About the time Brett Favre was agreeing to let the Minnesota Vikings pay him $12 million to be a league-average quarterback this year, I was on the phone with a very good surgeon about the shredded remains of what was once my right labrum. The labrum is the thing that cushions the hip socket, and, it turned out, mine was just about gone. You’re almost certainly looking at a hip replacement, said the surgeon. Eventually.
OK. But I’ll still be able to play basketball after, right?
Oh, dear God, no. Maybe some doubles tennis.
Everyone who plays sports eventually has this day, the day when you’re told you’re done. Sometimes it’s a coach who says it; sometimes it’s a doctor. The lucky, talented few get to decide the time and conditions of their ends, and Favre is certainly one of them. He’s 39; he’s been playing some form of football for more than 30 years at this point. Why should he stop now? Why should he quit doing this thing he was made to do, and that he loves doing?
The objections to Favre returning are legion, and they’re legit—he’s too old, he’s just in it for the cash, he’s taking money that could be used to build a better team for the future, he’s stunting the development of the team’s younger quarterbacks (though if Sage Rosenfels or Tavaris Jackson have any seeds of Farve-dom within them, they’ve certainly been dormant so far). Both Packers and Vikings fans are having a hard time wrapping their brains around the idea of Favre in a Vikings uniform, and the critics say he’s ruined the narrative of his career, that he should have retired two years ago after that last Indian Summer season with the Packers. This is the thinking that cringes at the thought of Willie Mays falling down in the outfield for the 1973 Mets, that blanches at the memory of Joe Namath in a Rams uniform, that thinks Michael Jordan should have walked away after that series-winning shot against the Jazz (in which he clearly committed an offensive foul against Byron Russell, by the way).
Favre will not be the transcendent quarterback of 10 years ago. Hell, one year and one declining rotator cuff later, he probably won’t even be the guy who wrecked the Jets season last year. But what does that matter, if he’s the best quarterback option for the Vikings this year? Sure, as Herm Edwards reminds us, you play to win the game.
But winning isn’t everything. You play to play the game. The hard fact of sports at all levels is this: most people aren’t winners. But in the end, winning isn’t really the point. The playing is the thing; the feel of a properly thrown ball; the crunch of really popping someone; the sheer amazing joy of being able to move with purpose and grace, perfectly aligned, and when it’s done just right your whole body is an instrument that brings forth a true and steady pitch.
I’m 42. For the past 30 years, I’ve never gone more than a couple of weeks without playing basketball, and if this is the end for me I have only one demand: like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, I want more life, f--ker. Surely Brett Favre wants, and deserves, the same.