Brett Favre was the National Football League's ultimate iron man in a legendary 19-year career, inspiring coaches and team-mates with extraordinary toughness and thrilling fans with a daredevil's verve and a showman's sense of the moment.
Yet the once-irrepressible Favre never looked older or more fragile than on Sunday. The magic of last season, and most of his brilliant career, never seemed farther away. It had to end some time. And Favre says that time is now.
The 41-year-old quarterback sat out Minnesota's season-ending loss to the Detroit Lions because of a concussion, and it appears his career ended not on the field trying to rally the Vikings to another victory, but on the sideline as a third-string rookie floundered in Favre's place.
No one – not even Brett Favre it seems – can play forever.
"I know it's time, and that's OK. It is," Favre said after the 20-13 loss. "Again, I hold no regrets, and I can't think of too many players offhand that can walk away and say that. Individually and from a team standpoint, it was way more than I ever dreamed of."
He also retired in 2008 with the Packers and 2009 with the Jets, only to return both times when the football bug bit him in the summer. He knows that there will be doubters again.
"I don't know for me if it's ever easy [to retire]," Favre said. "I'm sure throughout this year, the comment has been made that, 'We'll wait and see in August or September', and that's fine. It's time. I'm OK with it."
There appears to be one big difference this time. Even if he did want to come back next year, would anyone want him? The Vikings are going to start over. And the market for a 42-year-old quarterback coming off one of his worst seasons – both personally and professionally – is not expected to be hot.
If this indeed is the end – for real, this time – for Favre, one of the most colourful and celebrated careers in NFL history concluded with a season filled with interceptions, injuries and insults.
He threw 19 picks and his 69.9 quarterback rating is the lowest of his career. The Vikings sunk to the bottom of the NFC North after starting the season with Super Bowl aspirations, coach Brad Childress was fired along the way and Favre was fined $50,000 (£32,000) for his failure to cooperate with an NFL investigation into allegations that he sent lewd photos and messages to a game-day hostess when both worked for the Jets in 2008.
Favre's reputation took a serious hit during the humiliating scandal, which tarnished the image of one of the league's most popular players. He declined to comment on the fine after Sunday's season ending loss.
His long-awaited union with receiver Randy Moss was also a spectacular failure and his cherished streak of 297 straight regular season starts ended three weeks ago, with a sprained throwing shoulder making it impossible for Favre to let those famously rocket-like passes rip from his right arm.
And just for good measure, the Metrodome roof of the Vikings' Minneapolis home stadium caved in to provide a perfect metaphor for Favre and Minnesota's 2010, forcing the Vikings to play "home" games at Detroit and at the University of Minnesota's outdoor stadium in December.
"It's been a wonderful experience for me," Favre said. "This year did not work out the way we would have hoped, but that's football. I don't regret coming back. I enjoyed my experience here."