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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.
Green Bay is a dedicated cheese-head town. Lambeau Field borders on a place of worship. Thousands of fans come out for practice sessions and those days are as special as game days in other towns. The players emerge from the locker room and ride old cruiser-type bicycles over to the practice field. Kids hop on the handle bars, skip along next to their favorite guys, get their autographs, get their pictures taken on their broad shoulders. When the players dismount their bikes at the field, they're in no rush to get away from their fans. They amble along, talking to anybody and everybody. It's a small town on the map but the team they adore, their Packers, render them a big town in terms of fame and stature and pride. Most of the adults and kids at those practice sessions, numbering in the multiples of thousands, wear a particular jersey, just as most NFL fans around the world wear one jersey above all others. That's #4. That's the number of the most popular player in the most popular sports league in the world, quarterback Brett Favre.
Favre has agonized at length the past few years over his decision to return or to retire. He's taken months to weigh all the factors. And even in those years when his skills were fading and his team was fraying, he's come back. This year, his mojo resurrected to superstar status, his arm pumping long spirals way down the field, his young team supporting him at every position, his talented team armed and ready to make another possible SuperBowl run, he suddenly hangs it up, saying he's mentally tired? Mental fatigue in March could easily turn to renewed vigor come July. On Tuesday, when we all learned of his decision to hang up his cleats through a voice mail message he left an ESPN reporter, I have to admit the news wasn't hitting me as hard as it should have. I've been as big a Brett Favre fan as they come. And if he's really calling it quits, I'll feel the Favre void as much as any NFL junkie. But one of the greatest athletes in American sports history calls it quits in a voice mail message? A grand champion and a down-to-Earth Wrangler Jeans genuine Hatsfield hero is gone, just like that? Poof? Without going to Green Bay to make the announcement? Denying those loyal and rabid Packers fans a chance to touch him, fete him, and say their proper good-byes? I've been absolutely sure the last couple of days that we would indeed be treated to that loveable, scruffy, good ol' boy #4, scrambling and rambling around the backfield one last autumn.
But just a few hours ago, I stood in my living room, a sheet of tears flooding down my face. Brett was in Green Bay now. He cried like a little Pop Warner quarterback, saying all good things must come to an end. He said it was all as wonderful as he had imagined it to be…and then some. And he was downright poetic in describing what a perfect fit Green Bay had been for him, the small town Southern boy playing his heart out for the small town folks in the middle of Wisconsin.
On the pure sports side, the analysts are tossing around the statistics today. Where does Favre land on the all-time quarterback list? He's at the top of so many stats sheets. Touchdown passes, completions, career yards. The only three-time Most Valuable Player in the history of the league. But experts put Unitas and Montana ahead of him because of all his interceptions, his lone SuperBowl championship. For me, for most of us, it's not the stat list that has endeared us to #4. It's the intangibles. The passion, the inventive moves, the unadulterated joy. As great as John Elway and Dan Marino were, I doubt millions of people wept when they retired. I know I didn't. It's going to be a quiet, odd time, come August. And the cheese-heads, especially, jogging along next to their guys on their cruiser bikes, are going to feel deep pangs of heartache. For the first time in sixteen years, their beloved #4 will not be there.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Banner image: Jim Biever, Packers.com