Legendary Green Bay QB Brett Favre to Retire

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Brett Favre is retiring after 17 years in the NFL. As quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Favre shattered many passing records but was even better known for his durability, his fearless spirit and the risks he took on the field.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There is no truth to the humor that the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin is closing its doors and shutting down. But today life did get a little colder for the football-crazy residents of Green Bay after Brett Favre announced his retirement.

The legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback has hinted a retirement for several seasons but now it's official. He says he's mentally tired after 17 record- setting years in the NFL.

Coming up, the reaction in Green Bay, but first, NPR's Tom Goldman has more on today's announcement.

TOM GOLDMAN: Always the understated superstar, Brett Favre announced his retirement to the world by leaving a voicemail message for ESPN Pro Football reporter Chris Mortensen.

BRETT FAVRE: The only way to come back and feel like I made the right decision would be to come back and win a Super Bowl. And the odds of that are - they're tough. I mean as a challenge, I guess, I wasn't that for. I know I can play, so that was really it. That's what it came down to.

GOLDMAN: No one doubts that 38-year-old Brett Favre can play, especially after last season. It was one of his best. Working with underrated wide receivers, Favre completed nearly 67 percent of his passes - the best percentage of this career. He threw 28 touchdown passes, helping him set a new NFL record for career touchdown passes.

His signature moment was in Green Bay's playoff game against Seattle in a blizzard at Green Bay's Lambeau Field. Favre threw three touchdown passes and led the Packers to victory. But the next week, in the NFC championship game against the New York Giants, Favre looked cold and tired in the sub-zero temperatures at Lambeau. He threw an interception in overtime that led the New York's game-winning field goal. It proved to be the last pass of his career, but it won't define his legacy.

Mike Wilkening is senior editor for Pro Football Weekly.

MIKE WILKENING: He was also someone that, you know, always (unintelligible). At the biggest moments, always delivered on the biggest stages - that is how you lead in this game.

GOLDMAN: For the 16 years he led the Packers countless big moments - ranging from a Super Bowl victory in 1997 to any number of long game-winning passes. That right arm of his - a gambler's arm - led writers like Wilkening to often describe Favre as a gunslinger.

WILKENING: You can try to make those throws for an average quarterback but it's a one-way ticket to the bench usually. He had the innate ability to - had a strong arm, the ability to keep his eyes scanning down the field and hit, you know, his target in stride. He made the type of throws that would verve and, you know, originality that - again, I don't think it's going to be matched.

GOLDMAN: The verve of Favre would sometimes drive coaches crazy when the gamble ended with an interception. But those mistakes, in the words on ESPN writer Mike Sando, are part of what made Favre easy to root for.

Favre never pretended to be perfect. In the 1990s, he admitted he developed an addiction to the painkiller Vicodin. He displayed a very un-superstar-like behavior of throwing a touchdown pass and then joyfully picking up and throwing the receiver over his shoulder. And always, there was the stubble on his face, making him look like the Clint Eastwood of NFL without a cigar.

Favre holds the record among quarterbacks for consecutive games started - a symbol of his toughness and the kind of stat that made former coach and current announcer John Madden revere Favre. Madden loves tough, no-nonsense football players.

Comedian Frank Caliendo, who does a dead-on impersonation of Madden, spoofed the Madden-Favre connection in an appearance on the David Letterman Show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN: Let me ask you about Brett Favre.

FRANK CALIENDO: (As John Madden) I mean, Brett Favre is a unbelievable player. I mean, you know, the great guns, he's one step above that. I mean...

LETTERMAN: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CALIENDO: (As John Madden) If you could clone Brett Favre and put him in all the positions on the field and then you play it against another team of cloned Brett Favres...

LETTERMAN: Right.

CALIENDO: (As John Madden) ...I think the universe will explode. I mean, I think my head is going to explode just trying to think about it.

LETTERMAN: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Today, the people of Green Bay are trying to keep it together. Spring may be approaching in the Midwest, but you'll have to forgive Packers fans for taking about the chill of next season without the man known as the Lambeau legend.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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