Unfortunately for the Green Bay Packers, there's no playbook to tell them how to deal with the Brett Favre fiasco. This has never come up before in the NFL - a future Hall of Fame quarterback and certified Face of the Franchise backtracking on retirement plans and deciding, at 38, he wants to keep playing.
What happened between Joe Montana and the 49ers in 1993 wasn't nearly the same. For one thing, Joe had hardly played the previous two seasons. For another, he had recently undergone elbow surgery, and no one was sure how long his right arm would hold up.
Favre, on the other hand, just took the Packers to the NFC title game and started in the Pro Bowl. Even at the advanced age of 38, his durability isn't an issue. He's the Cal Ripken of QBs, lining up for 275 consecutive games, playoffs included. (And he has played a number of these games, I'll just point out, with icicles dangling from his nostrils.) Whenever he does hang 'em up, his body should be shipped straight to the Smithsonian.
Favre is unusual in so many ways, so why should his on-again, off-again retirement be any different? Sure, John Elway walked away at 38 and never had a second thought, but let's not forget: He had just won back-to-back Super Bowls. Life wasn't going to get any better. It was easier for Dan Marino, Steve Young and Troy Aikman to walk away, too; their bodies were telling them to, loudly.
With Favre, however, there's the gnawing feeling of unfinished business. He and he Packers came so close to a story-book ending last season, and it was his interception - in overtime - that doomed them. It's understandable, once the physical and psychological pain subsided, that Favre might reconsider his decision to call it quits. Hadn't he come close to retiring a few other times before coming to his senses?
This time, though, the Packers thought he really meant it and began the transition to fourth-year man Aaron Rodgers. Can't fault them for that. Green Bay is a young team with real prospects, Favre or no Favre. Besides, Rodgers showed in a rare relief stint last season against the Cowboys (18-for-26, 201 yards, one TD) that he might be ready to take over.
But you can't fault Favre, either, though a lot of folks seem to. They're just "Favred out," they'll tell you - tired of the "Will he or won't he?" histrionics after every season, tired of the media's idolatry of him, tired of his high school enthusiasm.
Many of these people, I suspect, are too young to remember what it was like in Green Bay before Favre arrived in 1992. We're talking about a long, cold, bleak winter ... 24 years long. In fact, the franchise was probably at its lowest point since the mid-'40s, when it held fundraisers to pay its bills.
From 1968 - the first year of the post-Lombardi era - to 1991, the Packers had just five winning seasons, two playoff teams and one playoff victory (in the '82 strike season, when more than half the clubs qualified). Green Bay back then was like Arizona in recent years - a veritable homecoming opponent.
But then No. 4 came on the scene, along with Mike Holmgren and Reggie White, and the Packers were relevant again. For 17 years they've been part of the NFL conversation - playing in prime time, contending for championships - and Favre has been a huge part of that. So, yes, he's entitled to a few courtesies. First and foremost, he's allowed to change his mind about retiring - today, tomorrow or any day. You want to come back, Brett? By all means, come back.
Of course, Favre has put his bosses, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, in a tough spot. But that still doesn't excuse their clumsy handling of the situation. Here's the deal, guys: If you don't want Brett to be your quarterback - and are willing to put up with the backlash - you have every right to seek compensation from another team for his services. Brett is still under contract, and a contract is a contract. You also have a right not to trade him within the division. This is simple self-preservation.
What you don't have the right to do is give a player who has bled for you for 17 years a hard time about wanting to continue his career. Nor do you have a right to make him out to be an Infuriating Flip-Flopper or an Ungrateful Lout. And you certainly don't have a right to put a ridiculous price tag on him in order to keep him off the field. If he wants to play, he plays. You owe him that much.
Fortunately, Roger Goodell gets it. The commissioner may be new to the job, but he understands it makes no sense not to accommodate a player as popular as Favre. These are hardly the greatest of economic times, even for the most successful league in sports history. The owners, you may have noticed, recently opted out of their labor contract with the NFLPA. There's no telling what nastiness lies ahead.
So Goodell has reportedly offered to help move things along - even act as an arbitrator should Favre and his suitors feel the Packers are asking for too much. This is exactly what a commissioner should do: serve as a facilitator for the good of all, the fans especially.
Here's hoping the issue gets resolved by the end of the week, before Favre misses much training camp. A second-round pick sounds fair, considering the creases in Brett's forehead. It would be his parting gift to Green Bay - and the sooner the Packers view it as such, the better off we'll all be.