Walking away their way

Someday when I retire, I’d like it to be on my terms. I’d like not to be laid off or given the “choice” of being reassigned to the e-mailroom at half the salary, or shown the proverbial door in any number of ways companies dispose of older workers while trampling on their dignity.

So I get Brett Favre just like I understood Michael Jordan, even while I was rolling my eyes.

I understand how someone who has attained a level of success well beyond their peers has a hard time walking away from what they love to do and just as significantly, walk out of the spotlight. And I understand how when they do decide to go, they want to do it their way.

Both Favre, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and Jordan, an NBA Hall of Fame inductee, retired and came back, talked about coming back and didn’t. Both played beyond their prime. And both annoyed the cynics among us with their indecision and capriciousness.

By the time Favre finally convinced all of us he is really, truly not returning to football as he announced this week, even his fans were yelling, “So, leave already.” It was the same way Jordan fans debated whether his final years with Washington somehow tarnished his legacy.

On talk shows, some smart people and some not, speculated that it wasn’t football that Favre craved at all, but the attention all of his waffling was creating.

This is Brett Favre, one of the most acclaimed and beloved players in history. No one but Bears fans hated Favre and they would have knocked off any one of their many stumblebum quarterbacks in a heartbeat at the chance of putting Favre in a Chicago jersey.

Both Favre, who is almost 40, and Jordan, who retired at 40, were sore and arguably broken down when they retired, though Favre could probably still rank in the upper echelon of quarterbacks if he played this season. Jordan averaged 20 points on 45 percent shooting in his last season, scored 40 or more points on three occasions, and despite the fact that his Washington Wizards team was dreadful, they still sold out every home game in his last season.

But was the end the way they envisioned?

Jordan scored 15 points in his last game. Favre, who threw six touchdown passes against Arizona in the fourth week of last season, was intercepted eight times and threw for two touchdowns in his last five games.

They walked away somewhat awkwardly, hesitatingly, without the full acclaim Favre would have had if he had chosen 2007 as his last season, and Jordan, 1998.

That was the Bulls’ sixth NBA title and the moment that is forever frozen in our minds as we picture Jordan’s last moment of glory; the perfect ending as he stole the ball from Utah’s Karl Malone, dribbled upcourt and sank the game-winning three-pointer from the top of the key, his follow-through held just long enough for the dramatic flourish it deserved.

That would have been the perfect time for Jordan to hang it up, we said.

The ’07 season was the one in which Favre broke Dan Marino’s all-time NFL record for touchdown passes, led Green Bay to a 13-3 regular-season record, the division title and a berth in the NFC Championship game, which they lost in overtime.  But that was also the game in which Favre extended his NFL record for consecutive playoff games with a touchdown pass to 18, that last one a 90-yard pass to Donald Driver that was the longest in Packers’ playoff history.

That would have been a perfect time for Favre to leave, we said.

But it wasn’t right, at least for them. And they were willing to risk perfect endings for walking away when their hearts finally told them they had no other choice. As hard as it must have been, there was no question anymore, no doubts. On their own terms.

The way we’d all wish for ourselves.

3 Responses to “Walking away their way”

  1. Margie

    So good to see you writing your take on the sports scene. Thanks

  2. Frank

    Melissa – An article that hits home with me. I’m 63 and want to make it to 65. I would like to be my terms.
    Some how with the company I work for, after 23 years, I kind of doubt I’ll make it.
    Michael and Brett. I watched them both. To go out on top is the best in careers like theirs. The sad part is when they come back, play good, but not as we remember them. The sad part like some athletes in the past, Willie Mays I think of right away, he was one of the all time greats, yet most remember him in a World Series, already older, tripped over third base, thrown out at home plate. Not for all the great plays he made in his prime. I’m not sure if the athletes miss being in the limelight or do they truly love playing or both. We see it as fans, we are not playing like them for a living. Time will tell for all of us.


  3. Gail

    I argued the same points among my friends who chastised Favre for his indecision. I asked them if they had to give up something they’ve loved doing for 30+ years, would they not have second, third and fourth thoughts?


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