Brett Favre’s True Legacy: Bad Sportsmanship

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I used to be one of Brett Favre’s most devoted followers, but in relentlessly dominating the off-season buzz for years on end, he’s taught every young Favre wannabe precisely the wrong thing about being an icon.

I’ve debated, and written plenty about, the Favre theatrics before. Being a Wisconsin native, and a devout Packers fan, Brett Favre has given me some of my happiest memories. Exhilarating victories, come-from-behind miracles and, of course, a Super Bowl win. I can still remember the first touchdown of Super Bowl XXXI, as my father leapt out of his chair, falling to his knees on the living room floor. The movement was so swift and so loud that I thought the old man was having a heart attack; instead he was cheering with arms raised as if he was a 10-year-old who had just scored his own touchdown, tearing up as he realized the NFL title was coming back to the farm fields of the Badger State.

When Favre’s career with the Packers came to an abrupt halt, clearly nudged out by an organization that needed to build towards the future, I felt bad for the guy. I respected the tears that flowed during his retirement press conference. When he came back to other teams in New York, and then Minnesota, I sort of understood that he was just enthralled by the call of the game. (See Brett Favre’s top 5 retirement ramblings)

But haven’t we now officially jumped the shark? I know that his critics abandoned Favre a long time ago – thinking that ESPN was fawning over the guy too much even when, only hours after the death of his father, he came back and delivered a tour de force performance on Monday Night Football. Even back then, his foes were sick of the guy stealing the spotlight. But now I’ve officially joined their camp. I’m the guy who grew up thinking he was a hero, who will always owe him a debt for the way he brought together my family, who knew what it was like for a state to have a love affair with a quarterback.

Yeah, me. I’m officially sick of all this.

What played out Tuesday was beyond the pale. I turned on CNN in the late afternoon and saw live breaking news, of CNN reporters tracking a private jet that was ferrying the quarterback. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why do we still hold our breath? Favre toys with the league, refusing to make an official decision about retirement. He then drags out the debate through training camp, so he can avoid standard conditioning. And yesterday, he all but demanded that a couple of his teammates skip practice to head down to Mississippi, woo him, and fly him back north personally on a charter.  Now there’s talk of Minnesota rewarding such behavior by sweetening his contract.

He breaks the rules of the huddle, and then reaps the rewards. This isn’t the Brett Favre I knew and loved; this is Lindsay Lohan behavior.

Shouldn’t we call a spade a spade? Brett Favre loves the game, is having trouble stepping away, and in the process has lost all control over his ego. He thinks it’s all about him, that he’s too good a player to treat his teams – or teammates – with respect, that he’s too skilled to be forced to practice. In only a few short years, he’s taken a public image of a chiseled gunslinger and veered instead towards prima donna. And not only has he been given a pass by his coaches and fans, but Minnesota apparently was willing to take him back at any point, for any reason. (See our photos of Favre’s career)

Through all of this, Favre has not only tarnished his public image, but fatally soiled his legacy as a sportsman. The hard-working back-up quarterback who rose to stardom now is the guy who thinks he deserves special treatment. Who thinks he’s better than any of his teammates. Who thinks his skills – which are prone to interceptions, might I add – trump any need for practice or refinement. No high school football coach would tolerate such arrogance or insubordination. No high school football team would allow one of their own to get such a big head; the offensive line would find a way of letting through a couple blitzers during the season opener. That ego would get in check real quick.

How many football dreamers now see in Favre the life lesson of looking out only for yourself? Of putting your interests above those of the team?

During his time with the Packers, in an era of showboats and grandstanding, Favre was the opposite. He didn’t do a dance in the end zone. He ran off the field cheering, or leapt into the stands, to celebrate with the fans. He didn’t move into a Hawaiian mansion, but remained true to Kiln, Mississippi. He wasn’t flashing new threads and cars at every turn, but instead frayed t-shirts and the grizzle of a beard he would grow through the year. Once upon a time, he was the quarterback who got the job done, hurried off the field, studied photos on the sidelines, and then came back to execute a rather complicated playbook. He would dislocate a finger, or twist an ankle, and play through.

Now he’s a whiner.  The dude who demands face-to-face wooing. The team leader who is willing to be the hold-out.

The Brett Favre I knew was never really the showboat his critics (often based out of Minnesota) claimed. But I’m starting to think their vision of him has finally gone to Favre’s head. Everything my college friends in Minnesota used to say about No. 4 has come to be true in the years since he left the Packers. And now he’s their problem.