American Football: Favre slips off stage as his legacy takes a hit

Retirement looks permanent this time but scandals mean eulogies are in short supply

Old quarterbacks, like old soldiers, never die; they just fade away. Brett Favre, among the very greatest of them, has just announced he is retiring. And the American sports press, which had avidly chronicled his every crowd-thrilling exploit for almost two decades, scarcely bothered to note the fact.

In a way, you can't blame them. Favre "retirements" are not unknown. Twice in the last three years he has said he's played his last game in the National Football League, only to sign up for another campaign. Who can be certain the same wearisome routine will not unfold once more this summer?

This time however a sporting obituary would surely not be premature. The least reliable evidence is the words of Favre himself, having watched from the touchline on Sunday as his Minnesota Vikings played the final game of their dreadful 2010 season.

"I know it's time, and that's OK. It is," he declared after the Vikings' 20-13 loss to the Detroit Lions. "I hold no regrets. I hope that people admired the way I played, my passion for the game." Conclusive enough – except that Favre said the same sort of thing after departing the Green Bay Packers in 2008, and alluded to retiring less than 12 months ago, after he had led Minnesota to the NFC championship game.

More pertinent, the market for a 41-year-old quarterback coming off a career-worst season is likely to be thin to non-existent. But most definitive of all is the breakdown of the once indestructible body that enabled him to start 297 consecutive games in one of the most brutal sports on earth – a record that may well never be beaten.

Already in 2009 Favre had surgery on his right, throwing arm; in 2010 however the wheels truly came off: first his ankle; then his shoulder, forcing him to end the starting streak on 13 December. A week later, he returned against the Chicago Bears.

The boys' magazine finale for Favre would have been a Super Bowl-winning fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Instead, cruel, deflating real life decreed that what was surely his last on-field involvement would be at the wrong end of a shuddering sack by the Bears' defensive end Corey Wootton. Favre was concussed and had to sit out the Vikings' season-closer in Detroit.

Not that it mattered. For both the team and their marquee attraction, 2010 was a nightmare. The Vikings entered the season with hopes of a Super Bowl; they ended it rock bottom of the NFC North division. December's collapse of the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis was a perfect metaphor. For the ageing indoor arena it was one heavy northern snowstorm too many; for a greying quarterback and his creaking bones, it had been one season too many.

But last weekend, no one paid attention. As Favre slipped off stage, the spotlight was already on a post-season in which for once he would play no part. There was another reason too. If Favre the quarterback was fading away, better that he did so in silence, as off-field scandal blurred the memories of his halcyon years.

These memories were many and varied: an unprecedented three consecutive Most Valuable Player awards in 1995, 1996 and 1997 during his heyday with the Packers, as well as a host of NFL records including most passing yards, completions and touchdown passes thrown.

But he also had more interceptions and more sacks than any quarterback in NFL history. It was this combination of brilliance and recklessness that made Favre such a compelling, edge-of-seat entertainer, as he walked the finest of lines between triumph and disaster.

His arm was like a cannon, his speed of execution as unequalled as his ability to thread a pass to a receiver when every avenue seemed closed. But his style also guaranteed permanent flirtation with calamity – such as the interception he threw against New Orleans in the closing stages of last year's game, which handed the Saints their ticket to the Super Bowl.

And now sex scandals, not one but two of them, just as the League is trying to clean up its off-field image. In October, a website posted a voicemail and lewd photos allegedly sent by Favre to a publicity girl on the staff of the New York Jets, during his one season there in 2008. Last week, the NFL fined Favre $50,000 for refusing to co-operate with its investigation.

Then on Monday, a day after his retirement, came word of a lawsuit, filed in New York's state courts, which alleged he had sexually harassed two female massage therapists at the Jets.

Whatever the truth in the charges, they would occupy too large a place in any farewell to Favre. Disapproving and fed up with him you may be, but there's no disputing his greatness as a player. The eulogies will come. However, even though he's surely retired for good, now is not the moment.

Favre's career highlights

1969 Born 10 October in Mississippi

1991 21 April – Selected 33rd overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL draft

1992 10 February – Traded to Green Bay; 27 September – First start on way to NFL record of 297 in succession

1995 Wins the first of three consecutive Most Valuable Player awards

1997 26 January – Leads the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI

2008 4 March – retires; 7 August – Traded to the New York Jets

2009 11 February – Retires again; 18 August – Signs for the Minnesota Vikings

2011 2 January – retires for third time

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