Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nothing Good Can Come From This

I love soccer a lot, but I do also pay attention to other sports. Since I am commissioner of a fantasy football league, I do follow the NFL. My grandmother is a huge Denver Broncos fan, and one of the big family things is that you don't call my grandmother when the Broncos are playing. I learned to follow the teams closely, and bonded with her over the love of a team. Now that I'm older, I find the passion for soccer easy to understand for the true fans, but I also stay close to my roots in gridball.

Mind you, it's harder and harder now that the NFL is essentially a year around entity, with events and news happening all the time. The draft used to be an afterthought, now networks devote hours of coverage towards teams and their picks. I don't keep track of things as closely as I once did, mostly because of being busy and having other sports that keep my interest as well. But I know when big things happen, and right now, the biggest story in the NFL is in Green Bay.

Unless you've been under a rock for the past few months, you've probably heard about the controversy between the Packers and Brett Favre, their MVP quarterback. Favre is an 18 year veteran, and one of the most entertaining players to ever suit up. Not only does he have talent and personality, he has a gunslinger mentality to try anything at any given time, and doesn't stop trying until the game is done. He's managed to remain healthy for most of his career, won a Super Bowl, and dealt with personal and family tragedies in losing his dad and dealing with an addiction to pain killers. He's a player that is easy to root for on the field, but right now, he's embroiled in a high stakes game of chicken with the Packers.

A high level overview of what happened so far is Favre and the Packers lost in the NFC Championship game, and Favre decided to take time off to decide his future. When pressed about the situation in March, Favre said he's done and would likely retire, which led to a huge spectacle of a press conference. Some people have said they expected him to come back, but it certainly seemed real that he was done after all the emotion and tears. Sure enough, rumours of a return started weeks afterwards, and Favre even contacted the team to see about coming back. The Packers were willing to welcome him back, but instead Favre changed his mind and stayed retired. The draft happened, and the Packers drafted two quarterbacks and prepared to move on without number 4. Until the past month or so when Favre started talking about coming back, and the Packers said thanks but no thanks at one point and then Ok but you'll be the backup at another point. There's even been accusations of tampering by other teams as Favre is still under contract, and today, Favre finally started the reinstatement process by sending a letter to unretire. The Packers have asked Favre not to come to training camp, as they explore the options to make him happy.

What's interesting here is that nobody comes out looking good in this situation at all. The Packers, in trying to be accommodating, waited as long as they could before resorting to plan B and letting the current backup take over. I can't blame them for wanting to pick a direction and stick with it, but they've also had differing takes on what is going on in their world about Farve, from welcoming him back to telling him to stay away to saying we won't trade him. Let's face it, number 4 is the face of the franchise right now and has led them to many glorious moments over the years, and nothing would cheese off the cheeseheads more than seeing Favre win somewhere else and the Packers stumble. The Packers are in a no win situation, trying to appease their franchise guy as best as they can while being true to their plan B and moving forward. And right now, going back on their word and allowing Favre to come back and start sends the message that the current guys aren't good enough to win, plus why pay a guy $12 million to be a back up?

Favre isn't without his faults here, as he's gone back and forth on his plans many times. I equate him to many athletes I've met over the years that are single minded in their approach to the game. They eat, sleep, drink, and think about their sport no matter what, and many of the other details of their lives are left to handlers. All they want to do is play, and right now, Favre wants to play, and he's certainly proven that he's capable even being 38 as he was a top tier quarterback last year. But his commitment has been a bit erratic over the months, going from I'd done to I'm interested but only to play here to I want to come back.

It would be nice if everyone could just chalk up the mess to shenanigans and just start over like nothing happened. But life doesn't work that way, and now both sides are playing the game to see who flinches first. Favre wants to play, but only if he's the starter or for a team that could be a winner, and I think he's entitled to be consulted about trade places. The Packers deserve to put the best team on the field, and bringing Favre back could be the piece that gets them to the playoffs, but it sends a terrible message to the quarterbacks in camp that they aren't good enough to win right now if he's made the starter or allowed to compete for the job outright. People would question the decision, especially with the hardball tactics that have been done the past few weeks. I can imagine the Packers just want this mess to all go away so they can concentrate at the business of playing football and being a competitive team. The 5000 pound gorilla in the room (or in this case, not with the team) just isn't going away until there is a resolution here, and right now, there doesn't seem to be anything likely soon.

I can imagine it's tough to be an athlete at the top of your game for so many years, and then realize that you can't play forever and there's a time when it's Ok to hang the cleats up. Favre thought the time for that was now a few months ago, but now says he felt pressured to make a decision and he went with his gut which told him to retire. When you are an instinctual player, I can imagine this decision making works, especially if you have to make a quick decision. And it's not like people can't have second thoughts, as many a player has left the game only to return for various reasons. Glory and reputation don't get as damaged now in the era of players coming and going from teams like they did way back when, so even seeing Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform doesn't tarnish what he did in his career.

And the longer this situation goes on, the worse the distraction for everyone involved. We've gone beyond simple answers here, and somebody's ego needs to take a bullet here to save face for everyone. In my mind, the ego that needs to step back is the Packers, who need to find a trade partner that works and just let Favre play somewhere else. If you are truly moving forward to a new page, then let the quarterbacks you have take the ball and let Favre play. It will be tough to watch, especially if Aaron Rodgers falters and Favre plays very well, but in the end, it will be easier than telling Favre he can't play anymore or he can play but as a backup. I know he's under contract, but letting him waste away just make the organization look bad. I get the fact that Favre waffled and there's some hurt feelings here, but it's only going to get worse until you say goodbye and let him go. Which honestly is one of the hardest things to do ever, because goodbyes are hard, sometimes permanent and sometimes painful. But nothing good comes from hanging on too tightly, either..

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