Jet Engine Brett Favre

An aging quarterback sweeps New York off its feet

My favorite quote from Brett Favre—the one that I think defines the man and his values—came in the spring of 2006, when the Green Bay Packers were agonizing over what they should do with their fading star. Was it time, some were asking, for the Packers to start developing a new, young quarterback? Perhaps, a bold sportswriter suggested, it might be time for Favre to take a backup position or maybe even think about retiring. No, snickered Brett, he was going to stay right where he was and call his own shots. "What are they going to do?" he asked rhetorically. "Cut me?"

The Packers didn't cut Favre this spring or summer, but they could have if they'd been willing to swallow the rest of his contract and allow him to jump to their division rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Brett's "I vant to retire/I vant to play" psychodrama distracted his team all through the preseason and resulted in the ugliest split since Lieberman and the Democrats. After forcing Green Bay to waste a draft pick on an extra quarterback and all but demanding that they either make him the starter or release him, Favre finally got himself sent to the New York Jets in one of those rare deals which pleased everybody. The Packers got rid of a soon-to-be-39-year-old prima-donna pain in the ass and were finally free to get on with the business of finding out if Aaron Rogers is a legitimate NFL quarterback. The Jets got . . .

Well, actually, it isn't certain what the Jets got, aside from someone who can sell more jerseys than anyone since Joe Namath. They do have a media star—Mayor Bloomberg doesn't interrupt his busy schedule of glad-handing babies and kissing rabbis to meet just any old quarterback. Favre does have more TD passes than any QB in history, but then he also had the most interceptions. He was never the best passer in the league, even when he was young; despite the three MVP awards, he has never led the NFL in either passer rating or yards per throw.  

So Favre, so good.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
So Favre, so good.

What can Jets fans expect this season? Coach Eric Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum have worked mightily to build a strong offensive line, but no one really has the slightest idea how it'll perform. Last season, Chad Pennington—probably a better passer, given adequate protection, than Favre—was knocked down by either sack or hit on nearly 20 percent of his pass attempts, the worst rate in the league. If that happens to Favre, he won't hold up till Halloween.  

Favre and the Jets had the good fortune to open the season against Miami, the worst team in the league last year. Now it appears they will also have the luck to play the AFC's best team, New England, without Tom Brady. If they split their two games with the Patriots, it's a 50-50 chance that they'll get to the playoffs. But will any of it matter if they don't make it to the Super Bowl, which was the point in paying out for Favre in the first place? If they make the playoffs, given Favre's uninspiring 12-10 postseason record, what are their chances then?

This infatuation with Favre is so Jets. Their only championship came 40 years ago this coming January—the year Favre was born! Over that time, the Yankees, Mets, and Giants have won 11 championships. Every other team in the Jets' own division—the Patriots, the Dolphins, even the Bills—have had some kind of dynasty. The Jets are the only team in their division that has never really had an "era," a period of dominance even in their own conference.

Like the plane in that Twilight Zone episode, the Jets seem stuck in an eternal holding pattern, always on the verge of rebuilding but never quite getting there. To paraphrase George Clemenceau on Brazil, the Jets are the team of the future—and always will be.

If the Jets don't win something this year, next September they'll be faced with a 40-year-old Favre pulling down $13 million of precious salary-cap money. Where will the Jets' rebuilding plans be then? They've mortgaged their future on a quarterback in his John McCain years who combines the intellect of Li'l Abner with the ego of Matthew McConaughey.

But what are they going to do? Cut him?

 
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