Brett Favre's short-lived stay in New York should serve as a cautionary tale for all those future superstars who find themselves unwanted by their teams in the latter stages of their careers. They can continue playing if they feel their skills haven't declined immensely. They can continue playing if their passion for the game hasn't eroded. What they can't do is what Favre basically did, which is to continue playing because spite convinces you this is a good idea.
Now that Favre is retiring for the second time in just 11 months -- he has informed the New York Jets of his decision after one season with the team -- we can see the full scope of the mistake he made in "unretiring." This was a man who was hell-bent on revenge from the moment the Green Bay Packers traded him last summer. Favre hated the idea that the Packers weren't willing to take him back as their quarterback after he tried coming out of his first retirement. He also couldn't stand the notion that Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson was the one orchestrating his exit out of town.
This is all we really need to know about Favre's 2008 season. It was always about what happened during that summer-long drama with the Packers, and that ultimately was why his Jets career was so disappointing in the end. Favre essentially cared more about sticking it to the Packers than he did about elevating the Jets to the level of Super Bowl contenders. And that approach was no way to make it through a football season.
Favre acknowledged as much when he spoke to ESPN's Ed Werder toward the end of the 2008 season. Favre admitted that most of his motivation for playing in New York came from the spite he had toward Thompson. He talked about the situation becoming personal between the two men and how the Packers were a dishonest franchise that had yanked his team out from under him. He also believed the Packers had sent him to the Jets because, as Favre told Werder, "they were shipping me off to Siberia."
Of everything Favre told Werder, these are the kinds of statements that should jump out at any reader. They reveal a man who obviously wasn't thinking clearly when he returned to the NFL last summer. Instead of being the guy who was so eager to get back into football that he was working out with high school kids in Mississippi last spring, Favre morphed into something few people could see coming: an old, bitter superstar out to exact revenge on a former employer.
That's surely one reason Favre faded down the stretch in the regular season, when he threw the bulk of his league-high 22 interceptions. The reality is that vindictiveness can take you only so far in a football season. It might have made Favre train harder for his opportunity with the Jets. It might have made him study harder when he was traded in early August and had to take a crash course to learn a new offense. But you need far more motivation than that to make it through an arduous 16-game season, and Favre had to learn that lesson the hard way.
What's most apparent about Favre's issues with Green Bay is that they played a huge role in his inability to connect with his Jets teammates. There were published claims by anonymous sources that Favre spent his downtime at team headquarters in a private room away from the other Jets. Teammates, including running back Thomas Jones and safety Kerry Rhodes, were openly critical of Favre's play in the second half of the season, and you can bet they would've been more diplomatic if they knew him better. Let's face it: The Jets needed a leader when Favre came to town. What they ultimately wound up with was a high-priced mercenary who cared mainly about outdoing his previous employer.
This isn't to suggest that Favre didn't give the Jets everything he could offer. It's just to say that his head wasn't in the right place when that trade went down and it's fair to assume his heart wasn't where it should've been, either. Even with some of the Jets' biggest wins of the year -- including the 34-31 overtime victory at the New England Patriots and the 34-13 win at Tennessee that gave the Titans their first loss of the season -- Favre rarely displayed the unbridled enthusiasm for the game that inspired so many who witnessed it. By the end of last season, he just looked tired and beaten down, as if he was all but ready for this ride to be over.
That feeling probably made it easier for Favre to leave the game this time. He surely knew there would be no disappointed fans like his fawning legions in Green Bay, the ones who were lamenting his decision to make their fall Sundays less enjoyable. Favre also had to know the Jets would be less willing to let him mull over his options during the offseason than the Packers had been in previous years. Even Favre's decision to avoid another emotional news conference like the one he had when he retired from the Packers was noteworthy. He obviously figured that nobody wanted to see him crying about the end of his career one more time.
The point to be made here is that nobody should have been surprised by Favre's retirement. It was just time for him to accept that being the Jets quarterback wasn't ever going to erase the sting of what happened to him in Green Bay. In the end, Favre's decision probably had little to do with his coming to the conclusion that he no longer could play the game at a high level anymore. Instead, it probably had more to do with him admitting something far more important to himself -- that he shouldn't be playing the game for the wrong reasons any longer.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.