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Timing is everything

They say the best entertainers always seem to have that innate sense of timing for when to exit the stage, leaving you wanting to see just a little more and wishing the show would go on a little longer. That's the secret they all know: Don't make the mistake of staying to the point where everybody's seen enough and has no desire for more. The great ones end on a high note and just walk off.

Today, that's the part I think Brett Favre got just right. The news of his retirement leaves us wanting a little more, rather than suffused with the feeling that we've all seen enough. There's a certain skill to that.

Jerry Rice couldn't manage it, bouncing from San Francisco to Oakland to Seattle to Denver at the end. Emmitt Smith wrapped up with those two painfully ineffective seasons in Arizona, and Dan Marino in the late '90s was a shell of the Dan the Man that we had come to revere, leaving with the bitter taste of that 62-7 playoff shellacking at Jacksonville.

But Favre wrote himself the perfect ending with his renaissance season of 2007, and he was smart enough to recognize it when he did. One final sweet victory lap of sorts. A last chance to prove to himself and to all the doubters that he could still get it done, and play like the Favre of old, albeit with a tad more discipline and discernment.

No, it wasn't completely the stuff of storybooks. The Packers lost at home in the cold of overtime to the Giants in the NFC title game, with Favre throwing the ill-advised and game-deciding interception. But that loss, no matter how excruciating for the Packers and their fans, didn't wipe out the glorious 4½-month magic carpet ride Favre and Green Bay went on in 2007.

The lasting image of Favre's final season, of course, will be that snow-fest against Seattle at Lambeau in the NFC divisional round. It was a holiday post-card come to life, with No. 4 playing and jumping around like the little kid he tended to be in such settings. Had the Packers gone on even to win the Super Bowl, I'm not sure we could have ever had a moment to top Favre besting his old Packers coach, Mike Holmgren, in a blizzard at Lambeau. It seemed almost too good to be true, and maybe now we all understand why.

Only a handful of NFL players truly leave a void when they leave the game. There have been many greats in the 88 seasons of the NFL, but very few irreplaceables. Johnny Unitas was one. Jim Brown another. Walter Payton comes to mind. And now we can add to that list Favre, whose story was always about more than just his strong right arm and playmaking skills.

He wasn't always the best quarterback in the game, sometimes far from it. Both early and late in his career, he was mistake-prone and too often stubborn to a fault. And for some reason, I love how you never heard anyone talking up Favre's cerebral approach to the game. He wasn't out there doing a lot of thinking. He was too busy playing. Reacting. And yes -- dare we say it? -- having fun. Thanks to John Madden, it's horribly clichéd by now, but still true.

From his earliest days in the NFL, Favre was always entertaining, always watchable. He made you think that if you turned away from the TV screen, you just might miss something you had never seen before, and might never again. He seemed to fit our perception of how an NFL player should look when he was out there on the field doing what he did best. He competed like a guy who never really knew any other way to play the game, from Pop Warner all the way to the NFL. For Favre, it was all just one long continuous grass stain on his knee.

The guessing game that Favre's retirement watch had become the past three years or so bored me out of my mind. The tea leaf reading and "informed'' speculation got so very old. At times, Favre was to blame, for stringing out his decision-making process, and at times the damnable 24/7 news cycle was the culprit, making us all talk and talk about something, even when we're devoid of real news.

But now that that particular game is over, and Favre's retirement has been set in motion, I can't help but recognize the irony involved. In recent years, as Favre's play declined and the Packers struggled, we kept thinking that those would be the key factors in his decision to step away from the game. Instead, he kept coming back. Kept trying to win again, and to play up to his previous Hall-of-Fame standards.

And then he did, last season. The Packers won again, and Favre flashed so much of his old magic. With a young and potential-laden team around him, it seemed like retirement would be the last thing on his mind this offseason. I thought for sure he couldn't walk away with so much going for him now, having endured the lean years in Green Bay.

So of course, he did. He said no to the lure of more glory -- something few professional athletes ever overcome -- and called it a career after the memorable comeback season that added an exclamation point to his legacy. He's leaving on a high note, just like all great entertainers do. We might all want more, but he's smart not to give it to us. In the past 17 years, we've seen more than enough from Favre, and that'll just have to do. It was his show all along, and knowing just when to end it was his last good call.

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