The best thing about conspiracy theories is that, regardless of the element of truth or validity a conspiracy theory has, unless there is a clear admission by one party or a smoking gun that makes a conspiracy theory a conspiracy fact, it remains up in the air and open to debate.
One thing that seemingly wasn’t able to be discounted as a primary reason for Brett Favre announcing his retirement earlier this week is the connection between his decision and the disposition of former Viking Randy Moss.
If the conspiracy theory holds water, Vikings fans, players and coaches owe Moss a debt of gratitude. For those with longer memories, you will recall that Favre was vocally upset with the Packers' decision during last year’s draft not to pony up a fourth-round pick – repeat, a fourth-round pick! – to make a trade with the Raiders to acquire Moss. The Packers had a better fourth-rounder to offer the Raiders than the Patriots for the disgruntled receiver and Favre offered to restructure his contract so the Packers could make the deal work within their own salary cap. However, management opted not to sign Moss and Favre let it be known that he wasn’t happy about it.
Flash forward one year. The Patriots got plenty of bang for their buck out of Moss, who set an NFL record with 23 touchdown receptions in a single season. While the Packers shocked the NFL with a 13-3 record and were playing at home for the NFC Championship Game, the team had seemingly done it with smoke and mirrors. They had a running back that they had acquired during the preseason from the Giants and a young corps of wide receivers that played above their heads during a magical run. While the Packers didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, they clearly had established themselves as one of the preseason favorites for 2008 – or so we thought.
Enter Randy Moss once again. It was the conventional wisdom that, in order to placate Tom Brady in a season in which the Patriots would be able to afford keeping free agents like Asante Samuel and Donte Stallworth, keeping Moss was a must. However, as the deadline came to franchise players, Moss’ name wasn’t on the list. He was going to be allowed to test the free-agent market. However, it was also believed that that Patriots, if not already having a deal in place to re-sign Moss, were the clear frontrunners to get a new deal done.
But, as free agency began, there was still no movement on the Moss front. One day went by. Then two. Then three. With each passing day of no news, it became apparent that, for his own best interests, Moss and his agent might consider moving on to another team. News leaked that the Eagles, who had been burned internally by Terrell Owens a couple of years earlier, were not only interested in Moss, but put together a package to sign him. That was just the beginning of the rumor mill.
Rumors started coming out that Moss would need to be on a team with an established quarterback and a legitimate chance of winning a championship. Those teams weren’t that many – they included the Patriots, Colts, Cowboys, Packers, Giants and Eagles. The buzz had it that Jerry Jones might be interested and even that the Colts might throw their hat in the ring if he stayed on the open market. Behind the scenes, the conspiracy theorists have it, Favre again mentioned to the Packers that, if he was to go through the grind of another NFL season (his 18th in the league), the organization would have to do something to step up like the Pats did last year by surrounding Tom Brady with offensive weapons like Moss, Wes Welker and Stallworth. When it became clear that Moss was available and that other teams were inquiring about what it would take to land him – the Eagles reportedly made a more substantial offer than Moss eventually accepted to stay in New England – the fact the Packers again refused to get into the bidding for one of the few wide receiver difference-makers available, his decision was made for him.
At his press conference Thursday, in which he choked back tears talking about how he physically could play at a high level this season but mentally he wasn’t ready for the strain that is associated with committing to another season, perhaps the more telling Favre quote was on the cell phone of ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, in which he spoke from the heart about the pressure of coming back for another season. In the recorded message, Favre said that the expectations were such that anything short of not just getting to the Super Bowl, but winning it, would be viewed as a disappointment. Had the team signed Moss, those expectations wouldn’t have changed, but the Packers ability to live up to those expectations would have been greatly enhanced. When Moss re-signed with the Patriots, that potential avenue to make another Super Bowl run with a Hall of Famer lined up on the outside of Favre’s formations diminished, so too, it would seem, did Favre's desire to wait any longer to make his decision public.
For those of us who have covered the NFL and seen Favre in action – both at the Metrodome and at Lambeau Field – it is easy to see the impact he has had on the game. It was hard for most knowledgeable fans to boo Favre on the road. He was a one-of-a-kind talent that most of us can tell our children and grandchildren we were lucky enough to see play. But unlike other current Hall of Fame quarterbacks I and others have been lucky enough to see play in person, their exit from the game came under different circumstances. Joe Montana finished his career with the Chiefs and it was clear at the end that his body couldn’t hold up to the strain. The same was true for Dan Marino, who limped around as if he could barely take another step. John Elway won two Super Bowls and had nothing more to prove. Steve Young and Troy Aikman got forced out of the game they loved due to multiple concussions. Favre was none of the above. He still had the skill, the desire and the health to continue playing. He chose not to and his decision came less than 24 hours after he learned for certain that Moss wouldn’t be joining the Packers in 2008.
Some will say that is merely coincidence. Conspiracy theorists will disagree. In the wall-to-wall coverage that followed the announcement, many in the national media shared the viewpoint I had right out of the gate – Moss re-signs, Favre resigns. While he has said that there is no connection, that is hard to swallow, because, after mulling retirement when the Packers were a .500 team with little to no chance of competing for a championship, the team was closer than it had been in years to achieving that goal.
Now the Packers are a 13-3 team in rebuilding mode. Good luck, Aaron Rodgers, because you’re going to need it. As fans and teammates have found out in places like Denver and Miami, you don’t replace a living legend immediately. In fact, neither of those franchises has ever seemed to recover from the retirement of their franchise QB.
While many Vikings fans didn’t like Favre, I defy any of them to say they didn’t respect him. At times, it’s better to be respected than liked, and anyone who didn’t have a respect for Favre simply didn’t get it. The game has lost one of its true greats and, if Moss was the reason, all the better for Vikings fans. The reaction out of Green Bay was similar to as if Favre had died. He didn’t. He is getting on with the next chapter of his life, even though he admitted at his press conference Thursday that he has no idea what that will be.
For those who remain in denial and believe that, when July rolls around, Favre will have a change of heart and return to the game he has dominated for almost two decades, don’t hold your breath. The odds are overwhelmingly on the side that won’t happen. But, if you want to play the conspiracy card, had the Packers signed Moss, would his decision have been different? That depends on your point of view. I’m convinced he would have come back because, by his own admission, he is still physically able to play and still loves the game. So why quit?
Let the conspiracy theorists postulate that question until Favre himself addresses that issue at some later point. For now, Vikings players, coaches and fans owe Moss a “thank you” because it would seem he was able to do what the Vikings weren’t able to do with much regularity – assure that Favre wouldn’t beat the purple and gold again.