FAVRE COULD HAVE MADE IT TRULY SUPER

Yes, New Orleans versus Indianapolis could be a good Super Bowl, maybe a great one, but it won’t be the best we could have seen. That would have been Peyton Manning, who made it, opposite Brett Favre, who came within one blown play of being there.

Admit it. When Favre was running wild in those final seconds Sunday night, you thought, “My God, he’s going to pull this off. He’s going to make it from retirement all the way back to the Super Bowl as a 40-year-old quarterback.”

And then, in one regrettable, agonizing instant, Favre did what he has done too often in his career, but managed to avoid doing all season in Minnesota, managed to stay away from so completely that you actually thought he was cured, clean, dried out, like an ex-smoker who no longer craves a drag after a meal.

He tried to win it by himself.

He forced a pass into the worst kind of moment, in the worst kind of way, throwing across his body, on the run, to the middle of the field, where a defender can play the angles and get there first.

And that’s exactly what happened. A case of gridiron déjÀ vu

A Saints cornerback named Tracy Porter intercepted Favre’s mistake. The game went to overtime. But from the moment Favre let the ball go, you knew it was over. The football gods would not be this cruel unless it was somehow fated, meant to be, that Favre, who first retired after getting to within minutes of a previous Super Bowl, would have it happen again, the same way.

Two years ago, Favre’s last pass of the season was in this same NFC championship weekend, an overtime interception to the Giants, who won the game and went on to the title. Sunday, his pick was again his last pass of the season, maybe his career.

“I probably should have ran it,” he told the media after the game, and of course he should have. There were yards there in open field, at least 5, and that would have put the game on the foot of Ryan Longwell, a veteran almost as old as Favre who made 93% of his kicks this season, including a 52-yarder. This one would have been around 50 yards, in a dome.

But Longwell never got the chance. Whatever spirit takes over Favre and convinces him he can thread a ball through the eye of a needle grabbed him again, and in that instant, he went from an old guy doing amazing things to an old guy who looked his age. Such a wasted opportunity

The shame of it is, the Vikings deserved to win. They outgained and outdefensed the Saints. They turned the ball over five times – five times! – and still only lost by a field goal. So Favre’s getting to Miami would not have been theater, he could have gone with his head high and his team rolling.

And then, what a Super Bowl! Indianapolis’ Manning on one side, arguably the best quarterback of his generation, against Favre, the best argument against him? No offense to Tom Brady, who has the rings, or Drew Brees, who has the stats, but Manning and Favre have the years and the road miles. They each possess a leadership quality and a pocket intelligence unrivaled. To see them trot back and forth onto the same field, for the championship, would have been a true clash of the titans, a moment that even the hype could not overdo.

Yes, I know Favre rubs some people the wrong way, especially recently, but you have to admit, he knew something others didn’t. He knew he still had it in him to lead a team to a title. He had a great season. He again did not miss a game. I cannot fathom how long and hard and far it was from training camp to that last interception, sort of like Moses dying on the mountain, overlooking the Promised Land.

So now Favre goes home to think it over. Yes, off-season drama is the worst stitch in his tapestry, and he get can a bit precious about it.

But how many of us can say we’ve passed retirement age and still gathered it up to push our team to a place men half our age could not? Football is played on the field, and on the field, Favre wove an incredible story, right up to the final pass of the game, the season, maybe his career. On such moments, a flick of the arm instead of pulling it back and running – can destiny turn, and a Super Bowl that could have been disappear into thin air.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Albom will have a live Web chat at 2 p.m. today at mitchalbom.com.

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