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Wishing Upon a Favre

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So, everything’s great, right? Welcome, Brett! Woo-hoo! Well, problem is: Now Favre actually has to play. That darned football always ends up getting in the way.

When Namath declined late in his career, he had already made his name in town and, more important, the team surrounding him had collapsed. The Jets’ decades of futility since he left were never seen as his fault. Favre will have no such luxury. As Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Bobby Bonilla will tell you, New Yorkers love you until they don’t. Favre is being asked to salvage a flagging franchise, take an inexperienced team from nowhere to the playoffs, learn an entirely new playbook, and salve wounds left after the departure of the popular Chad Pennington. (Wide receiver Laveranues Coles was so upset about the Jets’ release of Pennington that he refused to speak to the press for a week afterward. That’ll show ’em.) And Favre has to do this at the age of 38, with no real off-season training and only two years removed from his worst season.

There’s something perverse about the life of a professional athlete; you spend every moment from puberty on training at one relatively inconsequential skill, at the expense of just about everything else, and just when you’ve gotten it figured out, you’re too old. The average retirement age in the NFL is 30, and then you have the rest of your life ahead of you. What then? Are you to learn how to type? Favre couldn’t let go, and now he’s in New York, with a major reconstruction job in front of him and a desperate city watching every move. It’s difficult for any professional athlete to ease into retirement; Namath, after all, was awful for the Los Angeles Rams in his final season. But everyone forgets that Namath wasn’t charged with revitalizing a dying franchise; that Rams team went 8-2 after Namath lost his starting job, and made the playoffs. And Namath was four years younger than Favre is now. Oh, and Favre shouldn’t rely too much on that media worship he has grown accustomed to; he’s an opening-day loss to the lowly Dolphins (with Pennington as Miami quarterback!) away from a “BRETT FRAUD” headline. If the Jets don’t improve immediately, Favre will be portrayed like the Rams’ Namath rather than the Jets’ version, and the Lupicas of the world will forget they ever praised the Favre trade in the first place. Newspapers are funny that way.

Also, how much is Favre really up for this? When asked why he initially did not want to play for the Jets, he confessed that, hey, it was nothing personal, he just wanted to play for a team in the Packers’ division out of “a vindictive nature.” When you consider that Wisconsin television stations have requested Jets games from CBS for local broadcasts, and that Mangini actually had to declare that Favre would be too busy studying the playbook to have time to watch the Packers’ first preseason game, you have to wonder how important the Jets really are to Favre. The team he initially wanted to play for, the Vikings, happen to play their season opener in Green Bay on Monday Night Football. It’s possible the Jets could end up the woman dating the guy who won’t stop talking about his ex-wife.

But hey: It sure beats being alone. Ideally speaking, the Jets would sign up the next Joe Namath when he’s 23 rather than 38—this is what the Knicks (and Nets) are hoping for with LeBron—and this Joe Namath would not spend his New Jersey downtime dreaming of cow chips and jean shorts. But these are not ideal times. The Giants just won the Super Bowl, the Yankees are falling apart, the Olympics are raging … and everyone’s talking about the Jets. It’s not like Favre’s going to make the Jets worse; an easy schedule and some helpful off-season additions could sneak this team into the playoffs. One of the biggest concerns for the Jets coming into training camp was the quarterback position; that’s, you know, covered now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Jets fan who wouldn’t be happy with 10-6 this year. Favre gives them a better chance for that to happen and, oh, also sells thousands of jerseys. And whatever your thoughts on Favre’s “gunslinger mentality”—that phrase has to be trademarked by John Madden by now, right?—the man can still throw. It’ll surely be more fun than watching Pennington toss six-yard out patterns.

If it doesn’t work, Favre still has his Wrangler contract and Lambeau statues, and the Jets will still stink. And if it does work? Well, we are a city of transplants. Perhaps Favre will end up with a chain of country-and-western-themed Upper East Side bars, complete with mechanical bulls, Big Buck Hunter video games, and floor paneling adorned with sawdust and peanut shells. Jethro Namath’s really does sound about right.

You can write to Leitch at will.leitch@nymag.com.


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