Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not the big breakup, but the other one


The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts - Sufjan Stevens

In an offseason that is surprisingly full of free agency moves and players leaving their respective squads (a topic whose significance is best handled over at fuhbaw by TiT amigo cian), a hefty amount of press has been devoted to the way fans feel about Brett Favre laving the game, this time for good (unless he hates his own legacy). Reactions from the national media are understandably fawning, but the press here in The City has taken one of the weirdest tones imaginable for a player of Favre’s stature. Rather than being heavy with reverence (understandable considering the legend), or kind yet ultimately indifferent (understandable considering the performance), the tone of much of the Favre discussion here has been this strange tension between "commanded" respect and derision, or at least disappointment, like devout Catholics trying to find a way to determine their least favorite Pope.

I have to admit that this matches my own feelings about Favre leaving, which makes the fact that he was ever here one of the most decidedly bittersweet experiences I’ve had with the league. I loved watching Brett Favre play, and was thrilled that I got the chance to see him play live, for my team, but at the same time I now find myself pushing him out of the way I view the team, and doing so happily. Sure, he used to be great; so did a lot of people. That doesn’t give him or them the right to use their past to manipulate my present, let alone the present of a city full of loyal fans of an organization. Maybe that’s the big difference between here and Green Bay. Even if he hadn’t performed in such mediocre fashion, here he was just a part of an already established history; there he became the history from which that team is still growing (or recovering, depending on who you ask).

As strange as the tone of the conversation here is, though, it strikes me as the most honest way to look at Favre now, regardless of where you reside. True, it would be wrong to let the melodrama and anticlimax of the past year cover the rest of his story, but the time in New York was still part of who he was. Indeed, it was even more true than the time in exile of Namath or Unitas. Those men were clearly just famous names attached to bodies that could no longer live up to them. Favre was still every bit the Favre who took the Packers to the doorstep of the Super Bowl last year. That might be what explains the undercurrent of anger in the way New York is looking at Brett right now. We weren’t just grasping at blind faith here; we were entitled to something more (look at the 8-3 record at one point if that seems presumptuous).

If all of this seems confusing, it’s because that’s the way these kind of subtle betrayals leave you. On the one hand, I don’t doubt that Brett Favre did everything he could to win. On the other, I remain convinced that he owed something more than he gave. The gap between those two measures is the rift that I think everyone here is wrestling with. We don’t know whether to feel glad that he’s gone, despondent about turning the team over to someone else, happy for his time here, or bitter that he didn’t give us what we remain convinced he could have, even if his performance on the field indicated otherwise.

Still, I don’t know if any of this is significant to anyone outside of The City. After all, unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to understand what rooting for Brett Favre is like (something that cian warned me about before the season began). I assume it’s something like that feeling I get when I drink to the point of blacking out, even though I’ve sworn to myself that I’m done with that (that charming “test pattern” time in your memory of the night before becomes less charming at a certain point). It was a thrill to get to that point, but no matter how many times you do it, you still leave feeling like you shouldn’t have let yourself get sucked in to the experience. This was the feeling I wound up with for the bulk of the weeks I spent pulling for Brett Favre to do enough to get out of messes that he would often be responsible for. Yes, I understand that was part of what made him great. But from someone on the inside, it was also part of what made his exit such an exhale of pent up frustration. And as fun as the whole thing was (and I’d be lying to say it wasn’t), it’ll be nice to breathe normal air again.

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