Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Meandering Tribute to Favre

Hey. Not much going on.

I guess this topic is a little overdue, but I'll go ahead and write on it, anyway. Some of you may not be aware that I'm something of a Green Bay Packers fan. I would never claim to be the biggest football fan around, but I like the Packers. My mom is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and even though they're in Michigan, the people up there in the U.P. tend to root for the Packers (there's some division on this point, but since much of the U.P. is actually closer to Green Bay than to Detroit- and because Detroit usually sucks- people in the U.P. tend to show at least as much allegiance to the Packers as they show to the Lions).
Anyway, as a Packers fan, of course, it brings me a little bit of sadness to see longtime Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre sail off into the sunset this year. I'm a pretty big guy, and growing up in Texas throughout my life I've been asked about whether I played football and why I wasn't playing football and whether or not I realized how good I would be at football. The truth of the matter is that I sometimes enjoy watching football, but it just never really interested me all that much. It's a sport where a good number of the guys on the field never get to touch the ball, and a whole lot of effort goes into helping the ball handlers get a chance to throw and catch and run and do cool stuff while a whole lot of other guys struggle through practice after practice and game after game down in the trenches without getting much credit at all.
Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked, but my point is that football was never my thing (I think I was also quite wary of the stereotypical image of the football player- the dumb as rocks jock who liked to pick on the smaller kids), and it seemed like a lot of the people who were always egging me on to go play it were about half my size and never really had to face the prospect of actually playing- going through all of the work, pain, and monotonous routine of countless hours of practice just to have the opportunity to stand on a line and repeatedly knock heads with some guy who's just as big or bigger than you. When football fans imagine themselves playing football, they always imagine themselves throwing incredible passes or making incredible runs or catching balls and running them in for touchdowns. They don't imagine themselves hiking balls, blocking for other players, or just struggling to hold off pass rushes play after play. They think of playing football in videogame terms- not in terms of spending countless hours in a weight room or in terms of practices where you spend hour after hour just banging heads with the guy across from you.
And that's primarily how I think about football. Or at least how I thought about it growing up. To the extent that I could have been involved in it, I have sort of a lineman's perspective on the game, because when I was younger and less coordinated, but still awfully big for my age (I'm mostly referring to junior high, when the coaches were doing their best to recruit me), I had no doubt that the offensive line (or at best, the defensive line) was where I was headed if I played football. A game filled with a bunch of guys who are content to push each other around in a cloud of dust over and over again for the vast majority of their free time for more than half of the year.

And then there's the fact that people take football so damn seriously. Especially in Texas. In Texas, football holds a position roughly equivalent to the status that gladiatorial games and chariot races were afforded in ancient Rome. We build grand coliseums for it, give players free college educations, and grant reverance and high celebrity status (in addition to fantastic financial wealth) to professional players. Football games are previewed, analyzed, and dissected with an intensity far greater than the attention paid to the progress of the actual wars that our country is engaged in.
All of this to say, I guess, that there have been times when I pretty much just about lost interest in football.

Annnnnyyyway, all of this, believe it or not, is leading me back to Brett Favre. I really like the guy. He always just seemed to truly love football for the game that it is. At the same time he has always been able to seem like he's having fun, keeping in mind that football is just a game, while simultaneously putting forth the best effort that he could possibly produce. He seems to have respected his teammates and gave them credit when games went well (although he's said to have been a little rough on the rookies when they were getting a little too cocky). I guess he just loved the game and had a burning desire to win, but he still seemed like he was really enjoying himself out there. It was always fun to see Favre get the ball when his team was down by a few points and time was running out on the clock, because you knew that Favre wouldn't panic- he saw such moments as opportunities to turn himself and his teammates into heroes, and he relished the moments when big risks were not only permissible but necessary in order to turn a game around.

His ability to love the game and to simultaneously keep things in perspective led him to develop a playing style in which he often took huge risks- throwing risky passes at times when others would have played it safer. He often failed (he threw an awful lots of interceptions), but his failures stood beside amazing successes that were spectacular to witness, and the fact that he was willing to take these risks at all was, in my opinion, a success in itself- a reminder that football isn't a matter of life and death, and ultimately it's meant to be about having fun, no matter how much of your heart and soul you're willing to pour into it. Watching Favre was kind of like watching a really talented kid on a really big playground, and he helped to keep football entertaining during times when it threatened to become a bit overwhelming under the weight of its own intensity. You could just see the joy of playing the game in that man.

So here's to Favre- he helped me find some fun in football when I wasn't really sure how much fun football had to offer. He wasn't about money or reputation or contracts. He was just about football and love of the game. Green Bay will miss him, and the NFL will, too. It's going to be very hard to find another quarterback who has the same magic that Brett Favre had.


The League said...

I remember being 14 and realizing: Hey, when I get into high school, I really don't want to spend the fall playing second or third string lineman. Plus, even in frikkin' middle school football all of the players were already trying to master the little tricks of being on the line that are against the rules, but which everyone does, anyway. Holding, etc... And how seldom it was actually ever called. And all of them, to a player, would tell me that their dads had taught them how to try to break the rules and not get caught.

There was a lifelesson in there somewhere.

Favre also holds some serious records, many of which should last for years. Most touchdowns, etc... and to drive home your point about Favre's style of play, he also holds the record for most interceptions. (In fact, his final play in the NFL was an interception, if memory serves).

He was amazing to watch, but I don't see him taking on coaching duties, etc... But I do look forward to seeing what he does take on.

hey, CBS... does America love Boomer as much as you think they do? Or, Fox... you know who would call a pretty good Sunday game?

Anonymous said...

I remember being 14 and thinking "Holy Crap! I'm gonna get killed out here!" A few cracked ribs was all it took to convince me to take up tennis.