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Favre's return makes no sense -- and perfect sense at the same time


Well, that was a heck of a day, even by Brett Favre standards. First he mixed things up by practicing before he came back to football. Then he pre-emptively retired again!

Yes, Favre said this will be his last year in the NFL. Come on -- the man couldn't decide about this season until the third week in August. Are we really supposed to believe he has made a decision about 2011? Somebody asked Vikings coach Brad Childress if he believes Favre will stop playing after this, his 20th season, and Childress gave a brilliant answer:

"I do, yeah," Childress said. "He likes even numbers. It's 20, a nice even 20."

In other words: "I have no earthly idea, but I have to pretend I believe him or he might get mad and retire immediately, so I'll just say yes and give you a silly reason so you know that I mean no."

Really, that was good stuff on the spur of the moment. Nice work, Brad.

Childress has probably figured out what the rest of us should just accept: Brett Favre has no idea what he wants. This doesn't make him a bad guy. It doesn't make him a prima donna, although he certainly has some prima donna tendencies. It doesn't mean he's in this for the money or the attention, though he surely likes both. He just doesn't know.

I think, at this point, even Favre thinks he should have retired three years ago. But he likes playing too much to do it.

Consider this sequence of events:

In late April, Favre was told he needed ankle surgery to play again. He said this was not a surprise.

He did not have surgery until May 21.

You might have noticed that, once again, May came four months after January, when Favre's ankle was injured. A quarterback who wants to be ready for training camp does not wait four months to have surgery.

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Now, why would Favre wait four months to have surgery? Shaquille O'Neal did something like that once -- he needed toe surgery over the summer, and he scheduled it for just before training camp, because Shaq was not going to let a little thing like being ready for his job interfere with sunbathing season.

Cynics would say Favre pulled the same stunt. Favre-lovers would say he never thought the rehab would take so long, and May surgery should have given him plenty of time. I don't know -- both theories make sense. But it seems more likely to me that in Favre's mind, having surgery meant he had decided to come back, and he wasn't ready to make that decision.

Then he had the surgery, the ankle was slow to heal, and ... well, here he was on Aug. 18, showing up to camp weeks after everybody else did, and telling the media, "It's really about these guys. It really is. ... They know I've got their back."

This is absurd. Also, it's kind of true: he does have their back now. Nobody ever questioned Favre's commitment during the season. They questioned his desire to commit. I think he waited for the last possible moment because that's what you do when you can't make a decision. Have you ever started at a restaurant menu for so long that everything looks good, so you just fold up the menu and figure you'll wing it when the waiter comes to take your order? That's Favre, except instead of dinner, this is his life.

From a public relations perspective, this year's Favre return is not like last year's or the year before. Two years ago, remember, he held a big teary farewell press conference, the country emoted with him, he handed the baton to Aaron Rodgers, and then he tried to yank the baton back. Even before the Packers traded him to the Jets, Favre was losing Packers fans. And he made it worse when he tried to force a trade to the rival Vikings instead of New York.

Then last year he retired again. The Jets drafted Mark Sanchez and let Favre go. Favre talked to the Vikings about coming back, announced that he would stay retired, then came back.

This time, he didn't jilt a team. He didn't surprise anybody. He didn't even retire first, though there were several reports to that effect two weeks ago. (At the time I wrote a column begging Favre to stay retired this time. But since he didn't actually announce it, hey, I'll give the guy a pass.)

During football season, he loves to play. In the offseason, he has no idea what he wants. That's how it was for him in 2008 and 2009. It's how it was going back to 2007 and 2006 and probably before. It is that way in 2010.

And you know, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that will happen again in 2011.

"Did I just say that?" Favre asked, a few minutes after saying this will be his last season. "I do believe it now. I do. I gotta fall part sometime. I'd like to go out on top."

Then Favre took the media down a long, meandering conversational trail about what "on top" means. He said most people would say going out "on top" would be winning the Super Bowl "or an MVP or whatever." But then he said in his mind, he would have gone out on top if he retired after 2008 (when he injured his shoulder and missed the playoffs) and 2009 (when he threw one of the worst interceptions of his life in the NFC Championship Game).

At once, it made no sense and perfect sense. In his mind, Brett Favre really wants to go out on top. That's why he keeps doing it, again and again.