Brett Favre's return for another season is "highly unlikely, but it has been an awesome year," the Minnesota Vikings quarterback told ESPN's Ed Werder after the Vikings' loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Favre, who returned to the NFL from retirement with the goal of leading the Vikings to a championship, fell just short when his pass with seconds left in regulation was intercepted. The Saints won in overtime to advance to the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl.
Favre also told Werder before the game that not one Vikings player had inquired about his future because they were so focused on the game.
Favre wasn't quite ready to make a decision on his future immediately following the loss, but he said he wouldn't take long to make his plans known this time.
"Just wondering if I can hold up, especially after a day like today," Favre said after throwing for 310 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. "Physically and mentally. That was pretty draining. I am going to go home, a couple of days and just talk it over with the family."
Without prompting, player after player brought up how fun Favre was to play with. Respectfully, they declined to speculate about his decision, but the consensus was that he can take all the time he needs even if it means skipping training camp again.
"It's still early. Way too early. Brett is liable to change his mind five, 10 times down the road," wide receiver Bernard Berrian said. "He already knows that we want him back. It's more or less letting him go off and do his thing."
After Sunday's game, Favre staggered to the podium, an abrasion between his eyes, welts on his forehead and tears in his eyes from the beating he took at the hands of the Saints and the realization that his quest to get back to the Super Bowl fell just short again.
For a quarterback who derived so much joy during an improbably successful season for the Vikings, Favre sure didn't look or sound like a player who had much left after a heartbreaking 31-28 overtime loss to the Saints.
Favre has one year left on the two-year contract he signed with Minnesota in August, but Vikings coach Brad Childress isn't going to rush him into making a decision on returning for a 20th NFL season.
"I told him go home and lick your wounds and I'll do the same and we'll catch up down the road," Childress said. "Nobody wants to be rash about any decision-making, I'm sure, right now."
Favre will have plenty of wounds to lick. The Saints didn't sack him on Sunday, but they knocked him down countless times in an incredibly physical game. Defensive end Bobby McCray hit him so hard on one play in the third quarter that Favre thought his left ankle was broken.
But after writhing in pain on the trainer's table for a few minutes, Favre pulled himself up and remained in the game.
With the Vikings down 28-21 in the fourth quarter, a hobbling Favre drove the team for a tying touchdown with just under 5 minutes to play.
"I thought it was a gutty, gutty performance," Childress said. "He grinded it out."
Then came the throw that will haunt him for a long, long time.
On third-and-15 from the New Orleans 38, Favre knew the Vikings needed to get closer to give Ryan Longwell a legitimate shot at a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
He rolled right and then, instead of scrambling for the yards that might have put Minnesota in field goal range, threw across the field to the left. Tracy Porter picked it off to send the game to overtime, where Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal put the Saints into their first Super Bowl.
"I probably should have ran it," Favre said. "I don't know how far I could have gotten. But in hindsight, that's probably what I should have done. I don't know how many yards we needed for a field goal, but I knew we needed some. I was just late to Sidney [Rice]."
It was a devastating finish to such a memorable season for Favre and the Vikings. After an injury-riddled year with the New York Jets in 2008, Favre joined his longtime rivals in Minnesota in August, hoping to put a more fitting ending on one of the best careers this league has ever seen.
He set career bests in completion percentage (68.4), quarterback rating (107.2) and fewest interceptions (7), while throwing for 33 TDs and 4,202 yards. The Vikings (12-4) earned a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, and last week Favre became the first 40-year-old quarterback to win a playoff game with a four-touchdown performance against the Cowboys.
All the while, he turned an entire state of haters from his days in Green Bay into the biggest Favre fans on the planet. Purple No. 4 jerseys are the new black in Minnesota, making Favre one of the most popular athletes in Minnesota sports history.
"It was a great season for our team. Great for the people of the state of Minnesota to look at a team like that compete and, among other things, watch No. 4 compete in purple," Childress said.
Favre spoke often this season of his affection for this team, which could make any decision to retire just a little more difficult.
"The year could not have gone any better, aside from us not going to Miami," he said. "I really enjoyed the guys."
He was enjoyed as well, as the players spoke up about their respect for him on Monday.
"I will be one of the ones trying to convince him, but at the same time he's put in numerous years," said rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin, who called his relationship with Favre brother-like. "I don't know how much of a beating a man can take, but we'll see."
Linebacker Chad Greenway was one player who publicly questioned last spring whether the pursuit of Favre was worth it.
"He deserves the right to relax and enjoy himself now. He had an unbelievable year," Greenway said. "He fights to the end. As much respect as I had for him before the season, I have 10 times that now, with the chance to play with him and the way he handles himself."
Favre was asked after the game if he would consider coming back to get to the Super Bowl and a chance to go out on top.
In Favre's eyes, even if he never plays another down and even though the Vikings lost to the Saints, he will have done just that.
"I'd love to win the Super Bowl. Who wouldn't?" Favre said. "Of course, I can't print anything for you guys but I know I'm going out on top one way or the other.
"I didn't feel like I had anything to prove coming in. But if there were doubters out there maybe I served notice to them, but my goal is to get to Miami and obviously that's not going to happen. If it is [my last game], it is no doubt I'm on top."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.