Every hero needs someone to champion his heroics. Samuel Johnson had Boswell, the Kennedys got their reputations buffed by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Sidney Blumenthal massaged the Clintons. Fred Barnes defended George W. Bush when no one else would. Pauline Kael forever touted Brian De Palma. And Brett Favre has always had Peter King.
King and Favre are the sports world's leading symbiotes. For two decades and 78 retirements and unretirements—including Tuesday's signing with the Minnesota Vikings—the quarterback has given Sports Illustrated's football scribe unrivaled access to his life and inner thoughts. In return, King has lovingly documented Favre's on-the-field derring-do and off-the-field tractor-riding and lawn-mowing. For King, the QB has been both a meal ticket and a member of his extended family: The twosome dined together on the Fridays before Packers games and shared quality time on Favre's Mississippi property.
As Favre began to contemplate retirement, the writer and the source stayed close. When the quarterback has that sinking feeling he might want to retire, King gets the first phone call. "I'm just tired," the QB told the writer last year. "I wish I had some big dramatic reason why. But I don't."
But King's perpetual contact with football's leading Wrangler pitchman hasn't helped him divine Favre's ins and outs. "So now I've been wrong three times," King lamented last month. "I thought he was retired last year and he played for the Jets. I thought he was retired this year, and I said he'll come back to play for the Vikings unless his arm is a problem. His arm wasn't. And he still isn't going to play. That's why I give up." After Favre's move to Minnesota this week, it's time to update the tally: King has now been wrong four times.
A timeline of the King-Favre relationship—as seen in clips from Sports Illustrated and SI.com—reveals a gradual change over time. In the beginning, King writes like a proud parent documenting his child's first steps. In recent weeks, he's taken on the demeanor of a father who's forever getting strung along by a drug-addict son—he desperately wants to believe that he's hearing the truth this time, but he's been burned so many times before …
The early years
Sports Illustrated, Oct. 5, 1992: For the second time in eight days [Brett] Favre (rhymes with carve) stole the show, leading the Packers to victory. … Reining in Favre's enthusiasm may be Holmgren's biggest task. After the winning drive against the Bengals, Favre ran off the field jumping and screaming as if he'd won the lottery. The game, however, was only tied, at 23. … "I've got a lot to learn," says Favre.
Sports Illustrated, Dec. 19, 1994: Favre won't be perfect. But he has proved he can carry a good team. And who wouldn't give the moon today for a 25-year-old quarterback with guts and a golden arm, scars and all?
Sports Illustrated, Oct. 11, 1999: Favre turns 30 on Oct. 10, and few signs point to the only three-time MVP in the history of the league being any less of a player in his 30s. "Thirty's just a number," Favre says.
SI.com, Dec. 11, 2000: "If in two years, say, they want to trade me, I'd probably walk away. Retire." … And when you retire? "I'll be down in Hattiesburg. You'll never find me. You know the HBO 'Where are They Now?' segments on Inside the NFL? They'll do one on me, but they'll have to get Robert Stack,like on Unsolved Mysteries. I'll disappear."
An early warning sign
Sports Illustrated, Nov. 8, 2004: In 1995, SI dispatched me to Green Bay to do a story on a week in the life of a football team. I got close to Favre, spending a couple of long evenings at his home. And when he went into a rehab center the next spring for his Vicodin addiction, I thought, "I was around this guy for hours and hours, and I never knew. How could I have been deceived?"
Brett thinks about retiring
Sports Illustrated, April 24, 2006: You'd never have thought that a little indecision could tarnish the legend of Brett Favre in Green Bay. But with each day the 36-year-old quarterback spends on his family's 465-acre spread in Hattiesburg, Miss., without deciding if he will return to the Packers for one more season, the folks up north seem to love him less and less.
Sports Illustrated, March 12, 2008: He led the league in sarcasm, but open his veins and he'd bleed honesty, just as he did when he announced his retirement. "I'm just tired," he told me. "I wish I had some big dramatic reason why. But I don't. I know I can still play, but mentally, I'm just drained." … That's the guy I expect the retired Favre to be like. Doing battle with the dam-building beavers on his property. Edging the front lawn abutting the road in front of the house. Golfing.
Sports Illustrated, March 17, 2008: Army Special Forces Team Sgt. Scott Olson … can relate to Favre. He's the Army's version of a quarterback, leading a well-trained 12-man unit, creating a strategy to attain an objective and then—like a quarterback audibling in the face of the unexpected—changing the plan on the fly if the need arises. … Olson and his men felt for Favre. They wondered if he'd pull a Michael Jordan and come back. Very doubtful, I said. He's had enough.