Brett Favre was the NFL's ultimate iron man for 19 years, inspiring coaches and teammates with unparalleled toughness and thrilling fans with a daredevil's verve and a showman's sense of the moment.
Yet the once-irrepressible Favre never looked older or more fragile than in year No. 20. The magic of last season, and most of his brilliant career, never seemed farther away.
It had to end some time. And Favre says that time is now.
The 41-year-old quarterback sat out Minnesota's season-ending loss to the Lions on Sunday with a concussion, and it appears that perhaps the toughest man to ever play in the NFL had his career end not on the field trying to rally the Vikings to another victory, but on the bench as a third-string rookie floundered in Favre's place.
No one — not even Brett Favre — can play forever.
"I know it's time, and that's OK. It is," Favre said after the 20-13 defeat. "Again, I hold no regrets, and I can't think of too many players offhand that can walk away and say that. Individually and from a team standpoint, it was way more than I ever dreamed of."
He also retired in 2008 with the Packers and 2009 with the Jets, only to return to the field both times when the football bug bit him in the summer. He knows that there will be doubters again.
"I don't know for me if it's ever easy," Favre said. "I'm sure throughout this year, the comment has been made that, 'We'll wait and see in August or September' and that's fine. It's time. I'm OK with it."
If this indeed is the end — for real, this time — for Favre, one of the most colorful and celebrated careers in league history concluded with a season filled with interceptions, injuries and insults.
He was picked off 19 times this season and his 69.9 quarterback rating is the lowest of his career. The Vikings sunk to the bottom of the NFC North after starting the season with Super Bowl aspirations, coach Brad Childress was fired during the season and Favre was fined $50,000 for failure to cooperate with an NFL investigation into allegations that he sent lewd photos and messages to a game-day hostess when both worked for the New York Jets in 2008.
Favre's reputation took a serious hit from the humiliating scandal, which tarnished the image of one of the league's most popular players. He declined to comment on the fine after the game.
His long-awaited union with receiver Randy Moss also was a spectacular failure and his cherished streak of 297 straight starts ended three weeks ago, with a sprained throwing shoulder making it impossible for Favre to let those famously zip-filled passes rip from his right arm.
And just for good measure, the Metrodome roof caved in to provide a perfect metaphor for Favre and the Vikings' 2010, forcing the Vikings to play "home" games at Detroit and at the University of Minnesota's outdoor stadium in December.
"It's been a wonderful experience for me," Favre said. "This year did not work out the way we would have hoped, but that's football. I don't regret coming back. I enjoyed my experience here."
He was listed as doubtful for the game against the Lions on Sunday, having failed to pass the necessary tests to be cleared to play during the week. The Vikings announced that he was inactive about 80 minutes before kickoff, and Joe Webb started his second straight game at quarterback.
"He's a guy who loves football to death. You can tell. He played up until he was 41 years old," Webb said. "I admire him, he's a great mentor for me. I'll always keep in contact with him."
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