Shortly after witnessing Brett Favre's surprise retirement announcement on March 6, 2008, in the Lambeau Field Atrium, I had a conversation with a longtime NFL executive.
At the time, there were rumors about Favre butting heads with Packers management — namely, Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy — that basically forced Favre into retirement. But all we were left with was Favre's tear-lined face and his words from the dais, which seemed heartfelt and genuine.
"I've given everything I possibly can give to this organization, to the game of football, and I don't think I've got anything left to give, and that's it," Favre said. "I know I can play, but I don't think I want to. And that's really what it comes down to."
Even with follow-up questions, Favre convincingly stuck to his line that it was just time to move on.
But knowing some of the chatter behind the scenes — mostly about Thompson (similar to Bill Belichick in his lack of sentimentality when it comes to his roster management) and Favre — and, most importantly, the unshakeable iciness between Deanna Favre, Thompson and McCarthy — they were all seated right next to each other off to the side of Favre, but they could have been miles away — there had to be more to it than Favre just being done with football.
That uncomfortable tension is what I was discussing with the NFL executive.
"There's one thing you need to remember with these guys," he said in referencing the NFL's great QBs. "It always ends badly, and they blame everyone else for it."
And he was right.
Soon enough, things got messy off the field between the Packers. Friends of Favre were sniping at Thompson, McCarthy and team president Mark Murphy behind the scenes. They didn't do this for Brett. They didn't tell him this. It's their fault he's not a fault Packer anymore. He didn't want any of this.
As we've come to learn in recent weeks, Tom Brady isn't an exception to this. He's not special or different. He's just like every other great, future Hall of Fame quarterback who wound up finishing his career in another uniform. We've now reached the stage of the fallout of his departure to Tampa where people are starting to air Brady's grievances.
Of course, all this chatter behind the scenes is missing one thing ... any blame on Brady's behalf. (Hmm, I wonder why that is.)
We'll get into a little history lesson, and then show what's really at the heart of all this, and Brady's part in it.
The same thing happened with Dan Marino. His final three seasons in the NFL were marred by constant tension with Jimmy Johnson, who wanted to take the offense away from the trigger-happy Marino. It did not end well, with a 62-7 loss to the Jaguars in the playoffs.
In Marino's heart, he knows that he needs Johnson. In Johnson's heart, he knows he needs Marino. Johnson isn't getting ready to trade Marino, cut Marino or ask him to retire.
But their combination is tenuous, built on a foundation of Marino's fragile legs and piled high with huge expectations by all involved, including fans.
Marino could have added trust to the foundation. He could have said he not only understands what Johnson is doing, he agrees with it completely. He could have said he knows he's not going to play forever and that Johnson has to keep an eye on the future.
He didn't. Instead, Marino smiled slyly and took momentary glee in watching Johnson stew. Marino was being human, doing what prideful people often do when they are hurt or uneasy.
You don't think Belichick and Johnson, his fishing buddy, have discussed Marino and Brady?
Joe Montana said he mentally left San Francisco during the middle of his final season with the 49ers (sound familiar?) before behind traded to the Chiefs.
"I knew I was leaving part way through last season," Montana said. "My mind was made up.
"I could see they were trying to make the change. . . . Otherwise they would have given me a shot right from the beginning, that we could compete."
Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll had a similar relationship to Brady and Belichick — Bradshaw complained for years that Noll rode him too hard and wish he would have been traded at some point. You could see Brady giving a similar interview about Belichick at some point.
Then there was Favre, whose final years were similar to Brady's.
Thompson was hired in 2005 when it became apparent Mike Sherman couldn't be the coach and GM. Thompson promptly came in and released Favre-favored linemen Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, and safety Darren Sharper. Thompson drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round before going 4-12. In '06, Thompson fired Sherman, a Favre enabler, and replaced him with McCarthy with the edict of taking the offense back from Favre. In '07, Thompson failed to trade for Randy Moss — which Favre pushed for behind the scenes — and drafted a bust at defensive tackle 16th overall.
"I just want to win; maybe I see things the wrong way," Favre said at the time. "I don't want to ruffle any feathers and I want people to respect me. Sometimes I think it's hard for them to let Brett go. They might think that we pay him a lot of money, but he still gives us the best chance to win. I've never been told that, but there are times when I wonder if I'm the odd man out here and they just don't know how to tell me."
Favre had a tremendous '07 season as the Packers reached the NFC Championship Game. And then he retired.
The only real exceptions to this in modern times were John Elway and Peyton Manning, but those were special circumstances — not to mention they retired after Super Bowl victories. Elway bought into the conversion of the Broncos into a running team whose identity was the zone blocking scheme and Terrell Davis — and not Elway. Manning's neck injuries made his Indianapolis exit a moot point — that could have gotten really uncomfortable — and then Elway was there to make sure Manning's interests were taking care of in Denver. Troy Aikman retired due to concussions.
Almost universally, the NFL executive was right: it almost always ends badly with a great QB, and the quarterback ends up blaming everyone else. You never hear them say, "Yeah, the coaches put me in a great position and I just failed to come through."
There's always something else. There's always some drama.
So Tom Brady Sr. himself was right when he told the New York Times Magazine in 2015 that, "It will end badly." He just left off the part where his son's part of it will be ignored.
Not that I don't think Brady isn't right to feel the way he does in many respects. His departure from New England could have been avoided: If Belichick just gave him an earned five-year extension in the 2017 offseason ... If Belichick didn't bust his chops over Alex Guerrero ... If Belichick just gave Brady a few more real weapons to work with the past two years instead of hoarding all the additions and depth on the defense ... If Belichick paid Brady his worth, especially after so many years of sacrificing for the team. It all could have ended differently.
Those are real and true gripes on Brady's behalf.
This stuff about Brady's input being ignored in the gameplan, or Brady feeling that he was being phased out is just complete and utter nonsense.
Do I think it's