January 12, 2004:
“Dear Mr. Favre,
Thank you for all you have done for the Green Bay Packers. I know that you are disappointed in yourself. But try to remember that you did your best. I hope that you will not retire, but if you do, I will understand. I am grateful for all that you have done for the Packers, and me.
Sincerely, Annalise Wagner.”
This was the first of two letters my daughter sent to her football hero, Brett Favre. Annalise is the daughter of a mom who grew up three hours north of Madison Wisconsin. Brett Favre was, for the late Twentieth Century residents of Northern Wisconsin, what John F. Kennedy was for America’s 1960’s Irish Catholics. When visiting a Northern Wisconsin tavern or household, it was not unusual to find a framed photo of Saint Brett prominently displayed over a bar or mantel.
Annalise was prompted to pen that letter immediately after Brett had thrown an interception and the NFC Division Playoff game to the Philadelphia Eagles. Two years later, a similar letter followed a similar January game. In both instances, my daughter received response letters seemingly signed by Mr. Favre, addressed, “Dear Packer Fan.” Convinced that Brett had read and responded to her letters, she kept them on the bookshelf near the two statues of “Number Four,” which were just to the right of two framed action shots of him on her wall.
Pedestals are notoriously precarious places. Several summers after Annalise’s fan mail, Brett signed a contract with the hated Minnesota Vikings. To fully understand that move, imagine Lou Gehrig in 1927 moving to the Red Socks, or Bob Gibson, in his prime, faking a retirement, and signing with the Cubs.
In 2009, just before Brett retired for good, the anticipated Packer’s-Viking’s game was finally on the horizon. The hometown hero turned villain would soon play against his former teammates. Around that time, my daughter quietly asked me if she could borrow some money. She had it in her mind that it was time to send a third letter to old Number Four. This time though, a package was to accompany her envelope. Annalise needed money because that weighty parcel would contain exactly two statues, two framed pictures, and two letters signed by Green Bay’s future Hall of Fame “retiree.” The attached letter would read, “Dear Mr. Favre. I won’t be needing these anymore. I am no longer your fan. Annalise Wagner.”
Wouldn’t you think that the father of a wounded thirteen-year-old would find the object of his daughter’s disgust equally detestable? Wouldn’t you want to join her in reviling the man who pulled the football rug out from under her? Well, this is where I join the ranks of all those memoirista’s who publish their private confessions for all the world to see. My private peccadillo? God forgive me. I watched Monday Night Football that week. Despite my daughter’s feelings, despite his betrayals of my wife and family, I actually enjoyed watching Brett Favre pick apart the Green Bay Packers! Oh the humanity!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Dr. Tom is old. Brett was old. Through Brett, Dr. Tom felt vicariously young again.” At half time, after a little self-analysis, that was my own theory about the hidden/forbidden allegiance unmistakably growing within me. But as the game wore on, something else came into focus. Every time his team scored a touchdown, or made an excellent defensive play, Number Four pumped his fist, jumped up and down, and hooted and hollered just like a kid winning the Little League World Series.
In the last years, his on-field miscues cost his teams many games. His off-the-field flaws were hard to deny. His cause for sainthood is no longer being championed by deer hunting, cheese eating, ice fishing, Miller drinking, Green Bay fans. No doubt, he was a flawed man. But, say what you want about him, Brett Favre was passionate for the game of football. It would appear that he was willing to risk reputation and fan loyalty for another chance to live out his dream one more year.
This Sunday’s readings (Wisdom 7: 7-11; Hebrews 4: 12-13; Mark 10: 17-30) were all about passion. They asked the question, “Where does your treasure lie?” The first, Old Testament reading was penned (or is that quilled?) by a man who would sacrifice almost anything for his passionate love of wisdom. The third, Gospel selection, caught that moment in time when a rich young man had to admit that he was more passionate about his material wealth than the riches that Jesus was offering him.
One issue among many that this Sunday’s readings raised was the question, “Where is your passion?” What is it that causes you to pump your fist, jump up and down, and hoot and holler like Brett Favre picking apart another team’s pass rush? What is it that makes you want to sacrifice for something larger than yourself? Has your passion for things that really matter to you begun to wane a little bit lately? Back when you felt more passion for your marriage, your family, your community, your faith, or the poor of the world, what was it that you were doing? Have you ceased doing some of those behaviors? Would it be possible for you to choose those behaviors again, as a way of eventually making room for more passion in your vocation, avocation, or career?