The seemingly endless soap opera that has become Brett Favre's football life continued this week in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he has been testing his arm by throwing to a bunch of impressed high school kids as one of the Minnesota Vikings' coaches watched. It has for weeks seemed a foregone conclusion that Favre would return to the NFL in the uniform of the Vikings this fall in an effort to torment his old employers, the Green Bay Packers. His decision to undergo minor surgery six weeks ago to repair a torn bicep muscle signalled his desire to return play again and it has long been clear that the one place he was willing to do so was in Minnesota under his old friend, head coach Brad Childress.
Yet still he remains unsigned, saying this week he might not know for sure if he will return for a 20th season until the day the Vikings open training camp July 30. People close to Favre have said he wants to be sure he will be "pain free'' and throwing like he used to before attempting a return to the NFL after the dismal end to his year last season, when his arm and the offence of the New York Jets fell apart simultaneously with a play-off spot one victory away.
NEWS BULLETIN TO BRETT FAVRE: men who have played 19 years in the National Football League will never be "pain free'' again. This is especially true if, like Favre, you have played quarterback all those years. Favre has absorbed more bumps than the shock absorbers on a pick-up truck. He has been knocked down more often than Manny Pacquiao's sparring partners. His job, or at least the way he performed it so admirably, has never been one where "pain free'' would be associated.
So if, at 39, he's waiting for the morning he wakes up and feels like he's 19, he will be waiting for a long time. The Vikings have been patiently willing to do so it seems, with Childress defending what has now become the third straight off-season of angst for Favre, but time is running out on both of them and only one thing is clear: where once Brett Favre held the football now it is holding him.
He can't let go but he also doesn't want to repeat the sad final four weeks of his stay with the Jets, when his arm was aching and unable to fling the ball downfield as it once did and his mind was tired and unfocused. Several of his teammates criticised him after the season for being distant, and, by the end, not really a Jet. He has denied that but the larger question is does he still want to play pro football or just say he's still a football player?
There is a serious distinction between the two because the former comes armed with two unavoidable things - pain and mind-numbing boredom on every day but game day. For a player like Favre, who is a sure Hall of Famer five years after he retires (if he ever does), the endless meetings and practices that accompany each week of an NFL season seldom hold anything new. He has seen everything a defence can throw at him and he's thrown over most of it with great success. Hence, he yawns a lot.
At that stage the only thing left of interest are the games, but to be successful a player must accept the rest of what comes with it. The surgery Favre underwent last month surely has alleviated some of the aching in his bicep but if it's pain he's trying to avoid, or youth he's trying to find, he needs to avoid pro football. In the end then the choice he faces is clear. Is the pain of not playing worse than the pain of playing? Not even Brett Favre seems to know the answer to that.