The hour is late. My companions and I are weary and hungry enough to gladly settle for barstools at the Indianapolis Marriott. Having just filed our stories from Lucas Oil Stadium, no one really wants to talk, much less talk about football.
Then he appears on the TV screen mounted above the high end spirits. At this point, everybody I know feels intimately acquainted with Brett Favre. We see him live in these post-game press conferences more than we see members of our own family.
I try not to use the pronouns "we" or "us." More often than not, they're used in a shameful sportswriter's trick, an appeal to common sympathies that do not exist. The writer's interests and those of the fan rarely coincide. In Favre's case, however, I'm willing to make an exception. After all, that is his great, if unintended, genius: the ability to make everybody care, to believe we each have a personal stake in him.
And perhaps never more than in Sunday's postgame presser. The sound was off, but the image was all you needed. Again, it's dreadfully familiar: the gray stubble, those earnest (if occasionally calculated) expressions, an assortment of dramatic pauses and artful self-deprecations. But this was something different. I've seen this look before, but mostly backstage in Vegas. After a good fight, even champions look like club fighters.
His face was red with streaks and blotches. It didn't take much to imagine where the purplish marks and welts would settle. The inflictors of this fresh torment, the New Orleans Saints, were going to the Super Bowl, while Favre was going home to Mississippi, once again, to contemplate a retirement that, from the early forecasts, seems likely.
For what it's worth, I've been ripping him for a couple years now. I stand by most of what I wrote. The Packers deserved better. The Jets -- who turned out to be better off with the rookie Mark Sanchez -- deserved better. Favre wasn't honest with his fans, his employers, or maybe even himself.
That said, I'd like to see him come back for another season with the Vikings. First of all, for all the self-righteous sanctimony (mine and others), I have to admit that football is more interesting with Favre in uniform. Second, his predicament here is markedly different than it's been the last couple of years. Being under contract to the Vikings, he doesn't have to weasel out of anything. Finally, this story is in desperate need of a better ending.
For the second time in three years, Favre's season ends with him throwing an interception in the NFC championship game. This one was even worse than the one he threw against the Giants, as he threw it across his body, across the field, and squandered what should have been a game-winning drive.
Given Favre's hubris, one is tempted to consider the ball he threw into the waiting arms of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter a form of poetic justice. It may be that. Then again, the only known antidote for hubris is persistence. Let me be as presumptuous as possible: at this point, the best Favre can do -- for himself and for us -- is to keep going until he can't go anymore.
He's beat up. And sure, it's a lousy time to make a decision. Still, it shouldn't be as difficult a decision as it was a year ago. He has an offensive scheme and personnel that give him a legitimate chance at a Super Bowl, which, after all, is all he claims to have wanted. Unlike last year, he doesn't require surgery. He doesn't have to weasel out of a contract. He knows he can play; he'd be returning from what was, statistically, the finest season of his career -- 33 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions.
The guy who threw away the NFC championship on Sunday (and don't forget, with two Adrian Peterson fumbles, he had more than a little help) also threw four touchdowns against Dallas just nine days ago.
Was he contemplating retirement then?
At 41, next season might end with another interception. Might be worse than the one against Saints.
But as any club fighter could tell you, the measure of a man is his willingness to risk humiliation.
Besides, it beats sitting at a barstool, waiting for last call.