Long ago I promised you a piece on the similar stylings of Brett Favre and John McCain. Out of deference to Favre I had to wait until the NFL season finished and Favre’s blimp of a career set the horizon on fire in Hindenberg fashion — although my inner football fan wanted to write this piece weeks ago, as early as the election. As I stated in an earlier comment: Favre is to football what McCain is to politics.
Both men, it is now known, went down in defeat this year, likely final defeat, served up by opponents that can rightly be described as “up and coming.” For McCain, the rising star of Barack Obama; for Favre, the Lazarus-like Miami Dolphins. In each case, their character and hubris was the key factor in their fall.
Both can be characterized as “old soldiers.” McCain in the literal sense, Favre in the way that Americans laud the leaders of their football squads. The images of McCain’s POW days, his fiery temper, his penchant for reform and “maverick-ness” juxtapose nicely with the images of the grizzled, unshaven Favre, breathing steam in the cold, playing hurt, and never saying die. A broken body wouldn’t make McCain give up or Favre come out of the game. Both were unquestionably heroes, even to those who opposed and hated them. McCain for being the firebrand who would run counter to prevailing Congressional wisdom, Favre for being the gutty leader who, as a fan, you could tolerate losing to.
For reasons entirely within their control, however, memories of both will have a different tinge than bronze-bust-ready, Hall of Fame-Commemorative Stamp one described above. If a high water mark or defining moment in the downward slide of these two had to be picked, I suppose one could throw a dart somewhere around the Spring of 2006 when Favre first hemmed and hawed about his plans for the next year and when McCain made a trip to Liberty University to preside over the graduation ceremony of those he had previously criticized as “agents of ignorance.” Favre appeared to have nothing left in the tank and McCain appeared to be falling in with the conservative bedfellows he eschewed. Thus commenced the wearing thin.
And it was a wearing thin indeed — the final unraveling took time. McCain’s political career survived and Favre’s passing career stayed alive. McCain’s enough to push him to the front of the Republican heap in no time and allow a cakewalk to the nomination; Favre’s season impressive enough to stir up talk that the MVP caliber Favre had returned. The final blow to these halcyon commanders likely came sometime this past summer-again throw a dart in August. Favre who had retired, held the nation and Green Bay Packers hostage in a multi-week soap opera, petitioning for his return, that ended in the severing of ties with Green Bay and a trade to New York-not a likely destination for a southern boy who preferred wood chopping to wine. About this time, the number of McCain’s residences became national news, he picked a running mate that hearkened more to conservative culture than to Maverick and as days wore on McCain had to throw more traditional conservative (read divisive) hay makers to try to sway the polling. Favre could at least throw touchdowns, for a few more weeks.
Ultimately we know how McCain’s tactics played out, and on Election Night, some of the grace of McCain appeared to have returned. And now we know how it turned out for Favre. Two “Stevie Wonder” quality interceptions in a must win game; no offseason; talk of being mentally fatigued and his body aching. Favre’s past mistakes were always excused by his lust for winning: He’s just having fun, he just wants to win, he just wants to compete. And perhaps in time McCain’s nastiness and desperation during the campaign will be regarded in a similar light. But for now, we’ve seen two swan songs. It’s time for the two old soldiers to fade away.