Sunday, July 13, 2008
Favre Just Can't Quit You
To me, underlying motivations of fandom are inherently different sport-to-sport. Fans of baseball root for the game's traditional and urban/rural past as much as they do for the hometown team. Just look at the stadiums we build and revere. Basketball fans marvel at the individual accomplishments of the sport's stars as much as they revel of the achievement of individual teams. And in football, fans root for the logo on the helmet regardless of who hides themselves behind the anonymous mask and beneath the hulking pads. The sport is a byproduct of a society emphasizing structural functionalism, where the position being occupied is elevated about the individual occupying the position. It is a cold view of the surrounding world, but one that is entirely accurate for American football. Only the collective, synchronized action of the men in the Honolulu blue jerseys or star-emblazoned helmets matter, not who is executing them one year to the next.
And that is what makes this Brett Favre debacle all that more interesting. For the first time in recent league history, the identity of a single player has eclipsed the importance of the larger team - and thereby the logo on the helmet. Emmitt Smith nor Joe Montana, Jerry Rice nor Kurt Warner and Joey Harrington (OK, OK, I kid with the last one...) had the same identity larger than their individual team when they moved on to a finish their accomplished careers in an all-together foreign helmet. But one gets the feeling that a move by Brett Favre would ripple across both the league and Packer Nation in a way that none of the above moves could muster collectively.
(As an aside, I just want to posit my theory on Joey Harrington. He will continue to be an asshat until he starts to go by Joe. Joey just doesn't cut it in the NFL. You think Joey Montana would have won 4 Super Bowls? Or would Tommy Brady have 3 rings and a smoking hot girlfriend? What In-N-Out burger location might Stevie Young and Jimmy Kelly be working at? Mr. Unitas is the only one to get a pass because his last name is so absolutely perfect).
Favre could cause a total identity crisis for Pack fans. Would the anger and frustration over the front office's egos be enough to - at least temporarily - drive long-time Packer fans away from the team? And really, is there anyone under age of 23 that is actually a Packers fan or is everyone born after 1985 just Brett Favre fans? I honestly think this is the quintessential question that will be answered in the coming months. He is the only thing twenty-something Packer fans have known and I can empathize with that. If Steve Yzerman had pseudo-retired and then gone to play with a different team, I would seriously have to examine my fan-lationship with the Red Wings.
I have long thought that the most egotistical drama queen in sports was Roger Clemens. His act was tired and old. And now he is reaping what he has long sowed. But I would put Favre right behind Mr. Mindy McCready. The annual indulgence with his inner-Hamlet, the unending speculation about his future, the now melodramatic good-bye on Thursday night in the 2006 season finale at Lambeau and the New Year's Eve tears on the Soldier Field turf ten days later, then his emotional press conference in March and his continual dominance of the Lions all wore on me. I just wished (and despite the Phoenician rise last season, I still do) that he would just go away. But don't you dare tell that to a Packers fan. And their insistence and loyalty to Favre will be uniquely tested in the coming season. The Packers organization has long be held as an example of David consistently competing with Goliaths and connecting in a unique and lasting way with their fan-base - from the inherited ticket policy to the community ownership structure of the front office. These nuanced issues and flawed characters make the current situation ripe for the Shakespearian pen, but the lead role in the "Merchant of Menace" has yet to the cast. Does Favre truly mean more than the oblong G so long hailed and worshiped in America's dairyland? If you are a fan of the NFL, it is a fascinating question to ponder and to see how it is played out.
It's Bat-Week. A review of The Dark Knight will be posted next weekend. The forecast is 57 levels of awesomeness.