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Favre emotional yet graceful as he walks away

Posted Mar 5, 2008

No one knew better than Brett Favre how difficult it would be to retire from the game he loves.

It's why he hemmed-and-hawed about it for the last several years, wondering when the time would be right, taking weeks or even months after any given season ended to make up his mind for sure.

And he is sure. But that didn't make Thursday's official retirement press conference in the Lambeau Field Legends Club any easier.

It took less than two dozen words after uttering the phrase "officially retiring" for Favre to be overcome with emotion in an opening statement that lasted roughly 11 minutes and was interrupted repeatedly, but understandably, by what he later called "a knot the size of a basketball" in his throat.

But through that emotion he managed to explain what others with whom he'd spoken had explained on his behalf over the past couple of days, that without feeling 100 percent committed to playing quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and all that entails, he wasn't about to short-change himself, his family, his teammates, the franchise or his legions of fans.

"I've given everything I possibly can give to this organization, to the game of football, and I don't think I've got anything left to give, and that's it," Favre said. "I know I can play, but I don't think I want to. And that's really what it comes down to."

That's a tough line for many to digest, that Favre doesn't "want" to play football. But the real meaning of it is more complicated.

He doesn't want to expend all the energy it takes for him to be Brett Favre, one of the greatest NFL players ever who holds himself, and is held by others, to that standard every time he steps on the field.

"I can play, but I'm not up to the challenge," Favre said. "You can't just show up and play for three hours on Sunday. If you could, there'd be a lot more people doing it and they'd be doing it for a lot longer.

"I have way too much pride, I expect a lot out of myself, and if I cannot do those things 100 percent, then I can't play."

As he answered questions from the local and national media for nearly an hour, Favre talked about how he leaves with no regrets. His last pass, an interception to set up the Giants' game-winning field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship, didn't sway him one way or the other. Neither did anything the organization did or didn't do, anything anyone said or didn't say.

As candid as always, Favre talked about how it was so much easier when he was younger, even under the pressure that comes with playing the most visible position for the NFL's most rabid fan base.

Raw talent could carry the day if need be. High expectations? Bring 'em on. Winning wasn't so hard, he thought. Naivete worked to his advantage.

"It's a good thing I didn't know any better," Favre said.

But 17 years, four NFC title games, two Super Bowl appearances and every major NFL passing record later, he does know better. It takes more work to get the body ready at age 38. It takes more studying to stay on top of defensive schemes designed to beat you.

During this past season, he talked about studying film at the stadium on Saturday nights before home games for the first time in his career. Two hours after returning home from a victory, he was firing up his laptop to watch film of next week's opponent. He could never do enough, and it was taking some of the fun, if only a little, out of it for him.

Perhaps in the end, the gunslinger everyone loved for playing the game like a kid, the southern boy everyone admired for maturing so much as a person and a player, grew up too much.

"If I had to go back with the same mentality right now that I have and start over again," Favre said, "I probably wouldn't make it."

Favre considered Green Bay, with its unique franchise and fans, the perfect fit for him. That will assuredly make the first-ballot Hall of Famer, probably sooner rather than later, question whether he's doing the right thing. It's only natural to do that now, with the team having come so close to the Super Bowl less than two months ago.

But Favre has promised himself there will be no "what-ifs," and maybe because he had gotten through his most emotional words and was determined to stay composed, he declined to reminisce about his favorite moments, his biggest games or most satisfying wins on his final day in the spotlight.

And rather than state the obvious, that there are too many great feats to narrow it down, Favre spoke of feeling privileged to take one snap in the NFL, let alone thousands. To see his boyhood dreams -- of being like Roger Staubach and leading the Dallas Cowboys to championships -- surpassed "a thousand times over" was more than enough for him, and he'll leave the "favorite" discussions to others.

He also wasn't about to make any ground pronouncements of future plans. Not only because he just made the decision to retire a few days ago, but also because, unlike when he has just a few seconds at the line of scrimmage when he reads blitz to call an audible, he's got plenty of time for something to strike his fancy.

"Ron Wolf asked me yesterday, 'What are you going to do?' I said, 'Nothing,'" Favre said. "And I'm going to stick to that until I want to do something else."

Another sign of just how draining the end of his career has been, Favre and his wife Deanna are even stepping away temporarily from their extensive charitable activities. The Favres' own foundation and the number of lives Favre has touched, particularly through his record-setting Make-A-Wish visits to kids, are an indelible part of his legacy. The impact has been widespread.

"But it's the impact they had on me," Favre said. "That's what it's all about."

And that's yet another reason why it's so hard to see him go. For as much as Favre the person and player evolved over the years, he ended his career on Thursday as the genuine individual he's always been.

To Favre, no matter whether his final season ended on the brink of the Super Bowl or without a playoff berth for the third straight year, he's going out on top, and it's impossible not to believe him. He said more than once that all of his accomplishments weren't really his, but his team's, and it's everything about being part of a team that he'll miss the most.

"What matters is it's been a great career for me, and it's over," Favre said. "As hard as that is for me to say, it's over.

"I hope everyone knows how special this is and I truly appreciate the opportunity, and as they say all good things must ... come to an end."

 
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