And it was all over.
He came home an American hero.
He bragged to the world he'd beat the Russians.
He can now command the same money
as heavyweight prizefighters.
He was invited to dinner by statesmen and kings.
Then Bobby Fischer made the most original, unexpected move of all.
--Searching for Bobby Fischer
Brett Favre has me thinking about Marvin Hagler.
Hard, really, to explain Hagler all these years later, isn’t it? But he really mattered. He was, for about three years in the 1980s, just a shade under Larry Bird on the Boston sports scale (impossible to imagine today, with boxing pretty much dead to anyone under 30 or so).
April 6, 1987 remains one of the three worst sports days of my life (Len Bias and 18-1). I walked into the Worcester Centrum (to watch on closed circuit TV. Which to anyone 30 years old or younger might as well be called Your Show of Shows) that night fully convinced that Hagler would humiliate Sugar Ray Leonard and absolutely cement his place as THE fighter of his era. At the very worst it might go 10 rounds or so before he finally put a stop to the dancing and the light jabs and just imposed his will on the lesser man.
But something strange happened.
He lost. To SUGAR RAY LEONARD (who I always imagined as a Laker to Hagler as a Celtic. He is also Agassi (the Image is Everything Andre) to Hagler’s Sampras). It made no sense to me. I stumbled out of the arena in shock.
I was 12 years old.
My dad and I were driving home from the Centrum after the fight. Must’ve been past midnight. Silence mostly. I think it was on 495 where I asked my Dad if Hagler would get a rematch, a chance to right this massive wrong (I was pretty heavily influenced by the WWF at the time. Figured if there were a rematch it would be in a week or two.) And I still remember his answer.
“Of course. Too much money not to.”
There you go. And the idea that these uber-rich guys would never pass up the chance for another couple of million bucks was enough to placate me. So I waited. Back then you’d check the paper, maybe hear something on the radio.
Okay, there were whispers that Leonard wanted no part of Hagler again. Things were set up TOTALLY in Sugar Ray’s favor the first time (ring size, style of gloves, 12 rounds instead of 15) and he knew that he was lucky to pull a decision. This time Hagler would be the only one with something to prove. So he just kept saying no.
Hagler could have fought Hearns again (would’ve been a big money fight). Even a Duran rematch would have made some sense (you have to understand this about the middleweight scene in the 1980’s—it seemed that one these four guys was fighting another all the time. It was not dissimilar to the American comedy film scene of the same era. This was a pair of worlds in which only a few reached elite status, and it seemed that they just decided to keep it in house. Hagler would fight Duran then move to Hearns. Chevy Chase would team up with Dan Ackroyd (Spies Like Us) then work with Steve Martin (Three Amigos). Sugar Ray-Duran? John Candy-Ackroyd (The Great Outdoors) and Candy-Martin (Planes, Trains and Automobiles). Sure, you’d get the occasional John Mugabi or Tom Hanks, but the chalk was pretty much the chalk). But Hagler was consumed with Leonard. Remember, this is a guy that had to wait forever to get the belt (no one would fight him) and was fueled by bitterness. He simply didn’t care about anything else but revenge. And Leonard would not give it to him. So he did the impossible, at least it sure seemed like it to me at the time.
Truth be told, if Brett Favre wants to take a hot, steaming dump on whatever is left of his legacy that’s okay with me. I know I don’t care much if he’s in the NFL next season. I actually don’t think I know anyone that really cares (not counting fans in Minnesota and Green Bay). Good luck, it’s a free country, all that stuff. Probably he’s somewhere in the 18-20 range among QB’s in the NFL. I just can’t muster the energy to worry about someone who might, if everything goes right, be a little better than Shaun Hill or Kyle Orton (and I’m serious about this—looking at every NFL team I count five places where Favre would be the clear-cut No. 1 guy (Jets, Browns, Lions, Bucs and Vikings). You think the Chiefs would trade, for just the 2009 season, Matt Cassel for Favre? Of course not. And I’d put Cassel right in the middle of the QBs in the league.
What bothers everyone, of course, is the endless hype surrounding the story. If ESPN announced tomorrow that they would give the Favre story zero coverage I truly think everyone would be at least okay with the guy playing (again, we will leave the good folks from Minnesota and Green Bay out of this one). I admit that when the Manny story broke my second thought was “at least this kills the Favre stuff on ESPN for a few days”. And it did. But here we are again with the high school practices and the plane rides and Dr. James Andrews and that dopey Bus Cook.
Does ESPN think we care about this story this much? Are they that out of touch (top three Hall and Oates song, by the way. Method of Modern Love and Say It Isn’t So round it out)? This nearly makes me long for the hideous “Who’s Now?” that the Worldwide Leader subjected us to in 2007.
Don’t think I’m letting Favre off the hook here. I fully understand why people are sick of his act. Once the public thinks there is a pretty good chance that you are a phony the book is pretty much written. For years and years we read and were told that Favre is just a good ol’ country boy who will just retreat back to his little house in Mississippi when he is all done (I won’t give away the name of the captain of the No. 4 Propaganda Machine, but how about a few vague hints. He just moved to Boston, drinks Starbucks, writes for Sports Illustrated and is on WEEI during the football season). He drew plays in the dirt and was the Last Real Man. Well, now it seems like he’s the rest of “them”. He wants revenge on the Packers for, it would seem, not loving him enough. I mean isn’t that really all this is about?
Oh, and if Desmond Howard’s parents had never met there’s a good chance that Favre would have as many Super Bowl rings as Mr. Blackwell. At least then I could understand why he may not want to give up the microphone.
(I wonder if it’ll turn out that Favre was the last athlete that people really believed in. Remember, he was pre-internet. He was able to carve a persona without TMZ and blogs and an endless world of second-guessing and all that. I think in the post-steroid world we will not buy the act of any athlete. Sure, we’ll like them, root for them, hope that they get us a title. But the idea that they have more character than we do, or they can just “will” themselves to do great things is gone, I suspect. And that is by no means a bad thing.)
I suspect that 10, 15 years from now Brett Favre will have his day at Lambeau Field. And the good Packers fans will (almost) forgive and (almost) forget the Jets and the Vikings (if he does end up there) and the fact that he kept playing simply out of spite. And with each passing year the end will move away a little more, until it nearly fails to exist, not unlike Willie Mays with the Mets or Steve Carlton with the Twins and it will be an “oh yeah, he was with the Jets” sort of deal. And he will take his place somewhere in that 10-15 place all time at QB and finally leave us alone.
That’s what I suspect. Here is what I know.
Marvin Hagler never had that third act. He didn’t chase the buck (Leonard, Hearns and Duran combined for 60 total fights after Hagler had his final bout. Quick, not counting the fights vs. each other name me five fights on that list of 60. How about three?). He lives in Italy with his finances intact and his speech the same as the day he stopped fighting (no small feat in boxing, of course). He simply never embarrassed himself.
Brett Favre can’t stop chasing revenge he’ll never get. Marvin Hagler knew that he’d never get revenge, so he stopped chasing. Which seems the smarter route?
Of course, all bets are off if Sugar Ray picked up the phone today and called….