Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Piling On Brett Favre

Well, the Packer news must be trickling in slowly this week: there’s no new fuel in the Ted Thompson debates, McCarthy is busy saying non-controversial things, and the new coaching hires are barely making blips on the radar. No signings, no free agents, no big news….must be time to pile on Brett Favre!!!

Like many fans, I’m not sure what has become more grating, tired, and ironic: the annual waiting game Brett Favre takes in making his decision whether or not to return to the NFL, or the annual wailing and gnashing of teeth by an apparently bored media and fan base fretting about Brett Favre’s decision whether or not to return to the NFL.

Sadly, both have become as predictable as Tom Rossley’s playcalling.

Without any other major Packer headlines to write about (and without any other major headline to complain about), the media (and fans) have begun the annual dissection of all things Favre, questioning everything from his integrity, his ability, his desire, his parentage, and how much control he has over the Packer franchise.

No, seriously. Favre’s control over the Packers comes into question. I wasn’t making that up.

The news began innocuously enough, with media reports that head coach Mike McCarthy was on his way to Kiln to apparently sit on a tractor with Brett and talk with him about his future plans. McCarthy than debunked the report, stating that Ted Thompson has been in contact with him, but that he might meet up with him at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL.

Thus began the whirlwind.

Perhaps it came from a published comment by Ted Thompson that he was not going to pressure Favre into a decision right now, but suddenly, Brett Favre is now making the news. I spent the afternoon listening to Green Bay local talk radio discussing how it is wrong of Brett Favre to be demanding the Packer brass come kiss his boots and beg him to come back to the team.


How did we get from point A (no talks, giving Favre time) to point H (Favre is holding the franchise hostage) in such a short amount of time? I searched high and low for quotes from Brett Favre or the Packer brass that suggest anything like this to be remotely true, and found nothing.

Apparently, it’s the waiting that has people burning, and Brett Favre has been a lightning rod for many years for criticism and blame, perhaps no year moreso than this past season, where he threw for career highs in passes attempted and interceptions. Mike Sherman and Tom Rossley have already been fired for the 2005 campaign’s 4-12 effort, and Jim Bates was apparently not desirable enough as a head coach, and likewise, he didn’t feel the position of defensive coordinator in Green Bay was desirable any longer, either.

Perhaps, the blood trail for a horrendous season is still working its way down the food chain, and Brett Favre’s retirement, forced or voluntary, is the next anticipated step in the New Direction.

Why the hostility towards Favre and this decision? Well, the hemming and hawing does grow old. Some critics have labeled his season-to-season period of personal reflection as a lack of commitment to the team. While it indeed is tiring, I would much rather have Brett Favre make a wise, thought-out decision, than announce the day after the Seattle game that “Hey! All those fans cried ‘One More Year’, so gosh darn it, I’m givin’ it to them until they stop!!!”

Favre has stated many times that he wants to play until he feels he can no longer play a positive role with the team. This past season, then, is a strong test of his beliefs: was this a sign of massive decline, or an aberration brought on by injuries, poor coaching, and/or poor management?

Perhaps the biggest problem with this whole retirement talk is the fact that our favorite hillbilly keeps talking about it, yet another bullet in the arsenal taking aim at the target on Favre’s back. He certainly has talked about it enough, but we also know that he gets asked…constantly about it. And Brett Favre answers, for better or worse, honestly. That may be his biggest mistake.

Adewale Ogunlye, defensive end for the Chicago Bears, recently said, “I hate to say it, but it doesn’t pay to be honest. You suffer the consequences of speaking your mind if it isn’t what people want to hear. I wish you could speak your mind always.”

O-Gun, recently under fire for questioning the amount of positive hype the Carolina Panthers were receiving, realized that the status quo for a pro athlete are the politically correct answers the media doesn’t want. “Team first” and “Mutual respect” are the mantras we normally hear from NFL players, not “I am the reason we’re winning”, or “These guys can’t hold a candle to us.” Especially if those statements are the truth.

Cliché is the way to go in the NFL, and the greatest and most beloved players, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, are masters at not saying anything interesting. Speak the truth, and face it: the media and fans will jump on your like starving wolves.

Warren Sapp caught a lot of heat years ago when he gave Chad Clifton a season-ending blindside block. He was confronted at the end of the game by head coach Mike Sherman, who attempted to tell him how out of line he was. Sapp endeared himself to no one, even his own fans, stating he made perfectly legal blocks and that Sherman was out of line disciplining him, and that if he was so tough, he should put a jersey on himself and face Sapp like a man.

