It was Monday, December 22nd, 2003, when Brett Favre authored the defining moment of his proud career.
The box score shows a demolition of my beloved Raiders to the tune of 41-7 by the Green Bay Packers. Favre’s state line was a fantasy football freak’s wet dream, 22 of 30 for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns with a very un-Favre like 0 interceptions.
What did not appear in the stat sheet, but was the headline for every sport section across the country, was Favre’s decision to play one day after the passing of his father. It was a moment that has become the type of folklore that accompanies those rare figures in sports who seem to capture the fascination of the sporting world and, for brief moments, can eclipse the game itself.
The game came in front of a national audience and, as Raider fans now know all too well, was the final nail in the coffin of our unraveling. Taking nothing away from Favre and his special moment, but the Raider defense showed little interest in even taking the field that night. The game was over by halftime as all 4 of Favre’s TDs came in the first half. We were one year removed from that painful Super Bowl loss and finished the season 4-12. We’ve never won more than 5 games in a season since.
In that span, Favre has retired and unretired (I don’t know how many times), he’s placed his name atop the list of most every statistical category for quarterbacks in the NFL and he played out his final days not in Green Bay, but instead in New York.
As a fan of the game, I can admit that is was enjoyable to watch Favre play. However, as a somewhat bitter Raider fan and an aspiring journalist, I am troubled by the nature in which Favre ended his career.
I can recall countless Sundays of listening to John Madden wax poetic of Favre’s passion and love for the game. The national media became enamored with his “gunslinger” mentality. With the ilk of a riverboat gambler, Favre would chuck the rock around the field with little regard for the consequences, only thinking of glory and never the possibility suffering. When his gambles paid out, they were the riches only a king could desire. When they went bust, it was as horrific as watching a man lose his life savings on one spin of the roulette wheel.
This past season, Favre took his gambles from the field level to the front office. I sat in amazement with each passing day as the national media held our televisions hostage with images of Favre and speculation on his immanent return.
After it was all said and done, the man who John Madden had convinced me was a team player and just wanted to win seemed more like a selfish malcontent who just wanted more glory. Favre, during his few months of retirement, missed the attention and yearned for the spotlight.
Unwilling to accept a diminished role with the franchise where he became a legend, he went to a franchise that was willing to roll the dice on the greatest gambler the game has ever known.
The Jets improved under Favre, yet limped to the finish line and missed the playoffs. Favre’s farewell tour included a stop in Oakland, where I’m sure memories of that Monday night in 2003 filled his head prior to the game.
It was Sunday, October 19th, 2008, when Brett Favre returned to Oakland as a Jet and not a Packer.
Once the game concluded, Favre must have felt like he had traveled across the ocean and looking back at that magical night in 2003 seemed more like a mirage than a memory. In a stadium where he was once elevated to an icon, he had returned as a journeyman. His stat line that afternoon was a sad 21 of 38 for 197 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. A franchise record 57 yard field goal from the foot of Sebastian Janikowski in overtime sent Favre away with a 16-13 loss.
It seems to be the burden of greatness to never be fulfilled. It was a pleasure to watch Favre play and a joy, no matter how painful, to be associated with the defining moment of his career. My only hope is that Favre has had his fill and will now allow us to pen the words that will define his legacy instead of watching him toil in obscurity with another comeback attempt.