The playbook never mattered all that much to Brett Favre. He liked having a road map as much as the next quarterback, sure, but he never stopped believing there was a better way to the end zone. Usually, that meant his way.
Two days before what turned out to be Favre's last game, the NFC championship against the Giants in frigid Green Bay, Favre was telling stories about playing high school ball in Kiln, Miss., for his father. On the last play of a game against a rival, he missed his chance to hand the ball off and wound up running it in for the touchdown himself.
``My dad yelled at me, 'What the hell are you doing? Get in the back of the truck,''' Favre recounted on ``No dates after the game ... nothing. I went home with my dad.''
It's telling that Irvin Favre, whose reputation as a coach already extended well beyond his small-town roots, didn't wait for an explanation, that he just went ahead and assumed Brett changed the play on his own. For that to happen, there had to be some history.
It's telling, too, that his father never quit trying to break the habit. Irvin must have sensed even then that his son, gifted with a right arm like a bazooka and enough confidence for a whole team, was about to turn stubbornness into an art form.
So it hardly seems like coincidence that Favre's first completion as a pro was to himself - the ball bounced back off a charging lineman - or that his last one was a pick by Giants cornerback Corey Webster in overtime that set up New York's game-winning kick.
It also explains how, in between, he squeezed off more touchdown passes - and interceptions - than anyone in NFL history, started more consecutive games and rolled up more wins than any other starting QB. Favre played through a separated shoulder, bruised hip, broken thumb, on battered knees and ankles.
On one occasion, he went to the sideline coughing up blood and returned in time to throw a TD and clinch a division title against the Steelers. The day after his father died in a December 2003 car crash, people wondered whether Favre would, or should, play a Monday night game at Oakland. His answer was to complete 22 of 30 for 399 yards and four touchdowns.
Favre will be at the center of a few more debates in the coming days: Where he ranks on the all-time QB list (top five, though Tom Brady and Peyton Manning could both bump him out); what his sudden departure means for understudy Aaron Rodgers and a resurgent young Packer team (plenty, but in a lousy division, they could still make the playoffs); and even whether, by the time training camp rolls around again, he will bound off the couch and get back in the game (very likely, it says here).
But the most interesting question at the moment might be why retire now?
Favre will answer it in full soon enough. But in the meantime go back and listen to the voice mail he left for ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen. He says several times that he's ``tired,'' and the only way that his return for an 18th season would be a success, after coming so close, would be to win another Super Bowl.
``And the odds of that, they're tough. That's big shoes to fill for me, and it's a challenge I wasn't up for. I know I can play, so that was really it. That,'' Favre said at the end of the message, ``is what it came down to.''
He faced the retirement question the past few offseasons, when Green Bay's future wasn't anywhere near as promising as it is now, and came to the opposite decision.
Until last season, the Packers couldn't defend, run the ball, or protect Favre. It led to uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing postgame news conferences where opponents who had just buried Favre in the turf wouldn't stop praising him. Yet even as his own team's fortunes turned the last time around, he seemed reluctant to buy in.
Favre changed the way he played, protected the ball better, let an attacking defense and promising running back Ryan Grant shoulder more of the load, and found himself being called on to simply manage games more often than win them. That came to a screeching halt in overtime against the Giants, when he reverted to old habits and tried to make a throw he shouldn't have.
``The more we won, the more stressful it got,'' Favre said early on in that voice mail message. ``You would think otherwise. But I was always trying to top what I'd done the previous week.''
At some point, it became less about making plays than not making mistakes. While that's a path Favre probably could have negotiated, picking his way patiently through the minefield of yet another NFL season would hardly seem appealing to a guy whose first instinct was always to fly.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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