Author: Nathan Schradle
In the ancient world, cultures turned to their warriors to be their heroes. The songs the poets sung were of their victories and defeats on the fields of battle. Given the modern political landscape, it is plain to see that Americans find it difficult to sing the praises of modern-day warriors because so many of them find fault in modern-day wars. Nevertheless, the American people still need their heroes and we often turn to athletes to fill the void left by Achilles, Beowulf, and the old heroic mode.
Thus, the selection of favorite teams and players is no small matter, for, in America, athletes become an image of what America values. Do we value success and accomplishment? Do we value style and flashy displays of skill? Do we value multi-million dollar salaries? Or do we value athletes who embody the joyful spirit of competition and fair play that lie at the idealistic heart of the capitalist system? If it’s the latter—and I hope it is—then the man who should be our nation’s hero is not receiving his due. Allow me to rectify the situation.
I speak of course of Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre, the lone professional athlete worthy of the epithet “the modern-day Hector.” There are a lot of people out there who still talk trash about Favre and that is ridiculous. If success is your thing, then Favre has clearly enjoyed it. His skill and accomplishment are both strongly attested to. As the only athlete to win the NFL MVP three years in a row, his streak with the Green Bay Packers in the late ’90s is still considered one of the best by any quarterback at any era. He holds almost every significant record for quarterbacks, and by the end of this season will have passed all of Dan Marino’s seemingly untouchable records.
Also, Favre plays with the “reckless abandon” that symbolizes both the Homeric mode—which is now sadly lost—and the competitive joie de vivre that I would like to credit our own culture with. He delights in each of his successes, celebrating each touchdown with leaps and ecstatic pointed fingers. He blocks, unlike most quarterbacks, by throwing himself at defensive linemen and linebackers with the confidence of a man accustomed to winning by sheer force of will. Upon throwing an interception, Favre races to make the tackle with the same energy he shows on offense.
However, Favre is not only a modern-day Achilles rising above the fray to achieve what no man has achieved before. He is also a modern-day Hector, whose heroic on-field displays stand for more than his own excellence. Just as Hector’s death signals the fall of Troy, Favre’s success or failure directly parallels the success or failure of the Green Bay Packers. During the time in which Favre won his three MVP awards, the Packers reached the Super Bowl twice and emerged as World Champions in the 1996 season. Over the last several years, the Packers have moved further and further towards the basement of the NFC, as Favre has struggled. Favre, however, appears to have found the fountain of youth this season and the Pack is looking at another Super Bowl run.
It is true that recent years—until his 2007 renaissance—had not been good to Favre. He refused to acknowledge on the field his own decline in skill and often attempted to carry the Packers in ways which one man cannot do alone. His fate, as Hector’s, seemed to be watching past glories be replaced by fresh failures—failures which were created by his own ambitious aims. Had this trend continued, I would understand, and possibly even forgive, the American people’s refusal to embrace him as their Hector.
However, this season marks the return to form that all the Favre faithful have been holding out for. Anyone who doubts that he still possesses the energy and excitement for the game that marked his early career need only watch his reaction as he surpassed Dan Marino’s touchdown record earlier this season. Better yet, his game-winning overtime TD against Denver. He dropped back in the pocket, launched the ball down field and, peering at his throw as only a man expectantly bearing witness to his own greatness can, began the long sprint to the end zone to celebrate his 82-yard game-winning touchdown grinning wildly like a man swept up in a Dionysian fervor. Show me one time that Tom Brady has done that.
I end this tract where it began—we need heroes, to remind us of the ideals we hold dear, even when political and societal realities don’t necessarily line up with them. We need new and more interesting heroes to emerge as well. But it is important that we not overlook the ones we already have. We must pay homage where it is due. I ask you all, with the best interests of our nation at heart, to stop the “he’s old and washed up” and “no way he’s ever keeping those records” talk and embrace Brett Favre for the legend that he is and that he is still becoming.
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