‘Not your normal 37-year-old, that’s for sure’

Sports Views

Posted: Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It’s going to be a long two weeks in the City of Broad Shoulders and weak arms.

The anxiety level in Green Bay, meanwhile, could be elevated for even longer waiting to find out if one of the strongest arms the NFL ever has seen will be back next season.

“It’s tough. It’s tough,” Brett Favre said, choking back tears during a postgame TV interview after hammering Chicago 26-7. “I’m going to miss these guys and miss the game.”

Yet Favre reserved his final word on the subject until who knows when, and with Green Bay eliminated from the postseason, he will be the talk of the town for some time. He promised a decision “soon,” but after saying the same last season, Favre dragged it out until April.

Sunday night’s regular-season finale between the Bears and Packers was billed as a possible farewell appearance by the quarterback who’s teased, tormented and torpedoed Chicago hopes for 15 years running. The last few offseasons, he’s tormented Green Bay fans, too, while he mulls retirement.

But by the time Favre put the finishing touches on an 8-8 season, the Soldier Field faithful would have settled for saying good riddance to the quarterback standing on the home sideline instead.

Rex Grossman was that bad. And another one-and-out in the playoffs looms large on the horizon.

Grossman finished with more interceptions than completions — 3-2, with a fumbled snap dropped in for good measure — and a dozen first-half passing attempts yielded a pitiful 33 yards. Even loyal-to-a-fault coach Lovie Smith had seen enough by then.

“The plan was to play Rex into the third quarter. After you have a game like that,” Smith said, “there is no need. I didn’t see there was any need in putting him back in after an effort like that.”

The only reason there won’t be a quarterback controversy in Chicago is because of backup Brian Griese’s line in the second half. He completed 5-of-15 for 124 yards and had two passes picked off, though he also accounted for the Bears’ only score on a 75-yard touchdown to Mark Bradley.

Lousy quarterbacks are practically a given with the Bears, which helps explain why their longtime rivals to the north have been so desperate to hang onto Favre. Chicago has tried 20 different starters at the position since Favre turned up in Green Bay in 1992, and it’s likely all of them combined couldn’t have accomplished what Favre did with a young team that started 1-4 and still has more holes than available thumbs to plug them.

He finished a respectable 21-of-42 for 285 yards on the night, with one touchdown and one interception. But those stats don’t begin to describe how he did it. Often flushed from the pocket, or else forced to step up and throw off the wrong foot, he dazzled his opponents as much as the guys on his side.

“You saw him tonight,” Bears cornerback Ricky Manning said. “Would you call it quits if you could still do that stuff?

“No sir,” Manning added, without waiting for a reply. “You can still accomplish plenty when you’ve got a cannon attached to your shoulder. I’m still surprised his guys catch those passes sometimes, hard as he throws them. I’m not sure I’d like to catch some of those.”

His Green Bay counterparts, on the other hand, had little trouble picking off the lazy airmails Grossman and Griese posted.

“Obviously, a bad performance,” Grossman said. “I wish we could have ended on a high note going into the postseason. It is what it is.”

What it is, based on all available evidence, is something very much like what Chicago experienced last season and in 2001. Both times, the Bears locked up the division, spent two weeks trying to prop up a shaky offense and exited in their first playoff game. Griese was brought in before the season as an insurance policy. But halfway through the third quarter, Bears fans, experiencing a painful case of deja vu, began chanting for third-stringer Kyle Orton.

Packer fans, meanwhile, would serenade Favre from the moment he sets foot back in Green Bay, and keep it up until he said yes. Even more important, perhaps, the Packers have $30 million in salary-cap room to bolster the team around him. Although Favre’s skills aren’t in question, his desire to keep playing remains anyone’s guess.

“I’ve always felt like I could still play at a high level. I think today just kind of reassured me as well as maybe other people that I still can play,” Favre said. “Now what that means, if I’m going to play, I’d like to play it at a high level. Today I did.”

Favre took a picture with his offensive line at the end, then headed back to Green Bay. He was scheduled to have surgery Monday on an ankle that’s been bothersome all season, but it was postponed. Perhaps he’ll come off the surgery confident enough that like the Giants’ Tiki Barber, Favre, too, would let people know in advance whether next season will be his final one.

Then again, plenty of the people looking on think one more season might be selling himself short.

“If you talk to some of the players who’ve had the opportunity to walk away from the game on their own, you’d like to walk away with ‘gas in your tank,’ Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

“He’s got a lot left in his tank. That’s just where he’s at. He’s not your normal 37-year-old, that’s for sure.”



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