Brett Favre at 40: Still holding court

The Minnesota Vikings QB is an Artist of the Year in 2009

On March 4, 2008, Favre announced his retirement. He was dressed uncharacteristically formally for the occasion, in a button-down Oxford shirt.

Five seconds into his speech, he stopped, shook his head, and blew out his breath.

"I promised I wouldn't get emotional," Favre said as tears streamed down his cheeks. "It was never about me. It was about everybody else. It just so happens that the position I played got most of the attention."

The Packers said they'd retire Favre's No. 4 jersey, but that plan quickly evaporated a few months later when he told Green Bay he didn't want to stay retired. He wanted his job back.

By then, Aaron Rodgers was already in the quarterback slot. A talented young buck who'd dutifully ridden the bench for three years in Favre's shadow, Rodgers had been so highly touted that many expected him to be the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. He ended up 24th—still a first-round choice, and only the second quarterback to be drafted that year. Rodgers was the future of the franchise. Once Favre rode off into the sunset, it was supposed to be his turn to shine.

Green Bay management split the baby and told Favre he could come to training camp and compete for his job. Nothing could have been more insulting.

Favre asked to be released instead. On July 14, 2008, he spoke publicly about the situation for the first time on Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. The interview got top billing over then-presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain.

"I am guilty of retiring early," Favre told Van Susteren.

The public spat wasn't pretty—Favre was criticized for waffling and then whining.

The Packers refused to release Favre, instead trading him to the New York Jets. In New York, Favre started the season well but finished poorly. In the last five games, he threw eight interceptions and only two touchdowns. The Jets lost four of their last five.

After it was all over, word leaked that Favre had been suffering from a torn biceps tendon during his decline. The team was fined $125,000 for hiding the injury. On February 11, 2009, Favre again retired, saying his arm was no good anymore. This time, everyone thought it was final.

On August 18, Favre boarded a plane in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and flew to St. Paul, Minnesota. Vikings Coach Brad Childress met him at the airport and personally drove him to the team's Winter Park training facilities in Eden Prairie. A news chopper hovered overhead.

In a surprise move, Favre signed with the Vikings, the hated rival of the very team that had told him he was no longer their hero. Favre would have his revenge.

On September 13, Favre donned a purple jersey in Cleveland to play for the first time as a Viking. After he passed a six-yarder to receiver Percy Harvin and gave the rookie his first NFL touchdown, Favre sprinted into the end zone and tackled him in a fit of joy.

Favre's season with the Vikings has been like that. The team is 11-3, and Favre's performance has been legendary. Twelve games in, he'd given up only three interceptions.

"I think this has been one of his best years," says tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, 29. "It's like being seasoned—the age isn't really about age." After the Vikings recently trounced the Cincinnati Bengals 30-10, Favre was asked whether his middle-aged body could hold up in the postseason.

"I don't feel like I'm falling apart in December like most people seem to think," Favre said. "I feel fine. I don't feel much different than most guys in that locker room at this stage of the season. In fact, I may be better off."

On a recent weekday afternoon, 24-year-old Vikings center John Sullivan is answering questions about what it's like to play with Favre.

"Brett's a legend," a reporter says. "I know you guys don't get starry-eyed, but are you going to say to your kids some day, 'I snapped the ball to that guy?'" "Yeah, you know," Sullivan says, "I mean everybody keeps track of the Hall-of-Famers they play with."

The quarterback himself is nowhere to be seen—he was famously accessible in Green Bay, but makes himself scarce in the Minnesota locker room when reporters appear. Still, tributes to his leadership are on each of his teammates' lips.

"He's done so much for us, especially myself, the rest of the receivers," says wide receiver Sidney Rice, who has flourished under Favre. "Just spreading the ball around and bringing that type of attitude to the team. Lets us win and have fun at the same time, so it's good for everyone around."

"He has brought a calm to the team," says kicker Ryan Longwell, who also played with Favre in Green Bay. "He is a prankster and a jokester and a great fit in the locker room. But the calm he has brought in all situations—you can especially see it on game day."

Off the field in Minnesota, Favre says during one of his weekly press conferences, he hasn't been out much.

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