He blamed God. “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!” Buffalo Bills wide-receiver Stevie Johnson tweeted after dropping the game-winning TD pass, “YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”
Maybe it’s the wrath of the Heavenly Father. More likely its Buffalo’s porous offensive line. But the Bills are 4-10. Johnson’s tweet was another ill-advised C’MON MAN! in an NFL year full of them. Portly defensive end Albert Haynesworth let himself go, for starters. OchoCinco guaranteed the Bengals would reach the Super Bowl. Dallas quarterback Jon Kitna “tried” to do The Dougie dance. And the Redskins feted Donovan McNabb with a 5 year/$70 million contract. Three weeks later, McNabb lost his job to Rex Grossman and is the highest paid third-string quarterback in NFL history. But the worst decision of all may have been Brett Favre’s choice to return for a 20th NFL season.
Deep down, we knew it couldn’t have ended any other way. Brett Favre is the Wrangler warrior. The grizzled vet who would never ride off into the sunset a la John Elway. He could never go out after another interception deep into the playoffs. He would get right back up to give it another shot. And that’s why we love him. Peyton Manning will eventually have #4’s records. Tom Brady will have at least triple the rings. But we will always revere Brett Favre.
To air-it-out is human, to forgive is divine. We will forever worship Brett Favre not merely because he is a throwback gunslinger with the NFL record for TD passes and passing yards. But for his misfires too—pain-killer addiction, most interceptions in NFL history, longing voicemails to a Jets sideline reporter. We will forever admire Brett Favre because even at age 40 he gets that childish glint in his eye as he dashes down the field after yet another TD bomb.
And then there’s The Streak. Brett Favre started 297 consecutive games (321 counting playoffs). Sept. 20, 1992 was the last time Brett Favre didn’t start an NFL game. Miley Cyrus wouldn’t be born for another two months. The first President Bush fought to stave off a suave Arkansas governor and Ross Perot for re-election. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the #1 song. Every Sunday for 18 years since #4 was behind center despite ‘roided up defensive ends, a creaky [INSERT BODY PART HERE], and Ray Lewis.
We knew the Streak would end. But we hoped it would end with him watching the game back home on the couch in Mississippi. Not like this. Not with his hand numb, purple, and welted over from a pinched nerve. He could only watch helplessly from the sidelines as the Vikings limped to a 21-3 loss to the New York Giants. Another forgettable game in a forgettable season. The Ironman stood in street clothes next to an interim coach in a makeshift stadium. In perhaps the greatest metaphor of the season, the Vikings’ roof collapsed the day before under Super Bowl hype, snow.
And yet Brett Favre was at peace. He said he has no regrets about coming back. He said back in August he probably wouldn’t repeat last year’s mythical season. But if he didn’t go, he would never know. And the truth is we cannot tell the legends when to leave. Yes, it was painful watching Willie Mays stumble around Shea outfield or Muhammad Ali beg for one last fight. But they’ve earned the right. There’s a certain ephemeral beauty to it, even. These all-time greats reigned over the game for so long to finally get their comeuppances at the hands of Father Time.
He leaves the game broken down and tired. And he leaves a game tired of him. It’s not entirely Favre’s fault. He just happened to be the most famous indecisive athlete in the age of Twitter. He was the over-cooked soup de jour every summer for a sports media with no other material. ESPN over-saturated us with the latest will-he-or-won’t-play speculation for the last three years. FAVRE even became its own sports category on ESPN’s bottom ticker, rolling by between NFL and NBA.
He leaves the game softer than when he joined. The league has rightly cracked down on soaring concussions and big hits. Breathe on a quarterback and you draw a roughing the passer flag. But you can’t take the James Harrison out of James Harrison. The barbaric Steelers linebacker mulled retirement before settling on a weekly stat-line of 5 tackles, 1 sack, and a $25,000 fine.
He leaves the game more successful than it’s ever been. The NFL raked in $7.8 billion in revenue in 2009, or about the nominal GDP of Armenia. Companies dole out up to $2 million for 30 second ad spots in the Super Bowl. The NFL towers over the NBA and MLB as America’s game. It is the gladiatorial bloodsport of the American Empire.
He leaves a game in flux. A lock-out looms on the horizon. Owners want to pay less, players want to be paid more, and fans want two more regular season games. Michael Vick, a felon who spent 23 months in prison, leads Pro Bowl voting. He may soon own Comeback Player of the Year, MVP, and Super Bowl trophies, but he cannot own a dog. The top-selling NFL jersey belongs to the Broncos second-string rookie QB Tim Tebow. Even Peyton Manning was strangely human in 2010, throwing away the Super Bowl in February and nine interceptions in three games this November.
But it hasn’t all changed. Buffalo is still Buffalo. Detroit, Detroit. Tom Brady has flowing locks now—because Gisele likes it that way—but has the Patriots once again thinking Super Bowl.
Brett Favre leaves the game in the capable hands of Brady and….
2010’s NFL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DREW BREES
He was damaged goods. The quarterback had a shredded labrum and a career that both hung by a thread. He was a player nobody wanted who went to a team no one wanted to play for. He says now he needed New Orleans as much as New Orleans needed him. And the two grew together. New Orleans dug out. Drew Brees dug in, brandishing a high-octane offense the likes of which the NFL had never seen before.
Five years after many feared New Orleans would be washed away, Drew Brees brought the city the chalice of sports immortality. The Saints rode an onside kick after half-time and Brees’ robotic precision to shock Peyton Manning and the favored Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. ‘Round Bourbon Street they just call him Breesus. He marshals over the Mardi Gras parade as Bacchus come March. He fixes up rusted playgrounds Mondays. And Sundays he whistles in more touchdowns.
Drew Brees is the poster-child of a new NFL. His is the marred face of an NFL of second chances, parity, and record scoring. Brees has a birthmark on his right cheek that Oprah embarrassingly mistook for lipstick.
DUMBEST QUOTE OF THE YEAR WINNER: Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder: “Like they didn’t see [Dolphins quarterback] Chad Henne get hit twice when he slid. Yeah, a little Stevie Wonder and Anne Frank.”
After a reporter asked Crowder what the Anne Frank reference meant, Crowder said, “Who was that? Is that the blind girl? Helen Keller … I don’t know who the f— Anne Frank is. I’m mad right now. F— it. I’m not as swift as I usually am.
ODDEST PRE-GAME WARMUP RITUAL WINNER: Defensive End John Henderson
DUBIOUSLY EFFECTIVE COACHING MOVE OF THE YEAR: Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli showed the team a video of a shark eating a dolphin to prepare for the team’s Thursday night game vs. the Miami Dolphins. The Bears went on to shut-out the Dolphins 16-0.
NFL RANT OF THE YEAR WINNER: Arizona Cardinals QB Derek Anderson
UPDATE: It’s not fine for Derek Anderson. Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard spoofed the outburst and Anderson lost his starting job to rookie John Skelton.