Reggie White. A farewell?
Has it come to this already?
According to White, this is his last season.
And what a season it has been. What a career. Why does it have to end?
It's not as if White's accomplishments have gone unnoticed. He is generally acclaimed as one of the best to ever play his position, but after such a remarkable career, his upcoming exit - for him, hopefully after a Super Bowl victory in Miami - leaves football fans yearning for more.
If one could only rewind and replay his glorious career. Go back, past the more than 1,100 tackles and 192.5 sacks - including 68.5 as a Packer. Go past the forced fumbles and game-saving heroics. Go back to the beginning.
White burst onto the NFL scene in 1985 with the Philadelphia Eagles and became a mainstay of their vaunted '46' defense, wreaking havoc on offenses all over the NFL. He was a sack-happy force, totaling 70 sacks in his first 57 games and leading the NFL in sacks in two of his first four years.
White had definitely arrived and would go on to further greatness with the Eagles, but something would be missing. A championship. Philadelphia could not get over the proverbial 'hump,' managing very little playoff success during his Eagles career. He yearned for the next step.
So naturally, when looking for a new home as a unrestricted free agent in 1993, observers figured White would go to a perennial championship contender. The San Francisco 49ers perhaps. Or maybe the Washington Redskins.
No. His choice would be the Green Bay Packers.
The football world was shocked. Reggie White to the...Packers?
It was a move that had a profound effect on the franchise in the NFL's smallest city.
Green Bay had enjoyed an upswing the previous year in 1992. General Manager Ron Wolf, Head Coach Mike Holmgren and a young quarterback by the name of Brett Favre lifted the Packers back to a level of respectability. But it was not until White's arrival the following year that the resurrection of the franchise truly began.
White's presence almost single-handedly lifted the Packers to a breakthrough level both on and off the field. With his signing, the Packers no longer carried the stigma of being an NFL outpost, a place where no one wanted to play.
His impact was immediately felt on the field as the 1993 Packers finished second in the NFL on defense, an incredible rise from 23rd the year before. Green Bay qualified for the playoffs for the first time in a non-strike year since 1972.
"He made us a better football team - no question about it," Head Coach Mike Holmgren said at the time. "We went from 23 on defense (in the league as a whole) to two - with no noticeable dramatic personnel changes, except for one man."
White's heroics were quickly ingrained in Packers lore.
How can anyone forget his back-to-back sacks of John Elway in a 1993 contest, staving off a late Broncos rally. He almost brought Lambeau Field down along with Elway.
White treated Packers fans with numerous highlights and milestones during his tenure with Green Bay. Passing Lawrence Taylor as the all-time sacks leader. Holding Barry Sanders and the Lions to negative rushing yardage in a playoff game. A miraculous comeback from a torn hamstring injury that initially was said to need surgery to repair. The list of moments could go on.
White's greatest accomplishment came in 1996, the Packers capturing Super Bowl XXXI with a 35-21 victory over the New England Patriots. White put a personal stamp on the contest with three second-half sacks, successfully thwarting Patriot comeback attempts.
No one will forget the image of White, Lombardi Trophy raised high, making his rounds on the field at the Superdome, saluting the fans, just as he has done at almost every Packers game - home or away. He helped bring the Packers a championship, one for which the franchise and its fans had waited 29 years.
The Packers made it back to the Super Bowl last season, losing in a thriller to the Broncos. For White, the season was, at times, a struggle. He battled a nagging back injury and illnesses that had sapped his strength. After months of deliberation, he announced his retirement in April.
But, two days later, after reconsidering, he decided to return.
His detractors thought it was a mistake. He was hanging on too long: another great player in the twilight of his career refusing to acknowledge he was at the end. His age. The back. Why continue?
After diligently rehabilitating and strengthening his back, White played. And what a season it was. How he had proved the doubters wrong.
White led the Packers' defense to an accustomed high ranking in 1998, the unit finishing fourth in the league overall. To think he was actually going to retire.
White, the anchor and leader, led the NFC with 16 sacks, his highest output since he posted 18 takedowns in 1988. He also totaled 47 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles. A season worthy of 'Defensive Player of the Year' honors.
"I wanted to go out my last year on top," White said. "And God has given me the strength to do it."
Holmgren also was pleased with the outcome.
"I'm so happy that he decided to come back and play because he's playing this year like I hoped he would play his last year," Holmgren said. "That's how I pictured him ending his career."
So, it indeed has come to this. Arguably the best defensive lineman to ever don an NFL uniform is celebrating his last hurrah.
Packers fans - better yet, ALL football fans - have certainly enjoyed the ride.
And for that, they thank you Reggie.
They thank you for the memories.