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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

There's a veritable Greek chorus of sports announce voices rising in a collective crescendo each week of this young NFL season. It's a blow-hard, unemotional, flat, "I told you so" drone: Brett Favre should have hung up his jock strap last year. No, the chorus laments. Last year the legendary Number 4 threw 29 interceptions, twelve more than any other quarterback in the league. He should have retired two years ago. They're unapologetically cruel, the chorus of know-it-all sports guys. They found it an embarrassment to witness Favre's first shut-out of his career, when the Bears beat his Packers the first week, 26-0. They cringe to imagine the once-mythical, Lombardi-infused Green Bay Packers, the frozen tundra pride of famed Lambeau Field, possibly suffering a winless 2006.

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Me, I'm more sentimental than the chorus. Sure, I'd rather see Favre surrounded with healthy running backs, available receivers, and a more experienced offensive line. But the bare bone facts that the Packers are not a very good football team this year doesn't bring out the harsh critic in me. I am melting with awe and appreciation for this, one of the most lovable athletes of our time. I don't care how many interceptions he throws, how many fumbles he commits. Nothing Favre does, or doesn't do, this year could erase the memories of 15 years of rough and tumble, Mississippi-style quarterbacking that Favre stirred up in his inimitable, relentless pursuit of gridiron joy. It's so fitting that he holds the NFL record for consecutive games started, 221. It's also part of the Favre lore that he has, most unusually, played his entire career for the Packers. He actually started out in '91 with the Falcons but that was a brief engagement. The marriage was to Green Bay and he has been a faithful mate. That proverbial Greek chorus thinks it a great idea for Favre to dump his beloved Packers and flee down to Tampa Bay, a team in desperate need of quarterback salvation. That way we could see the master scramble for just a few more innovative touchdowns.

Again, for me, watching him struggle in an ineffective offense is not painful. Win or lose, he's got to bleed Packers blood to the very last down. Brett Favre is 36. He'll turn 37 on October 10. His hair is silver now. The lines on his face show the weather of many winter Sundays rumbling for those precious first-down yards. But the sparkle in his eyes still flashes as he breaks from the huddle. And there's still a boyishness in his hopeful gaze from the sideline as his kicker tries for a field goal. Just asAndre Agassi didn't go out on top at 36 at the recent U.S. Open, but his heart was filled still with the love of the game, so will Favre go out over the next couple of months.

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I had a chance to interview Favre once. I spoke to him after a practice at Lambeau Field, in front of his locker. Except for perhaps Derek Jeter, there is no athlete today more identified with his team than Brett Favre. Several thousand cheeseheads showed up for this practice, as they do regularly at Lambeau, most of them wearing a Number 4 jersey. The Packers have a ritual whereby they ride beach cruiser type bicycles from the locker room to the practice field, letting the kids come close by to touch them and chat. And Favre is not too famous or too veteran to ride a bike slowly through the throng, too. At his locker, I asked him a series of questions. It doesn't matter what they were. All I clearly remember was his last answer. "M'am" he said in his gentlemanly Southern drawl, "What you need to understand is that I just plain love this game of football. I really do."

Favre loves the game. And, win or lose, we love the way he plays it.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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