Retirement or not, Favre still going strong
By Jason Wilde
Special to NFL.com
GREEN BAY (Dec. 19, 2006) -- His Green Bay Packers are miraculously on the outskirts of the NFC playoff picture -- an improbability even he cannot fully explain or comprehend, given their 6-8 record -- and throughout a roller-coaster season that has swung between on-field success and failure, and between personal enjoyment and frustration, he has done his best to maintain perspective and an even keel.
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But as Brett Favre enters what could be the final two games of his illustrious NFL career -- rivalry games Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on NFL Network and New Year's Eve against the NFC-leading Chicago Bears at Soldier Field -- he maintains that his will-he-or-won't-he decision on whether to return for a 17th NFL season in 2007 will come down to the same simple question it has in past years.
"It's a challenging decision, regardless of what happens in the final two games," said Favre, who enters Thursday night having completed 296 of 521 passes (56.8 percent) for 3,315 yards, with 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and 18 sacks for a quarterback rating of 74.8. "The decision is ultimately my decision. And it comes down to, 'Do you want to play or do you not want to play?' "
What Favre will decide is anyone's guess. Three weeks ago, following the Packers' 23-17 victory at Minnesota on Nov. 12, much of the talk centered around how much fun Favre appeared to be having and how he might be rejuvenated playing with so many promising young players, despite their frequent mistakes. He was picking up No. 1 wide receiver Donald Driver in a fireman's carry after every touchdown connection the two made, smiling and laughing on the sideline and running around like the guy that everyone says "plays the game like a kid."
Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren knew had something special in Brett Favre back in 1992.
While the Packers' 4-5 record at the time certainly wasn't the kind of success Favre became accustomed to during his 1990s heyday, when he won an unprecedented three consecutive NFL MVP awards and led the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowls, including the Super Bowl XXXI title, it was promising enough at the time to make him think the team was headed in the right direction with a remarkable youth movement that landed 19 rookies and first-year players on the 53-man roster.
"It does help, dealing with these young guys and seeing a bright future," Favre said then. "You know, 4-5 is a far cry from where we were in the late '90s, but there's some competitive guys in this room and I think that the sky's the limit. So that does make it easier to think about coming back and the positives (of) that.
"I don't know what's going to happen the rest of this year. I don't know how our record will end up. It's been up-and-down this year, and that makes it a little more difficult in a lot of ways to get into a rhythm. One week you're in a good mood, one week you're in a bad mood.
"But I think going into this year, my mindset was different. I kind of prepared myself (to think), 'Whatever happens, accept it and go on. Don't dwell on it. Do what you do.' There's only so much you can control, and I'm kind of to the point where, 'Control what you can do, and that's it.' And because of that, I feel a little less tension week in and week out. I don't feel as stressed as maybe I have in the past.
"I think that's probably the biggest reason why it shows in my expressions. It's coming out more. And people (say), 'Oh, now he's having fun.' But I'm kind of allowing myself to do that."
Asked how much he thought Favre's enjoyment level would impact his future, first-year Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, "I'm sure that's a factor. ... I think he's in a good place. I think he's fairly healthy and winning takes care of a lot of things. He's in it to win."
That made the Packers' three-game losing streak, during which they lost by a combined score of 107-34, with embarrassing losses to New England (35-0 on Nov. 19, when he was knocked out of the game with a right elbow injury) and the New York Jets (38-10 on Dec. 3) at home, all the more difficult. Before snapping the skid with a 30-19 win at San Francisco on Dec. 10, Favre joked during his bi-weekly news conference that "I wondered why I wasn't getting any, 'Man, you look like you're having a blast out there' (type of) questions" during the streak. But he understood why.
"Winning sure if a lot more fun. I say that again and again," Favre said. "You ask me how it's going … it's going. You try to make the most of it, one way or the other. I've had a lot of fun in my career. I've had a lot of success. This is not one of those successful points. But you just make the most of it."
And that is what Favre will do during the final two weeks -- and beyond, if the Packers somehow sneak into the NFC playoffs as one of the two wild cards. It's unlikely -- the Philadelphia Eagles (8-6), New York Giants (7-7) and Atlanta (7-7) have the inside track, and San Francisco, St. Louis, Minnesota and Carolina are all 6-8, just like the Packers -- but mathematically possible. And that in itself is remarkable.
"I think we've exceeded most people's expectations to this point. From a team standpoint, I think we expect more," said Favre, who threw three interceptions in Week 15's 17-9 win over Detroit, but sill engineered a 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. "That's the good and the bad of this team's makeup -- we think we're invincible at times, and we're not. We think at times we're better than we really are, and we are humbled. ... (But) I can't even believe that we've mentioned playoffs."
But even the postseason seems far-fetched, the 37-year-old Favre said he'll keep his make-the-most-of-it approach the rest of the season, before his now-annual offseason return-or-retire internal struggle begins.
"Whether it's over this season (or) next season, I'm going to try to get the most out of it," said Favre, who'll be making his 256th consecutive start (including playoffs) on Thursday night. "I've really enjoyed every minute of it. I don't think that (approach) would change whether or not I come back next year. I would hope that our team would be in a better situation, but you know the future. There's no guarantees."
Including whether the Packers want him back, according to Favre.
Unbelievably, consecutive start No. 257 will come in the finale against the Bears.
"You know, the thing I think we're not thinking about is what direction this team wants to go in," Favre said. "I mean, that sounds crazy and I've said that in the past, but who knows? They may say, 'Brett, it's been great, but we may want to go in a different direction.' I have no idea."
Earlier this year, though, McCarthy told two national NFL writers that he wants Favre back next year, and while McCarthy has refused to discuss the issue with the local media since those remarks came to light, it's unlikely his sentiments have changed. Nevertheless, Favre and his wife, Deanna, have not talked in-depth about his playing future yet and he says he has "no clue" as to how long the decision process will take him.
"I know that with each day, time works against me," said Favre, who enters the final two games equidistant from two NFL career records -- seven TDs behind Dan Marino's touchdown pass record of 420, and seven INTs behind George Blanda's interception record of 277. "And the mental struggle that I face (as I'm) weighing options (is) 'What if?' There was a time where I never thought, 'What if?' I just (thought), 'Hey, I'm happy to be here.'
"I'm no different than anyone else. When the season is over (or) a game is over and you have a little bit of time to think about it, the optimism goes back up and you say, 'Hey, you know, we might be better (next year).' I think I'm the ultimate optimist.
"I'm pleased with my decision to come back. There may be some people who are not, but I'm pleased with it. And I would love to be in a better situation, but once again, it is what it is.
"These (few) games remaining, I'm going to get the most out of them, and if there's more after that, I will do the same."