FOX Sports first reported Tuesday that the Green Bay Packers quarterback informed the team in the last few days. ESPN.com said that according to Favre’s agent the quarterback told coach Mike McCarthy of his decision.
The team did not immediately confirm or deny the report. An assistant to Packers general manager Ted Thompson said he was in meetings all day but would release a statement later Tuesday morning.
The news was a surprise to at least one of Favre’s teammates. Most players expected Favre to return after a successful 2007 season.
“I just saw it come across the TV,” Packers wide receiver Koren Robinson said, when reached on his cell phone by The Associated Press.
The 38-year-old Favre, a three-time NFL MVP and one of the NFL’s grittiest players, has made his annual flirtation with retirement a winter tradition in Wisconsin. He has taken weeks and even months to make his decision after recent seasons, with Cheeseheads hanging on his every word.
But unlike the final game of the 2006 season—when Favre provided a cliffhanger by getting choked up in a television interview as he walked off the field in Chicago, only to return once again—nearly everyone assumed he would be back this time. They were wrong.
Only two years removed from perhaps his worst season, Favre had a resurgence in 2007. He broke several career records. Among them was Dan Marino’s career mark for career touchdown passes. He powered the Packers to an NFC North title and a 13-3 regular-season record and earned his ninth Pro Bowl spot.
Surrounded by an underrated group of wide receivers who proved hard to tackle after the catch, Favre had a career-high completion percentage of 66.5. He threw for 4,155 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions.
It was a remarkable turnaround from 2005, Favre’s final season under former head coach Mike Sherman, when he threw a career-worst 29 interceptions as the Packers went 4-12.
Given Favre’s career resurgence, it was widely assumed that he was leaning toward returning for the 2008 season.
He even said as much just before the Packers’ Jan. 12 divisional playoff game against Seattle, telling his hometown newspaper that he wasn’t approaching the game as if it would be his last and was more optimistic than in years past about returning.
“For the first time in three years, I haven’t thought this could be my last game,” Favre told the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald. “I would like to continue longer.”
Those comments sent premature shock waves across the state—all the way up to the governor’s office, where the political version of a false start was committed.
“Like all Packer fans, I am thrilled that Brett Favre will return to action next year for the green and gold,” Gov. Jim Doyle said in a statement. “Brett Favre’s tremendous work ethic and willingness to go out and play hard every day represent the true spirit of Wisconsin. I am hopeful that with this announcement behind us, Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers can focus on the task at hand: defeating the Seattle Seahawks.”
The governor’s office later amended the statement to say Doyle was “excited to hear Brett Favre talking about returning to action next year.”
It was another example of the state’s fascination with the future of its favorite quarterback.
Favre then finished the season on a sour note, suddenly showing his age in the Packers’ 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game.
Favre struggled in subzero temperatures, throwing an interception on the Packers’ second play from scrimmage in overtime to set up the Giants’ game-winning field goal.
After that game, Favre was noncommittal on his future. McCarthy said he wanted Favre to take a step back from the season before making a decision. But it was widely assumed he would be back.
“I think he’s going to come back,” Packers receiver Donald Driver said in early January. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back. He’s having a great year, so it’d be great to see him come back if he decides to.”
Retiring Packers chairman Bob Harlan figured Favre would be back, too.
“Yeah, I think he’ll be back,” Harlan said, on his final official day as the Packers’ top executive. “And I felt that way the last couple years, when we’ve had these long debates about it. I just think he’s such a competitor that as long as he feels he can compete, he’s going to keep coming back.”
Still, in the week leading to the playoff game against Seattle, Favre said his injuries were starting to linger.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Favre said. “I wake up some days and think I can’t even touch my toes. I think about that. I think, well, next year is not going to be like some refreshing, awakening season where all of a sudden you’re going to feel great. That’s not going to happen.
“I carry some of these things with me that maybe you wouldn’t see. I tend to dwell on them, at least internally, more than I used to. I don’t write them off as quickly as I used to.”