Trouble is, Sapp spoke the truth. It was legal, and not even flagged. It wasn’t Sherman’s place to confront Sapp, either…it should have been Clifton’s teammates who should have stood up to Sapp, each having their own jersey’s on.

But, a week later, Sapp crumbled to cliché, saying that he had a lot of respect for Clifton and expressed hope for his best in recovery, calling him a true warrior.

Brett Favre speaks the truth, from whether or not he’s sure about retirement, to even questioning in December whether he felt the Packer truly wanted him back in 2006. Wisdom may suggest Favre start saying, “no comment” when asked about retirement, and extol the Packer brass in public, regardless of what he perceives in terms of personal respect from them.

But wisdom may not be one of Favre’s positive attributes. And there’s nothing the media and rabid fans love more than priceless fodder for their articles and blogs.

In December, I predicted that Brett Favre would announce his retirement shortly before the Super Bowl. I still see no reason why that shouldn’t come to pass. Favre has better things to do with his day than struggle with the politics of a new regime dedicated to rebuilding.

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have carefully chosen their words, saying that they would be open to Brett’s return, that he can take his time in deciding. Now, tell me…do you think that is wisdom, or honesty?

Fallacy Number One: Brett’s retirement has many people believing that we will simply add more and more money to this great pile of salary cap we have to spend this offseason. This, unfortunately, isn’t the case. If he does retire, the Packers will only gain around $5 million in space. If that happens, and assuming Aaron Rodgers is given the reins, the performance incentives in his contract will kick in, adding another $3 million to the cap. Now factor in the need for at least one veteran quarterback to be signed (Craig Nall made $656,000 last doubt he’d want at least that to remain), and you realize that Favre’s departure does give us anything more to spend in 2006.

Fallacy Number Two: Brett’s failure to decide is giving Ted Thompson less time time to decide how he will approach free agency and the draft, according to some. Amusingly, the same folks who wholeheartedly support Thompson’s moves and direction and capability to build a winner, are the same folks who fear that a late decision by Brett Favre will suddenly throw all of Ted’s plans into the lurch, and cause a franchise-wide panic as the best-laid plans of McCarthy’s and men are rendered useless.

This is laughable. If Thompson, who is paid a pretty significant amount of money to make plans anticipating every possible speedbump, isn’t planning for either future, then he really shouldn’t be in the position he is in.

Furthermore, Favre returning or going isn’t going to impact the plans much, anyway. If Favre says, it will be Favre, Rodgers, and a minimum-salary guy. If Favre leaves, it will be $4 million Rodgers, a veteran backup, and another player able to contribute if needed (Nall?). In any case, Thompson is not going to be investing any draft picks or significant money into quarterbacks, with Rodgers already under contract. There are more significant areas Thompson needs to invest in: guard, defensive end, linebacker, defensive back, running back. Favre’s return or retirement isn’t going to affect that.

Fallacy Number Three: Favre must commit for two years, or not at all, according to Mike Woods. This also is silly. Why would you ask Brett Favre to commit for two years when your head coach is only signed to a three-year contract? By asking him to commit for two years, you are also committing to him for two years. When he does retire after that time, McCarthy will be sitting in his lame-duck year without Favre for the first time. This isn’t a situation McCarthy or Thompson would want. If anything, this is more of a hopeful threat by some who want to force Favre into making a decision by blowing him off the fence and back onto his tractor.

Fallacy Number Four: Brett Favre loves the attention, and is using his power to force McCarthy and Thompson to beg for his return. This particular hateful line rings Machiavellian, as if Favre is sitting in Mississippi, spinning his little web of deceit and spite, hoping to quickly demonstrate the same control over the new regime as he had over Mike Sherman.

Quite the conspiracy theory. This sounds much like the rumor being spread a couple months ago that Favre had his own personal gold-plated locker room, complete with wet bar and personal massage therapist, because he was too good to interact with his peon teammates.

While it was true he occasionally changes in the trainers’ room to escape the media horde, it was a much juicier story to paint Favre as a bad teammate, just as it is more fun to paint Favre as expecting Thompson and McCarthy to worship at his altar in order to get him to return.

All in all, its time to take a step back. If the Super Bowl finishes up and Favre hasn’t made a decision as yet, it will be time to crank up the anxiety meter a notch.

But for now, let’s take Thompson at his word and assume Favre has time to decide. This is, of course, assuming that Thompson is worthy of trust, and that he won’t choose the cliché over the truth.

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