And then he was gone.
As I was settling my two year-old son into his chair this morning, he looked up at me and asked, "Daddy, why are you crying?"
Sure, I wasn't exactly bawling, but I was surprised at how hard news of Brett Favre's retirement hit me - especially since we all knew this was coming soon. But at that point, looking at my son kind of got me choked up. In the broadest sense, we all want a better life for our children than we had. And I realized, all at once, that in terms of sports, he will never have it better that I did.
For 17 years, Green Bay has been the center of the NFL universe. Little Green Bay, whose total population couldn't fill up some college football stadiums, ruled the biggest sport in the greatest country on earth. And through it all, there has been only one constant, and it wore number four. He made us relevant and endeared us to the world. Not only does he hold every relevant quarterbacking record, he got there displaying an everydayman class that is shamefully missing in sports today. It is hard to conceive of a player that more thoroughly represents how the tough-living people of Wisconsin want to be portrayed to the rest of the country.
The last seventeen years has constituted my entire adult life. I've barely known life outside my parents' house without the presence of Brett Favre. Girlfriends, jobs, colleges, favorite bands, hairstyles - they have all come and gone. I've gotten married and had two kids - the me of 1992 wouldn't even recognize the me of today. Yet Favre has always been there. Brett Favre didn't care if I was a screw-up. He didn't judge me when I'd wake up without pants, not knowing where I was. His love for me was unconditional. And he proved it by showing up every week, every year. All that he asked was I cheer. And I did.
Most Packer fans would probably agree that Favre is as much a part as them as an actual body part. Losing him is like losing a losing a leg (or at least a kneecap.) If given a choice, who wouldn't rather have Brett Favre for 17 years than a large intestine? (I actually see no need for a large intestine to begin with - I don't really like to show off. I think the small one will do just fine.)
Naturally, any discussion of the Favre years has to deal with the down times. And certainly, there were a few. It's a miracle I have any hair left on my head after some of his unconscionable interceptions. His prima donna act every offseason grew tiresome, even if it was clear he was using his playing status as leverage for the Packers to improve the team with better personnel. And the way it ended, with him looking like a cold, broken, old man in the Giants playoff game, certainly served as a disappointing finish.
In Wisconsin, Packer football is the language spoken between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, Democrats and Republicans. It is the one thing on which we can all agree, regardless of how fractured we may feel sometimes. It doesn't take a presidential candidate to bring us all together, it takes a quarterback. And Favre instigated more elated hugs between disparate groups than any program could ever seek to.
We all use windows to frame certain times of our lives, whether good or bad. There are your "high school years," or your "drinking years," or your "married years." Fortunately, Packer fans now have the "Favre Era" window on which to gaze. And it can never be taken away from any of us.
But for now, as Wayne Larivee would say, Favre has delivered his final dagger. As for my son and daughter, who knows what being a Packer fan holds for them in the future (no other jersey will ever be worn in this home.) As my boy looks at me today, he doesn't realize that he may be relegated to the status of a Houston Texans or an Arizona Cardinals fan from here out. He'll never taste the magical run we've all been a part of for nearly two decades.
Brett Favre isn't retiring, he's being amputated.