You have been my favorite athlete and my sporting hero since I was six. But, now, and only now, am I compelled to write you a letter. And it’s not fan mail.
Brett, your ongoing affair with football has gone past being just one to remember. You’ve created a fiasco that’s going to be more damaging to your legacy than any postseason interception could ever be, and you’ve stretched this past anything resembling a breaking point, leaving even words like “saga” and “ordeal” inadequate descriptors.
You’re the gunslinger of lore, sure, but in this incarnation, Brett, you’re the grizzled old gambler, never quite sure when to run, now holding losing cards and waiting an eternity for the other guy to blink.
And now, there’s one great out.
There’s an out for you, an out for the Green Bay Packers, an out for the NFL, and an out for the greater good of humanity.
See, it’s not a question of whether the Packers would let you play. Clearly, they’re committed to Aaron Rodgers as the starter, but if you had merely ignored their request for more time, applied for reinstatement last week, and come into camp with the attitude towards football you’ve shown in recent weeks and even three-fourths of the talent you possessed no less recently than January, the team would have had a backup better than their starter, and photographic proof of it.
In that position, with you looking for all the world like you could deal with trying to win (and, let’s not kid ourselves, winning) your job back, they would have faced fan backlash of an unimaginable degree. The only reason Ted Thompson effigies aren’t being sold in Milwaukee Targets is because you screwed that one up.
By not understanding that not even you, arguably the most important player/figure/icon in NFL history, is bigger than the simple rule of Darwinism, not comprehending that you needed to be open to the idea of proving your skills over one last summer rather than waltzing back into your starter’s role, you gave the Packers the upper hand.
They gave you as many chances to come back to them as possible; when you rejected that, rejected the terms of your employer for your continued employment, you lost what little authority you could have had.
And thus, I can’t blame the Packers for trying to make their situation as good as possible while letting you twist in the wind, gab to Greta van Susteren, and give ESPN their chance to take down your laurels and discover some of their imperfections.
There had been whispers that you were holding the Packers’ future hostage with your will-I-or-won’t-I dance with retirement in recent years, that your quest to get the Packers to stock up on playmakers for one last Super Bowl run was as quixotic as trying to get Amy Winehouse off drugs.
But you were right on the second front. Last year, a young Packers team you helmed was legitimately in the NFL’s top five for the whole season, and came up one poor fourth quarter and an awful overtime interception short of that Super Bowl berth.
And next year, with the team’s young core a year more seasoned, looked even brighter.
Then, in the shadows of one of your career’s most crushing losses, you put your usual pair of off-season shades on, retired to Mississippi, then, tears streaming, voice cracking, retired from football.
The whispers were confirmed, quietly, as the Packers etched your name in the proper places and sighed their relief that your soap opera was over.
And then, you changed your mind, and, though you had every opportunity to return to the team, compete for your job, and, in two days, return everything to its normal state by simply outclassing Aaron Rodgers, you raised, counting that the Packers front office wouldn’t call your legend status.
In any other year, they wouldn’t have. But Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson, bolstered by the evidence that their rebuilding plan, their change, contributed to the improvement of the team more than your play, the constant, could, did the unthinkable.
So here we, Brett, at the final table of this tortuous, torturous tournament, and it’s you and the other guy, and it’s for all the marbles, the whole enchilada, for your legacy as a football player, for your legacy as a Packer, for your future as either the legendary messiah of the green and gold or the pariah who parted ways acrimoniously and blew up bridges because burning them wouldn’t have been enough, and, INCREDIBLY, that guy’s given you one last chance to walk away from the table and is willing to pay a king’s ransom for that result.
You would be a fool not to consider your options, of course.
You could re-raise, and show up at camp, let all hell break loose, come back to the game as a Viking or a Bear, play with people you sort of know, go 8-8 this year and re-retire in late December, kicking yourself for believing it would be different.
You could hold, and be traded to the Jets or Buccaneers, struggle behind substandard offensive lines, feel totally alien in either of two very different cities, cultures, and locker rooms, and come in third in the AFC East or bow out in the first round of the playoffs after winning the NFC South. You might hang around for a year either place, hoping it gets better. But it won’t.
You could fold, and go back to mowing your lawn and firing footballs through tire swings, wearing in another scarlet swooshed hat as you work your handicap down to single digits. But, really, that’s just leaving money on the table, makes you look stupid, and leaves everyone exasperated instead of satisfied.
You’ve already passed the point of sharing the pot, coming back to the Packers, giving you your and the team its best chance at a Super Bowl and most comfortable situation, and writing one last fitting coda to your story after a bizarre twist.
But, in true Hollywood fashion, your best option is the one that wasn’t on the table until the last minute. You’re holding $20 million cards, and you don’t even need to flip them over to claim the prize.
You go home and build some schools and houses, becoming the single biggest Hurricane Katrina relief donor. The Packers go to make the playoffs this year, falling short of the Super Bowl but getting close enough to get there in 2009 or 2010. Roger Goodell doesn’t have to go off his meds and hold someone in contempt of the People’s Great NFL Imperial Court to stop you from wearing a different jersey. Fans everywhere go on with their lives. ESPN goes on to produce a twelve-part miniseries chronicling this July, and John Clayton finally gets his proper portrayal: Phillip Seymour Hoffman goes on to win an Emmy for the role.
Take my advice, Brett. Go. Do it. Take the money.