equate athletic greatness with some kind of moral superiority.
Charles Barkley's ads about how he's not a role model are both good advice, and hilariously ironic in retrospect. Those ads were run primarily as a reaction to the holier-than-thou persona of Michael Jordan, who has proven, over time, to be a thousand times the degenerate scumbag that Barkley is.
In fact, that still doesn't even sound fair to Barkley, whose chief vices seem to be hard-nosed rebounding and lazy basketball analysis (editor's note: and also gambling, but the only person he hurt with that was himself). After all, the stories of Jordan's a-hole-ish behavior are basically legend at this point.
Brett Favre once had a documentary made about him, narrated by Billy Bob Thornton. You can watch it on Youtube. I'd wager a bunch of you own the VHS tape. I do.
This is the kind of PR that stars get. If they're a good ol' down-home country boy, they get documentaries narrated by famous actors named Billy Bob. Their dark moments are treated as challenges that only they had the fortitude to overcome instead of displays of human weakness. They are turned into great people because they are great players, and while great players sell jerseys, great people sell more.
Brett Favre was a great player. Of that there is no doubt. But I argue that Brett Favre was not a great person, not ever; honestly, most of the athletes you cheer for aren't great people either. Favre was a man about town with Frank Winters and Mark Chmura (of all people), he had the Sterger text message thing after he left, and by many accounts, he was much more party animal than family man. He was, in this sense, a perfectly normal athlete, which is, again, not at all a normal person.
I always liked the David Foster Wallace quote that explains the athlete mindset:
We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one's mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way ‘up close and personal' profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life - outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what's obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It's farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child's world, is very small.
There are exceptions. There are obviously great people who are also professional athletes, but it's worth remembering that professional athletes are fundamentally strange people. I always thought it was a bad idea to make Brett Favre the man into some mystical folk hero. When the organization decided they wanted to move forward with a more talented, younger quarterback, I considered it crazy to expect Favre to go back to retirement once he came to training camp, and still more crazy to expect him to remain loyal to a team that no longer employed him. I thought it crazy to make some kind of moral judgement against him for joining a division rival later on and playing brilliantly, at least for a little while. These are all perfectly normal, rational things for a guy to do if he wants to keep playing a game that he loves, keep doing his job, and keep getting paid. You very well might do exactly the same thing in his shoes.
It is probably a failing of mine that I don't really "get" the Brett Favre hero worship. After all, hero worship isn't exactly a rare phenomenon. People love leaders, celebrities, and all manner of other inspirational figures, and famous football players often exude strength and charisma in spades. But in my opinion, the ultimate lesson we learn from a guy like Brett Favre is to be cautious with our heroes. I think on his play alone Favre should be inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame and into the Ring of Honor in Lambeau. He was one of the franchise's greatest players and led the team to a Super Bowl victory. But I also thank our lucky stars that the Packers had a front office strong enough to show Favre the door, even though they're also partially responsible for turning him into the legend he was.
I'm a very "glass is half full" fan, and when he did join the Vikings I enjoyed the challenge and laughed heartily at his playoff-killing interception (as I'm sure most of us did). Once he was gone, I was more than happy to take a little joy in his failures each Sunday. To relish the heel turn. To keep Brett Favre in my life as a fun football player, even if he wasn't on my team anymore.
Brett Favre is ultimately a great player who was let go by his old team, joined another for a chance at a title, and almost got it. It happens all the time. I always like to remember that a certain rival legend and icon, certainly on the short list for "best franchise quarterback of the last half century," did much the same thing. The only big difference is Jim McMahon got his second ring.