A Hero Retires

(Hit play, turn it up then read.)

Brett Favre has decided to hang ’em up after a 16-year career that will be judged among the greatest in NFL history. Few athletes, in any sport, connect with their fans like Brett Favre has with the city of Green Bay—a little city in Wisconsin of a little over 100,000 people and yet with a 20-year waiting list for season tickets.

This is Favre at his retirement press conference: “I hope that the Packers know that every penny they spent on me was money well spent. It was never about the money or the fame or the records. It was never my accomplishments, it was our accomplishments. It just so happened that the position that I played got most of the attention. I hope the fans of this organization appreciate me as much as I appreciate them. And I want to thank the coaching staff for giving me a chance when no one else would.”

Green Bay is definitely the sister franchise of the Oilers in the NFL. Both teams have succeeded in towns that are probably too small on paper to have a major league sports franchise. Green Bay is a town that moves Sunday Church services when the Packers play. Edmonton is a city that raised money to pay a five figure fine for coach Craig MacTavish during the Cup run of 2006.

The weather in GB sucks too, especially for a southern boy like Favre, and especially when the games are played outside. Yet Favre flourished in the frigid air and led the team to Superbowl victory in 1997. He retires a champion and one of the all-time greats, not unlike a certain fella from Brantford, Ontario who left the game nine years ago.

The reality is that Chris Prongers has similar skill to Favre in his sport, and departure from Edmonton set the franchise back considerably. The city took a beating in the press and the second season of missing the playoffs in a row is proof of the hole he left on the team.

But the wound to the city has closed quickly. As Pronger sits in Anaheim, there will be a part of him that will always wonder what could have been. He knows deep down that his chance to become a legend in anyone’s hearts ended the day he left Oil Country. Favre-Green Bay and Gretzky-Edmonton type relationships are what most pro athletes dream of their whole careers and it’s only a special city and a special athlete that can make that connection.

Edmonton is one of the few cities capable of developing that bond, and there’s a reason that Wayne Gretzky has called himself “an Oiler forever.” Athletes like Pronger may play rock-star hockey and win games, but their soulless demeanour and arrogant attitudes will leave them forgotten a couple years after their retirement.

When Hurricane Katrina damaged Favre’s hometown of Kiln, Mississippi, Packer fans organized volunteer groups to go to Kiln to help clean up and rebuild. They did this out of respect, wanting to give back to an athlete who had given them so much. The Chris Prongers of the world will come and go, but there isn’t a city in the world where people will cross the street to say hello to him the day after he hangs up his skates. And if he doesn’t know this now, he will in a few empty years.

So as we meet the season’s end this year, don’t despair OilersNation. Our Brett Favre is just a kid somewhere out there, working out day and night without thought of glory or money. He’s probably getting ready to play a game before hundreds of fans, and dreaming of a day he can lead a team out onto the ice of a rabid Rexall Place.

There isn’t an arena in the league that can touch Rexall in the playoffs, and there are players out there who’d like nothing better than to bring a Cup to a city like Edmonton—a player with the character of a Brett Favre, who will be remembered and revered long after they retire and will able to look fondly back upon their careers with pride.

And when the Brett Favres of the world visit their Green Bays and Edmontons of the world in old age, people who were too young to have never seen them play will walk up to them and ask to shake the hand of a legend. And the Chris Prongers of the world will walk by the very same fans in the cities who have long forgotten them, and the world will have passed them by.

The OilersNation feels for you, Packers fans, as you say goodbye to number four. He was one of the greats.

Go Oilers.