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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

Inside the Lines: Farewell to a friend

By Adam Ludvigson
Staff Photographer

Friday, March 14, 2008

Well, Packers fans (you know who you are), we all knew this day would come. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the stuff that happened to me that day is wil be included in a "Signs You're From Wisconsin" top ten list -- I don't think I've ever gotten two text messages from my parents on the same day, and I can only imagine what the atmosphere was like in Green Bay.

The reaction on Facebook, in terms of status updates, was even more dramatic.

But Brett Favre deserves these kinds of sentimental gestures. Oh sure, a lot of this outpouring of emotion is really, really corny, but Favre is the kind of guy who somehow makes this stuff appropriate instead of cheesy. Is there a player in the NFL who played with such childlike enthusiasm? Here's a 38-year-old superstar professional athlete who still jumps up and down like a little kid when he throws a good pass.

There are so many examples of how infectious that goofy energy was -- the clip of him high-fiving that referee after a touchdown completion against the Lions was played all over the news, sports shows and Internet with titles like "Still having fun." I can't imagine many other players getting so much press time for having a great time (unless it involves a very illegal method of having fun).

It's a measure of how much people liked Favre that he managed to turn even the bad into something people can respect him for. Even in the midst of his addiction to painkill-ers and problems with alcohol, you could appreciate the way he handled it: by going fully public, admitting all his mistakes, and taking rehab seriously.

Favre also holds the record for interceptions along with touchdowns, and he certainly wasn't the kind of quarterback to play it safe. But it was that quality that made him so undeniably exciting to watch, because at the very least he wasn't timid. To end the season on a touchdown reception would have been ideal, but to end it on an interception is at least an example of that kind of willingness to take risks to win, even if they're stupid ones. It's why he holds all the records in the first place.

I remember getting out of school when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI so I could go downtown and watch their triumphant return to Green Bay, and it was great to see Favre hanging out of that bus window, grinning like an idiot and clearly just as ridiculously giddy as everyone else in the huge crowd.

Of course everyone on the team was happy, but Favre always seems to be the cheerleader for that kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm for the game. He's always acted exactly like he's living his dream, which is a great thing in a professional league that has its share of people taking it for granted.

I've heard all the criticism before, and it has been suggested to me many times that I am being stupid for trying so hard to justify some very poor decisions on his part. Plenty of people complain about the phenomenon of "Saint Favre" and the blind admiration people have for the guy, even when he's having a terrible season -- for example, Bay Park Square Mall, across from Lambeau Field, has a store that sells nothing but sentimental Packers paintings, and at least half are always of Favre alone.

It's another example of the kind of effect he's had on this team, cheesy or not.

What is concrete is his place in the Hall of Fame, his legacy and his likeability. He's come a long way from his lackluster first NFL game to becoming the symbol of everything good about the Packers.

In my case, I grew up in Green Bay, I own Packers stock, I have my cheesehead here at college with me, and my relatives feel the same way -- my grandpa has been to every Packers home game since Lambeau Field was built except for the week when he had his knees replaced, and he and my grandma were often able to take my brother and I to see Favre play -- so I'm hurting from this retirement.

I know he couldn't have gone on forever, but Favre's trick was that he could sometimes make you think it was possible. But I think everyone except the most venomous and irra-tional of Packers haters is justified in respecting Brett Favre, and I think we'll all miss him and his style to varying degrees. We can all agree we've lost a football great.

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