Weekly Column: The Favre and Vick Sagas
pblackwell, Fri, July 31st, 2009
Two autumns ago, they were at such extreme ends of the spectrum, having only the common bond of being NFL quarterbacks. One was a disgrace. The other was a deity.
Michael Vick had the disgrace part nailed down, sent to federal prison for his role in a dogfighting ring, condemned in a way few athletes ever had been. He was no longer a person, but rather a symbol of an athlete, given too much, who threw it all away.
At that exact same time, Brett Favre was beginning his 16th season in Green Bay, about to lead the Packers to the brink of the Super Bowl, one more inspired run by an old man holding the NFL records for completions, yards and touchdowns. He had never missed a start since taking over in September 1992. He was untouchable.
Less than two years later, look where we stand. Vick is a free man, his time served. Even with Roger Goodell’s virtual shackles, he could return to the NFL, if some team is brave enough to take him. Still, his reputation is in tatters, likely never to fully heal.
The supreme irony, of course, is that if Vick is, indeed, humbled by his jail time, gets his chance to return and behaves, he might end up looking better than Favre.
From the moment Corey Webster intercepted that wayward Favre pass on a subzero night at Lambeau Field in that NFC title game in January 2008, no. 4 has done his level best to turn himself from legend to laughingstock. And it’s his fault, no one else’s.
First came the tearful retirement in Green Bay, spring ’08. Oh, if only it had ended there. This was the way Jim Kelly, John Elway, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, and Steve Young left – once they knew they were done, they left, and did not return. Reputations intact, not to mention their bodies in one functional piece.
At some point, though, Favre changed his mind. The fact that it took months, and Green Bay had already had moved on to Aaron Rodgers, somehow got lost on Favre. Perhaps here was when he went all diva, proclaiming himself bigger than any mere mortal player, certainly a GM like Ted Thompson.
Drooling for a future Canton enshrinee, Minnesota and Tampa Bay went whole hog for Favre, but he decided instead to go to the AFC, the Jets, and New York City- who greeted him as the second coming of Namath.
That may have been true for a few games, but by the end Favre looked every bit the part of a man pushing 40, dragging the Jets from a possible AFC East title to out of the playoffs altogether. So he quit again, one year too many, we thought.
Only the Vikings returned, playing to Favre’s considerable ego and tempting him to gain full revenge on Thompson and his Packers. This went on for months, and we heard about it close to every single day, two sides stringing each other along until, at the last minute, Favre decided to stay in Mississippi.
During all this, our desire to see Favre play has vanished, replaced by a desire that he just go away. Toward the end, it all became about himself, and if indeed he had gone to Minnesota, the Vikings would become secondary to Brett and his Quest For Payback. We’ll see if Tarvares Jackson and Sage Rosenfels were traumatized by all this flirtation. If one of them steps up, the Vikings could still be a Super Bowl contender.
Meanwhile, Michael Vick sits out there, and the debate over whether he should be back in the NFL is more intense than the Favre saga. Some feel that no amount of punishment is enough. Others feel like enough already, give him a chance.
Goodell can claim he’s giving Vick a fair chance to return, but is he? What if teams too afraid of the PR backlash simply shun him? With the suspension handed down (he could return in Week 6, or sooner, or maybe not at all), Goodell has given himself the leeway to shut Vick out completely, even if nothing goes wrong. That’s going too far.
The commissioner’s apologists can defend his power grab all they want, but this sets a dangerous precedent, and the players’ union knows it. It’s one thing if Vick didn’t go through the criminal justice system (the way other NFL players in trouble have skated), but he did, and paid a steep price that others have not.
What’s to stop Goodell from laying down the hammer on any transgressor for any real or imagined sin against the “shield”? Nothing, at this point, for punishments he doles out are at his sole discretion with no arbitration, no chance for the union to appeal. Sure, the NFL is a private business and can do what it wants, but at least a small amount of fairness wouldn’t hurt.
Michael Vick’s fate will be closely scrutinized, whether he returns to football or not. In my view, he should play again, for if he can help a team win, stay clean and pay all of his legal debts, who are we to say he shouldn’t? Just as important, though, is to see if Goodell really is playing fair with an open door for Vick to return, or will slam it shut just to flex his own muscles.
Either way, the sagas of Vick, and Brett Favre, haven’t ended, for Favre has (groan) hinted at a possible mid-season return if some team is desperate (or foolish) enough to want him. And the circus resumes, as two men with shattered reputations try to find some way out.