Against The Gunslinger

Buzz Bissinger really lets it rip:

The more Favre got whipped, the more you could hear the brains of the sportswriters sifting for the clichés of glory and tragedy that have passed for analysis since the days of Grantland Rice. The next day, John Feinstein wrote on the Washington Post website that Favre had "come to embody Hamlet" and described him as "heroic" and "tragic." Larry Canale wrote on a New York Times blog that Favre "was as game as ever, and he would not quit." James Penrice at Catholic Online wrote that it was time to "give Favre his due as a man whose spiritual strength overcomes the weakness of mind and body."

Oh My God ...

Brett Favre wasn't heroic. He was a hubristic fool. He wasn't a warrior. He was an arrogant braggart who, whatever the homespun hokum of his Mississippi roots, perversely reveled in his pain to the point where his agent publicly disseminated pictures of his injuries like cheesecake photos--a deep-purple ankle lumpish and swollen, an equally deep-purple hamstring. The pictures did what Favre hoped they would: further reinforce his image as The Gladiator, The Samurai, The White Knight for whom guts in football, however stupid and wanton, is what counts.

Bissinger continues:

The sportswriters should be partially excused. They were writing on deadline and searching for an angle, which Favre supplied: the removal of his uniform pants after the game like a slow striptease; the disclosure that, when he hurt his ankle, he could hear a crunching sound inside; the walk through the tunnel of the Superdome to meet his wife and children as if it were a tracking shot straight out of Scorsese. He has always been clinically grandiose beneath the "aw-shucks" country boy cover. He knows what sportswriters crave, not just the junk food of the noble warrior but the soul-aching confessional, which largely accounts for why he admitted to being a Vicodin addict in 1996. He knew that, when he decided to play a football game the night after his father died in 2003, it would not be perceived for the act of self-absorption it was, but as an act of courage after he carefully spun it as that's what pappy would have wanted.

Favre has crafted his public persona as carefully as Tiger Woods, only more so. Unlike Tiger, Favre knew when to out himself, in his case, for drug use, before someone else did it for him. He relished the soap opera of whether he would come back last season after saying he had retired, acting like a general being begged to return to the field of battle.

Woods is still a great competitor and winner, his superhuman confidence on the golf course earned. Favre has the same confidence on the football field, but it has caused him to have a schizophrenic career, sometimes great but not great overall. Supporters will point to the NFL records he holds for passing yards and touchdowns. He will get in the Hall of Fame. But, if the goal is to win it all, which it is, Favre should have done it more than just once in 19 seasons.

Forgive the long quotes. I wanted to make sure I got all of this context. I think Bissenger has gotten whipped up, argued past a legitimate point, and now finds himself on tenuous ground. I think a lot of football fans have tired of the overwrought language which sportswriters and announcers tend to attach to Favre. I also think that pro football, in this age of free agency, often boils down to who makes the fewest mistakes. When I think about the Patriots teams of the aughts, I think about the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But more than that, I think about them not fucking up--and especially not fucking up in crucial moments. I think the thing that keeps Brett Favre out of that "greatest ever" conversation is a penchant for fucking up in crucial moments.

That said,  Bissenger's claim that Favre is "sometimes great but not great overall" is tellingly girded by very few facts. Brett Favre is an eleven-time Pro-Bowler, a six-time first or second team All-Pro, and the only player in NFL history to win three straight MVPs. Favre is second to Dan Marion for most 300plus passing games, and one of a handful of quarterbacks (Len Dawson, Jonny U, Steve Young)  in NFL history to lead the league in touchdown passes four times.

In 2010, at the age of 40, Favre had the best season in his career posting 107.2 rating throwing 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and completing 68 percent of his passes. I can't think of another player in the NFL who's ever had a better season at the age of 40. Claiming that Favre is "sometimes great but not great overall," gets it exactly backwards. Favre is great most of the times, and sometimes--at crucial moments--really bad.

It's often the case that one thing is true, at the exact same moment as its apparent--though not actual--opposite. It's true that I can't think of another great quarterback who made more mistakes at crucial moments than Brett Favre. But both parts of that sentence are important. It can both be true that Favre's worst performances were excused by compromised reporters, and equally true that he's one of the greatest players in NFL history.

On a side-note, I think the "should have won more than one Super Bowl" standard is really arbitrary take on an already arbitrary standard. A quarterback plays on a team. If Kurt Warner had a better defense last year than he would have "won more than one Super Bowl."