There are many types of columns. One hardy perennial is what I call the push-the-button column.
What this means is that there are columns you know will push the buttons of angry fans. Now I do not write one of these columns for that purpose. I cannot write something I don't believe. I have never written for effect or to rile people up for its own sake But there are times when you know you will generate response, and said response is far more likely to be negative than positive.
I wrote such a column for the Sunday, March 9 Globe. The subject was Brett Favre, who had announced his retirement from the NFL in a teary press conference earlier that week. I had been kidding about him all year during various TV appearances, saying on the ESPN "Sports Reporters" show that I was "Favred out." And I was.
My problem wasn't his playing. He had a tremendous year for the Packers. But I was put off by the adulation that bordered on canonization, particularly by the networks. I know the case for Brett Favre. I could write it myself. Toughest QB alive. Three-time MVP. All-time leader in completions, yardage, and TD passes. Never missed a game. Overcame addiction to painkillers and alcohol. Does great charity work. Just someone who seems totally accessible as a personality to the fans. Perhaps the most popular Packer ever. Etc. etc., etc.
But the networks acted as if it were Brett Favre and the 43 Dwarfs. He had a great year, yes, but the Packers were also good because they had a really good defense and because they found a running back in Ryan Grant. This all reached a peak on Thanksgiving Day, when it was billed as St. Brett vs. the Lions. Anyway, that's the way I saw it.
I also wanted to put Favre in the proper historical perspective. To me, he's barely in the Top 10 all-time, and I surely wouldn't want him QBing a game I absolutely, positively need to win, since his notorious recklessness makes him the most likely candidate of all the great QBs in history to throw the foolish, game-killing interception. To me, this was rather obvious.
Now I fully expected the response to be overwhelmingly negative. 3-to-1, 4-to-1. Maybe even 10-to-1. So I'm pleasantly surprised to report that, with most precincts having reported, the tally is as follows:
Yea --- 100
Nay --- 106
Neutral --- 19
The most interesting aspect of the response is that so many of the people who said, "Yeah, I got a little sick of the Favre adulation" and, "Yeah, he's overrated" and, "Yeah, the INTs drive me crazy" came from Wisconsin. It's obvious there is a brave cadre of Favre critics who live a quiet life, not unlike the members of the French resistance during WWII. They dare not voice their Favre feelings in public, but they're darn glad I spoke for them.
Most of the negative fans had a predictable tone. You don't know anything about quarterbacks. You don't know anything about Brett Favre. You don't know anything about football. You don't know anything about sports. You don't know anything about anything. You should retire. You should be fired. You should die.
That's entirely normal. All columnists learn to expect this. You can't take it personally. It's just people blowing off steam because you have insulted their favorite (pick one) team, player, coach, state, whatever.
And I welcome that. It's all part of the fun. Sports arguments are what keep us all going in this business.
But there were a few who just don't get it. It always amuses me when people come up with various conspiracy theories. I took issue with Favre because I'm a Tom Brady fan, or because the Patriots lost. Not true. Utterly irrelevant. Nothing to do with anything.
The other thing some people believe is that I would write that just to be controversial, or, as a couple of them put it, "to make a name for myself." I've been writing here since 1968. By this time I either have a "name" or I don't. It's a little too late for that.
Do I care if people agree with me? To some extent, sure. If you believe you're advocating a reasonable position, well, sure, it would be nice to have some approval. If it's zero to 100 against, something is wrong. I wouldn't be real comfortable with 10-90, either.
But in this case, due to the nature of things I was expecting to get hooted down, big-time, and I wasn't. Life's full of surprises.