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ESPN Is the Diva, Favre Is Just an Old Pro With a Bum Ankle
Posted on Aug 22, 2010
By Mark Heisler
Dog days from hell ...
August is a weird time for Wall Street with all the traders at the beach, for psychiatry (see “What About Bob?”) and for sports too, with baseball, the only show in town, in the fifth month of its long march.
Showing the strain all around, ESPN, the national sports page, led the press in a third annual Brett Favre Watch, which just ended—mercifully—with Brett reporting a year to the day from last summer’s reporting date, when he arrived in Minnesota to take the Vikings to the NFC Finals, two years after coming out of retirement with the Packers to take the Jets nowhere.
That Jet stay is now memorable for more than that, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
If feeding frenzies accompany actual stories, the really funny ones are these, the we-have-nothing-better-to-do kind.
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That leaves correspondents like ESPN’S George Smith and Rachel Nichols stranded for weeks in the middle of summer in the aptly named Kiln, Miss., without a word from Favre, doing stand-ups in front of what must now be the best-known high school field in America.
If paparazzi don’t recognize nuance, this wasn’t 2008, when Favre first retired, learned the Packers could stop him from returning with division rival Minnesota and accepted a Jet offer.
Nor was it 2009 when Favre, coming off a failed comeback, took his time about launching a second with Minnesota.
After last season’s triumph with the Vikings, he said nothing about retiring, looking as if he intended to announce his return as soon as his surgically repaired ankle was OK and he knew he could make it through an NFL season at 41.
Unfortunately, the ankle took its time, during which Favre probably changed his mind 1,000 times, which may be why he didn’t feel like holding daily briefings in Kiln.
In the tradition of Greta Garbo, silence makes stories bigger. Mired in a slow news month, the Big Paparazzo did what it does when it has nothing ... guess at something, blow it up, project from it and comment on it.
On Aug. 3, there was a bombshell report—Favre had sent text messages to teammates saying he was leaning toward retirement.
While all principals denied the story, ESPN’S “SportsCenter” devoted almost the entire show to a Favre retrospective (Brett’s legacy, can Tarvaris Jackson lead the Vikings, ad nauseam).
Then came the report the Vikings were offering Favre a $7 million raise to $20 million, and the inevitable talk-show firestorm told us that Favre, who was “all about seeking attention,” was now “all about the money” too.
Favre finally held still for ESPN’s Ed Werder—or at least didn’t hit the accelerator, sitting at the wheel of his SUV—noting matter-of-factly that he had every intention of returning if his ankle was OK (“If I’m healthy? Sure.”).
Tacitly acknowledging that it had jumped the shark yet again, “SportsCenter’s” Josh Elliott came back with a professorial perspective, although he left out the part about ESPN’S leading-lady responsibility:
All Favre did was wake up every day, hoping his ankle was better and finding it wasn’t, while media outlets chased their tails and blamed him for keeping them guessing.
Beware the ides of July and August.
LeBron James’ free-agent decision was not only significant, it came in early July, which is when the dog days start.
In the 10 months from September, when the NFL starts, to July, at least two of the four major leagues are playing, along with the NCAA football and basketball seasons being under way. For one glorious week in November, there are five (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA football).
In July and August, we’re on our own.
Realizing the Princess Diana coverage that James’ planned visits to the five teams on his list would get, LeBron invited them to Cleveland instead.
That left the press doing remotes outside his LRMR downtown office, with no word from LeBron, his people or team officials—leaving reporters and their frustrated bosses, who were footing the bill for this ennui, in an ever-nastier mood, grumbling all the while about James’ effrontery.
(With James about to make his announcement, my boss at the Los Angeles Times asked me if I wasn’t sick of this story. I said I’d better not be, after having written about this day for three years. My boss also told me that we’d have half the staff writing that night.)
Unfortunately, James didn’t realize giving his announcement exclusively to ESPN was even worse than a royal tour, and became the former golden child now known as “Queen James.”
At least Favre made the popular decision, deciding to return, so he got the big treatment, instead of being stoned.
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