Some people don't know when to quit when they're ahead. Brett Favre is such a person.
The first 17 times he retired, you felt sorry for him. He seemed to be a guy struggling with his athletic mortality and a love of the game that has always been self-evident. He should have left as a Packer, but you couldn't blame him for wanting to show them up.
You could even excuse him for the long summer of his discontent a year ago before he finally showed up and nearly turned the Vikings into a Super Bowl team. Sure, he threw the fatal pick against the Saints, but he was so beaten up by then and had so clearly lifted the Vikings to a place they never would have gotten to without him that you shook your head and smiled the way you do about your crazy cousin who is so brave and so remarkable yet always seems to get his neck in a noose.
But with each passing day, it is now clear that Favre should have followed his instincts this summer and stayed down on the farm. Even after his teammates took a day off from training camp and flew via private jet to beg him to come back, he should have known better.
He knew his ankle was a mess and his elbow was throbbing even when he was only throwing to starry-eyed high school kids in Hattiesburg. He knew he'd played out the string, but hubris is a lethal thing, and "no'' can be the hardest word a man can utter when all around him are people begging him to do that which he knows in his heart he no longer can do.
Not only is Favre struggling with his elbow and his accuracy this time, but now he's embroiled in an ugly sex scandal made up of sleazy and, as yet, unproven allegations involving a former Jets sideline "reporter,'' a couple of massage therapists and a cell phone camera.
It is a sad end for a 41-year-old man who always has been looked upon like Huck Finn, treated like Tom Sawyer and asked to do nothing more but throw footballs around better than hardly anyone ever has.
The fatal trap Favre has become at this stage of his career is that a team like the Vikings cannot win without him but in the end won't win with him. His presence allows them to ignore other weaknesses because he can still cover up many faults, as he did against the Jets when he lofted three second-half touchdown passes to turn a beating into a dramatic confrontation. But in the end he becomes a guy who will try to be the mythic gunslinger one time too many, and instead of slinging the gun, will shoot himself in the foot and his team out of the game.
And so you wonder, in the end, if Favre knew all along that he'd ridden his arm and his celebrity as far as it could safely take him and it was time to stop. You wonder if that's why he sat home for so long before finally succumbing to a plane-load of teammates who had no idea what they were getting this time.
What they were getting was Joe Namath in a Rams jersey and Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform. They were getting an empty suit, playing out the string in the saddest of places — in the glare of lights that no longer shine on him for the reasons they once did.
Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald.