It's unfortunate that when I'll try to explain to my grandkids in sixty years what it was like to watch Brett Favre start 275 consecutive games, nothing I can say will make them completely understand just how much Brett Favre meant to Packer fans. I'll tell them about the memories, the games, the records. I'll tell them about the addiction to painkillers, the battles of his family, the death of his father. I'll tell them about his first touchdown, the Super Bowl win, and the day he retired. But I'm not sure I'll be able to tell them how much he meant to Packer fans.
Because I'm not sure I'll be able to put it into words.
There's a reason ESPN turned it's entire day of programming over to Brett Favre on the day he retired. There's a reason local television news reporters like myself, all throughout Wisconsin, ran around town asking people about the retirement. And there's a reason the words "Brett Favre" and "retirement", when used together, can bring tears to the eyes of grown men.
To the generation that sat through the awful Packer teams of the 70's and 80's, Favre was the symbol of the rebirth of the franchise. Favre was the leader of a team that won a Super Bowl after 30 years of disappointment. Favre was "just a kid" running around on the field of grown men, reminding them that anything was possible.
To the younger generations, Favre is the only quarterback they have ever known to be associated with the Green Bay Packers. Favre is a symbol of their childhood. Favre is their idol. Favre is someone they've been able to look up to, whether they played football or not.
I'm not trying to be poetic, or even to try to overstate things. I mean it when I say Favre was more than just a football player. Favre was someone you identified with, someone who was almost a part of you. I can't tell you how many Brett Favre themed programs I've watched, and how I still laugh at the anecdotes everytime. Or how I still get goosebumps everytime I watch any highlight that results with Favre putting two arms up in the air and running around with his big Brett Favre smile.
This is a career that wasn't supposed to happen. Had Favre's dad coached his high school team less option-oriented, Favre could have displayed more of his talents and been recruited by a bigger school than Southern Mississippi. Had the Falcons not taken him in the 1991 draft, Favre would have surely began his career as a New York Jet. Had Don Majkowski never been injured one September Sunday, Favre may have never got the chance to start for the Green Bay Packers.
But 17 years after his first paycheck from an NFL franchise, Favre has left an imprint on the league, and on the Packers organization, that few before him ever had. Brett. Favre. Just saying those words puts a smile on any Packer fan's face. And even if you're not a fan of him as a football player, or if you're sick of the media's undying love for him, there is no one that doesn't respect the guy. You respect what he's battled through off the field, you respect the charitable work he has devoted himself to, and you respect the way he played the game.
But as he leaves the game he no longer feels he is mentally prepared to play, Packers fans are left to wonder. What will the future of the franchise be without Number Four taking the snaps? Will his successor, or his successor's successor, or any Packer quarterback from here on out ever meet the accomplishments of the three time National Football League's Most Valuable Player? And come on Brett, are you sure you don't want to give it one more shot?
The years in front of the Green Bay Packers are going to be heavily scrutinized without Favre as their leader. He's been the face of a franchise for 16 years, but the only time we'll ever see him play in the Packer uniform ever again will be on a highlight reel of days past. Now, after 442 touchdowns, 61,655 passing yards, 160 wins, and one Super Bowl Championship later, the Brett Favre era comes to and end.
I'll be able to recite the numbers, I'll be able to relive the memories, but I don't think I'll ever be able to describe what he meant.
You just kind of had to be there.