The Steele Drum

August 28, 2009 2:29 PM

Public Enemy No. 4

The biggest of the Michael Vick plotlines have now played out, with his return to live action Thursday night with the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Brett Favre storylines are just getting started.

And none is bigger than this one: How did this man, this icon, this exemplar of modern NFL manhood next to whom everybody else seemed puny and weak – how could Brett Favre turn America against him so swiftly and so completely?

Because he has lost more cache in a shorter time than almost any superstar you can think of. At this time last year, people were screaming from the rooftops that anybody who didn’t open their arms to Brett’s return from his tragically-forced retirement from Green Bay was a fool, a hater, a bitter, jealous hack.

Now? Many of the same folk would rather drive red-hot pokers through their eardrums than hear his name again. One summer of being fully embedded with the Favre saga was one thing. Another summer of it? All right, Princess, you’re just milking it now. Either make up your mind in a reasonable time frame like everybody else, or get over yourself and drive your tractor back home.

He did neither. Thus, his once-sterling name is now a four-letter word among an alarming number of fans, NFL and elsewhere.

Oh, what an exaggeration, you say. But you might not have seen the commercials running on ESPN the last couple of weeks. They were the Worldwide Leader in breathlessly urgent alerts on every minute detail of Favre’s maneuvers to end his retirement a year ago, the very embodiment of Favre-mania.

Now? A spot that mocks him as mercilessly as any personality they ever have mocked, with the UMass Minuteman mascot playing Paul Revere with the lanterns in the window, one if Favre’s staying retired, two if he’s not, or vice versa.

That’s just ESPN’s irreverent style, you say. Well, Sports Illustrated long shared the reins with ESPN on the Favre bandwagon, and often drove it solo, thanks to an allegiance to him from senior writer Peter King that even King couldn’t help but laugh at himself about in recent years.

Now? Check out the upcoming issue, the upper-left corner of the cover. The “4’’ with a slash through it. The proclamation that this is a “100% Favre-Free Issue.’’ Zing! And … Cha-Ching! For all the years SI has cashed in on the legend that is No. 4, it is now banking on its readership’s rejection of him. At least for one week.

As for King, he kicked the Favre habit the week the career leader in waffling, fudging and chain-yanking finally committed to the Vikings. King, in his online column: “Favre’s the wishy-washiest player in memory – and the Vikings are his enablers. It’s ridiculous.’’

Yikes. Next thing you know, John Madden is going to come out of retirement just to tell us, “Don’t believe the hype.’’

You still might not be buying it, though. So ponder this: on Thursday a report surfaced that Favre’s presence in Minnesota has created a “schism’’ in the locker room. It was shot down pretty quickly, with some lame jokes about what “schism’’ meant, including one from Favre that he probably thought sounded charming and home-spun.

But you didn’t exactly rule it out right away, did you? Part of you, maybe small, maybe huge, told yourself, “If that locker room isn’t split, I don’t know why not.’’

Yes, you’re accepting the concept of Brett Favre, Locker Room Cancer. Brett Favre. Whose every ordinary act for a decade and a half was elevated to heroism, whose every flaw was explained away and every slip-up euphemized out of existence (“He’s a gunslinger!’’), now representing all that’s wrong in America’s favorite sport.

Favre probably can’t believe it. He might want to think about why so many others do. And how, exactly, he brought it on himself.

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