The dog days of summer may be the NFL and NBA offseason, but we’ve learned it’s the perfect time for stabbing loyal fans in the back.
Brett Favre may have trademarked the "Summer Bummer" for his most ardent supporters, but LeBron James took it to a whole new diabolical level.
Which brings us to the question: Which is worse for a fan, death by a thousand cuts (Favre) or one swift decapitation (LeBron)?
As raw as the wound in Cleveland may still be, what LeBron did to Cavaliers fans was actually far more merciful than the thumbscrews Favre twisted through the flesh and bone of the good people of Wisconsin.
To properly understand what Favre and LeBron have done, let’s apply the good ol’ sports-figures-and-fans-as-lovers metaphor, a hoary analogy for the whore-y athletes of our time.
When Favre and Packers fans met in 1992, they were both needy. Favre was coming out of a stormy one-year relationship with the Falcons and erratic coach Jerry Glanville. Packers fans were coming out of a loveless, 23-year, post-Lombardi relationship with Scott Hunter, Jerry Tagge, John Hadl, Lynn Dickey, David Whitehurst, Randy Wright, Don Majkowski, Anthony Dilweg and Mike Tomczak.
In the third week of the ’92 season, Favre replaced Majkowski, threw two fourth-quarter TD passes in a comeback win over the Bengals and the Gunslinger and the Cheeseheads were officially going steady.
After a Super Bowl title following the ’96 season and a relentless assault on the NFL record book over 16 seasons in Green Bay, most assumed Favre and Packers Nation would grow old together on the back porch watching their little Cheesehead grandchildren play touch football.
But there were signs of trouble in paradise. Not Bombshell McGee signs maybe, but little hints the QB just wasn’t that into you, Packers Fan.
Favre’s “I most definitely can quit you” saga began after the 2005 season, when he told ESPN: “If I had to pick right now and make a decision, I would say I’m not coming back.”
An elite athlete worrying that he could no longer compete at an elite level didn’t necessarily mean he’d fallen out of love with the team’s great fans, did it? (No, because that would suggest that he’d ever fallen in love with them in the first place.) The red flag for Green Bay fans was buried deeper in that first story when Favre said if the team wasn’t comfortable preparing for the draft and training camp without knowing if he was coming back they should “cut [him] loose.”
See what he did?
He put the team in an untenable position and then dared it to be the bad guy. That first year, perhaps fearing the backlash of Favre’s worshipping fans, the Packers blinked. His plan to have them break up with him hadn’t panned out.
Favre played the ’06 season at level par, going 8-8 with 18 TD passes and 18 picks. His tearful TV interview as he walked off the field in Chicago on the final day of the ’06 season once again toyed with the raw emotions of his devotees.
It had become a marriage in which one party unilaterally decided that vows needed to be reaffirmed every year and he’d make his decision at the altar.
With Packers fans on high “baby, please don’t go” alert, Favre once again returned for the 2007 season. With Packers Nation welcoming him back to its tender bosom, Favre rewarded that unwavering faith by leading the Pack to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship Game.
It didn’t even matter that his last pass of the season was a wobbly duck picked off by Corey Webster in OT, setting up the Giants’ game-winning field goal. Favre was back. The Pack was back. Love was in the air.
So why was Favre crying in his postgame interview with Andrea Kremer? Oh no, not again.
Just when all the couples counseling seemed to be producing results, Favre was eyeing the exit lustfully.
A month after that NFC title game loss, Favre made it official – or official-ish – on Chris Mortensen’s voicemail. “I know I can still play, but it’s like I told my wife, I’m just tired mentally. I’m just tired.”
Translation: “I’m tired of you, Green Bay.”
How appropriate that Favre invoked his wife in the message ostensibly ending his marriage with the Packers. But after announcing his retirement on March 4, 2008, with yet another leaky news conference, Favre reached out to the team on July 2 about returning to the Packers.
Weary of the annual jerking around, the Packers had changed the locks and had a small, quiet commitment ceremony with Aaron Rodgers.
Favre, meanwhile, was suddenly very gung-ho to play football in 2008, asking for his unconditional release so he could go join a contender. Despite rumors and accusations that Favre had begun a tryst with the rival Vikings via illicit phone calls with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and possibly head coach Brad Childress, the Gunslinger accepted a trade to the New York Jets.
I mean, even the most heartless cad wouldn’t take up with his ex-wife’s conniving archenemy, right?
No way. Not until 2009.
If Favre had been slowly tweezing Packers fans to death beginning after the ’05 season, he callously stabbed them in the chest when he entered Lambeau Field in a Vikings uniform.
The Cheeseheads were subjected to the sports version of “A Clockwork Orange” – “A Clockwork Purple” – strapped down with their eyes propped open as their beloved hero committed a bit of the old ultra-violence to what was left of the relationship.
It’s no doubt cold comfort for Green Bay fans that Favre has now done to Minnesota fans almost precisely what he did to Packers fans in 2007: carrying them within one errant pass of the Super Bowl and then jilting them.
Vikings fans should hardly be surprised. Is this a guy you would want to trust with your heart? A woman in the shoe department is less fickle.
So, to sum up: Favre put his loyal lady through hell for several offseasons, took up with a far-off mistress for a year, then came back to town with the one woman he had to know would most devastate his ex.
Compare that with LeBron. He didn’t waffle. His heart didn’t wander and return, wander and return, wander and return year after year. He was ramrod loyal to his betrothed. Until he wasn’t.
The doors to the bedroom flew open, and there was South Beach astride LeBron. End of story.
LeBron announced his departure from Cleveland the way Rudy Giuliani conveyed that he was leaving wife Donna Hanover for a younger coworker with more upside. On TV.
It may not have been classy, but it was definitive.
For a month, LeBron has been annihilated for the way he handled "The Decision." But Favre’s latest retirement reminds us there was actually a much worse way to handle things: the Brett Favre Way.
Fans, as usual, have only themselves to blame. The dupes always give in to the delusion that all that cheering, chanting, crying, jersey-and-poster-buying and outright loving actually has an iota of emotional impact on their heroes.
My pal John Salley recently had to counsel a female friend of his pining for the love of a pro athlete. He had to explain to her that she was the athlete’s “jump-off.” This, he explained, meant the guy would jump off her and onto someone else with nary a second thought about the emotional well-being of the freshly jumped off.
Attention sports fans. You are his “jump-off.” Brett Favre’s. LeBron James’s. Alex Rodriguez’s. Tiger Woods’.
If you think otherwise, I’ve got a PackersJetsVikingsCavaliers Heat jersey to sell you.