As Brett Favre pondered his future this summer, three Minnesota Vikings players arrived at his Mississippi home with a last-ditch sales pitch to persuade the aging quarterback to put on his uniform for a 20th season.
But his teammates weren't selling this: With the Vikings out of the playoff chase and the once-bionic signal-caller recovering from yet another serious injury, Favre began what could well be the final week of his career with another hit — a $50,000 fine from the NFL.
The league finalized Wednesday a slow-paced investigation of tawdry allegations against the 41-year-old with a rebuke of the all-time ironman for not cooperating with the process.
After nearly three months of interviews, forensic analysis and further examination, the NFL said Commissioner Roger Goodell "could not conclude" that Favre violated the league's personal conduct policy based on the evidence available to him. Investigators were trying to determine if Favre sent inappropriate messages and below-the-belt photos to Jenn Sterger in 2008, when both worked for the New York Jets.
Forensic analysis failed to establish that Favre sent the images to Sterger, the league said, but her attorney in accusing the NFL of favoritism asserted there was "ample evidence" that the photos came from Favre.
"Today's decision is an affront to all females and shows once again that, despite tough talk, the NFL remains the good old boys' league," attorney Joseph Conway said.
Favre's punishment stems from Goodell's determination that he was "not candid in several respects during the investigation resulting in a longer review and additional negative public attention for Favre, Sterger and the NFL," the league said.
The commissioner also told Favre that if he had found a violation of the league's workplace conduct policies, he would have imposed a "substantially higher level of discipline."
There was no immediate comment from Favre and his agent, Bus Cook, did not return messages.
Vikings players had Wednesday off, and interim coach Leslie Frazier said he "never put a lot of energy or focus" on the situation.
"I can't really speak for Brett and how it has affected him on and off the field," Frazier said. "I just know that whenever he's in meetings, whenever he's on the practice field, he's been all in in every situation. I've never thought for a moment that he wasn't as prepared as well as he's prepared ever."
The league said its investigation dragged out because of difficulties in setting up interviews with "certain key individuals," the complication of retrieving and reviewing electronic records and Goodell's decision to meet with both Favre and Sterger before reaching a conclusion.
Goodell in a memo sent Wednesday to all NFL teams said that "every member of every club's staff should be able to work in an environment free of harassment or hostility, and one in which every employee is valued, respected, and given a full opportunity to contribute to the goals of the club and the NFL."
Favre's fine will help fund a new training program on workplace conduct around the league, though for the multimillionaire QB the penalty is a pittance. Even while sitting out of Tuesday's game at Philadelphia because of post-concussion symptoms, Favre essentially earned $50,000 over about five minutes of action.
According to NFLPA data, Favre's base salary for this season is $11.6 million.
The allegations against the quarterback surfaced on the website Deadspin, which posted a video Oct. 7 that included text messages and voicemails allegedly left by Favre for Sterger, including one in which he invites her to his hotel.
A former model who was a Jets gameday emcee and later appeared on the Versus television network, Sterger refused to speak on the record to the website. Weeks after the story broke, she talked with league investigators and cooperated fully, according to her manager Phil Reese.
The investigation was also limited in several respects because the matter was not brought to its attention until two years after it allegedly occurred, the league said.
The ruling came days before what could be the final game for the three-time MVP. He'll start at Detroit Sunday, but only if he's recovered from a concussion sustained 10 days ago in a game against Chicago.
Though he has infamously unretired before, Favre has said repeatedly this season is his last. He made the declaration even before his NFL record for consecutive starts was snapped at 297 in mid-December.
With 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, Favre's passer rating of 69.9 ranks ahead of only Arizona's Derek Anderson and rookie Jimmy Clausen of Carolina.
Favre also has been battered by injuries to his ankle, chin, ribs, back, head and throwing shoulder — the one that forced him to finally miss a start, against the New York Giants on Dec. 13. But despite all his troubles, Favre has said all along that he did not regret coming back.
"If you had seasons like you did last year, every year," he said recently, "I don't think you would appreciate them nearly as much."
Frazier said the Vikings would love to see Favre play against the Lions.
"He's a very competitive guy, as we all know," Frazier said. "I approached him last night in pregame. We were watching the offense warm up and I said, 'Hey, I know those competitive juices are flowing, aren't they?' He started laughing and said, 'Yes, they are.' And that's not going to change. It's just a matter of if he can physically do it or not. He'd like to finish on the football field as opposed to watching. That's just who he is."