Here’s what is really a shame about the way Brett Favre’s extraordinary streak of 297 consecutive starts ended on Monday: It was greeted by a lot of yawns. Part of that is because of the way this season has gone for Favre: Bad team, all the questions about his text messages to the former Jets hostess; the firing of his coach; the interceptions.
But it goes beyond that. I said on a TV show on Monday about an hour before it was announced that Favre was going to be inactive that I thought he’d play. Why? Because how many times has he cried wolf before? How many times has ESPN ‘learned,’ that Favre doesn’t think he’ll play on Sunday. Or that he’s going to retire? Or that he’s REALLY going to retire?
All the drama queen stuff just got old for everyone and people almost stopped paying attention. Did you hear Favre may not play on Sunday? Oh wait, here’s another scoop, the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow.
By sheer coincidence I was at Camden Yards the night Cal Ripken Jr. finally ended his streak. After playing 2,632 games in a row and breaking—by a wide margin—what many people considered the most unbreakable record there was in sports—Ripken just decided it was time. On the last Sunday night of the 1998 season with the Orioles playing their last home game, Ripken walked into manager Ray Miller’s office and just said, “it’s time.” Miller wrote Ryan Minor’s name into the lineup at third base and The Streak came to an end.
Ripken didn’t whisper to anyone in the media that he was thinking about ending the streak or that he was hurt or that he might or might not play on a given night. In fact, Ripken was just the opposite. He preferred to NEVER talk about the streak. I still remember in 1992 when I was working on my first baseball book, I had breakfast with Ripken one morning in Milwaukee. Ripken was, I thought, very open and honest with me that season. But when I started a sentence by saying, “you know, if you stay healthy you would get to 2,130 in 1995…” he literally clapped his hands over his ears.
“Please,” he said. “I’m really superstitious. If you talk about it too much it may never happen.”
Of course it did and the night Ripken broke the record, September 6, 1995 is still one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had in a ballpark. The night he ended the streak wasn’t as dramatic—no presidents in attendance; no 22 minute pause in the game for Ripken to take a victory lap; no speeches afterwards. But I will always remember the sight of the entire ballpark coming to its feet after the first out of the game when it became official that Ripken wasn’t in the lineup to applaud for him. And I’ll never forget the sight of the Yankees all coming out of their dugout to join the ovation and pay tribute to Ripken.
Ripken always wanted the streak to end quietly. Favre wanted to MAKE SURE EVERYONE WAS PAYING ATTENTION. Of course it will be interesting to see now how the NFL handles the whole texting issue now that the streak is over. You can bet no one was more relieved than Commissioner Roger Goodell that he now doesn’t have to worry about being the one to end Favre’s streak with a suspension or be concerned that if he doesn’t see fit to suspend Favre that people will say he’s ruling that way to keep the streak intact.
The saddest part of Favre’s whole act is that it has overshadowed what may be the most remarkable iron man streak in sports history. I know you can make arguments for Ripken’s because it was over so many years and he had to go out there day after day. He never continued the streak by playing one inning or coming up once and then coming out of the game. In fact, throughout most of the streak he never missed an INNING.
That said, to play almost 19 years as an NFL quarterback without missing a game—and most of the time Favre played the entire game—is amazing. There’s some luck involved certainly, but the number of times Favre hobbled out there on days when standing up to walk out of the locker room was probably a challenge, is almost uncountable. I know from my experience spending a season with an NFL team that EVERYONE on an NFL team is hurting the last half of the season. The way Favre put himself out there and took the pounding he did time after time, year after year is a stunning feat of toughness and grit.
And yet, he will end his career more as a punch-line than as an icon. That’s not the way it should be. But it is of his own doing. He’s all but replaced ‘Hamlet,’ as the all-time ‘to be or not to be,’ character. Good night tough quarterback.
I only wish you’d given yourself a better ending.
A couple of notes to a few of my big fans…First, Caps fans: Look, I understand about hockey fans (soccer fans too). On the one hand, you get upset because your team and your sport doesn’t get enough attention. On the other hand you get apoplectic when someone who doesn’t go to 82 games every season, writes or says something about your beloved team and sport. Many of you think I’m a moron for saying the Caps could use an experienced goalie. Many of you said the EXACT same thing a year ago when I wondered if Jose Theodore was good enough to win a Stanley Cup. How’d that work out? I did NOT say that Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov will never be good, very good or even great goalies in the NHL. The question I raised was this: Are they good enough to win a Cup THIS YEAR? That’s what George McPhee must decide.
This notion that other teams have ‘figured out,’ the Caps based on last year’s Montreal series is ridiculous—with all due respect to my colleagues at The Washington Post. Check the shots-on-goal in that series. Check the serious scoring chances the Caps had vs. the serious scoring chances the Canadiens had. Those of you who said, “Hey did (Jaroslav) Halak take the Canadiens to the Cup?” the answer is no, he didn’t, just through the Caps to the conference finals as a No. 8 seed. Those who pointed out that the goalies for the Blackhawks and Flyers weren’t exactly immortals are right too. But folks, you don’t need a great goalie to win the Cup, you need a goalie playing great.
I’m old enough to remember Ken Dryden against the Bruins in 1970. A great goalie doesn’t mean you win, but it sure as hell enhances your chances. Sure, another defensemen or center would help the Caps. But to be dismissive of the notion that maybe they don’t have the goalie in place to win THIS YEAR is short-sighted—no matter how defensive Bruce Boudreau gets on the subject.
And finally, my friends who love their Hoyas: Look, I’m really not going to engage in a debate with you about why Georgetown is where it is (or isn’t) week-to-week in my poll. I will say this: Obviously, as with other voters, my view of Temple changed after it lost both California and Texas A+M in Orlando. (BTW, I wasn’t the only one who liked them pre-season; one entire POLL had them No. 8—CBS Sportsline). If anything, Temple fans might have a case I’m biased against THEM since I still had them behind Georgetown this week after they beat the Hoyas. Maybe San Diego State fans think I hate them too since I ranked them three spots beneath where they are in this week’s poll.
Here’s the larger point Hoya fans: Rather than spending time obsessing about where I (or anyone else) voted your team in a meaningless poll—Thank God, unlike in football the polls mean nothing—you should spend all that time writing to the people running Georgetown asking them how it is possible their school has categorically refused to participate in a local charity basketball tournament that in 16 years has raised more than $9 million for kids at risk in the DC area. Ask them why they have not only refused to play Maryland (yes, Gary Williams said he would play on Georgetown’s home floor as long as the building wasn’t set up ticket-wise as if it was a Georgetown home game) but at least a half-dozen other opponents including HOLY CROSS for crying out loud, that they have been offered.
Rather than spending your time ranting at me about my vote in a stupid poll (for the record, I’ve always like JT III and get along fine these days with JT Jr. we just all disagree on the charity tournament issue) you should spend your time demanding that your beloved school stop embarrassing YOU with its refusal to step up to the plate for charity in its hometown the way Maryland, George Washington, Navy, American, George Mason and Howard all have done in the past—16 straight years for Maryland and GW. You might also point out that Maryland has gone 2-8 in its last BB+T games and Gary still has his job and Maryland, last I looked, was still playing college hoops.
That is an issue that matters, not the AP basketball poll.