Returns, returns, returns

This column's back, Favre still won't go, and did you see Nadal vs. Federer?

Topics: Football, Tennis, Rafael Nadal, Peyton Manning,

So where were we? Ah, yes, Brett Favre.

This column’s alleged favorite subject just keeps giving, doesn’t he? When last we spoke, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen was just reporting that Favre wanted to play again, according to sources close to the quarterback and the Green Bay Packers.

That story has borne out, and now Favre’s in a game of diva chess with the team, having asked for his release so he can sign somewhere else because he’s not feeling the love radiating properly from Green Bay. The Packers have said he can come back to hold a clipboard for Aaron Rodgers if he wants to. Oh, snap! The club knows he wants no such thing. It’s a standoff for the moment.

What the Packers would really like is for Favre to go away and stay away. Come back to get his number retired, talk to the team before a big game now and then. But not go away just any old way. If the Packers release him, he could go sign with an NFC North rival — the division isn’t exactly brimming with All-Pro quarterbacks these days — and come back twice a year to haunt the Packers as a Lion, Bear or Viking.

Alas for the Packers, they can’t tell Favre he can have his release as long as he signs with an AFC team, preferably one unlikely to be on the other sideline should the Packers make it to Tampa next February. How does Oakland sound to you, eh, Brett?

What they can do is offer him up in a trade to whomever they want. They could make the price for anyone on Green Bay’s 2008 schedule exorbitant, but that’s about all they can control, and even with that they couldn’t go too far.

The Packers really can’t win here. They look like they’re treating one of their legends shabbily if they refuse to let Favre follow his bliss, whatever he thinks that means this week, and they risk the humiliation of getting beaten by Favre at Soldier Field — without even having been compensated — if they magnanimously let him go.

Seems like the thing to do is wait for another change of heart. One’s due any second now.

What else we missed: Every time this column retreats to the woods for a week of contemplation and ascetic living, all hell breaks loose in the sports world. This time it wasn’t so bad, only a Wimbledon men’s final that various chatterers have been calling the best ever.

Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in five sets, ending Federer’s five-year Wimbledon streak and becoming the first man since Björn Borg to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year.

Maybe you heard about it.

“Let’s be unequivocal,” wrote Jon Wertheim in Sports Illustrated. “This was the greatest match ever played.” Wertheim was so unequivocal he didn’t even really bother defending the point, though he did later in a “Mailbag” column on

You had an impossibly rich — Shakespearean, even — subtext. You had two gentlemen. A dazzling rivalry. One versus two. Lefty versus righty. In the Wimbledon finals — the friggin’ Wimbledon finals! Then the match is of the highest quality. And it had everything: serves, returns, shot-making, net play speed, power, grace, alternating momentum, mental strength, injury, acts of God. With literally seconds to go before darkness, the match is won 9-7 in the fifth. Add those ingredients, put it in the Bass-o-matic and you’ve got an unrivalled sporting event.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News joined Wertheim in the extra superlative, writing that it wasn’t just the best tennis match ever played, it was “one of the best championship events that any sport has ever had.”

When I announced I’d be off for a week a reader needled me, saying he was frustrated I’d taken off because he figured the presence of the Williams sisters in the women’s final would force me to write about Wimbledon, and thus I would have no choice but to write about the great Federer-Nadal rivalry. I wrote back, mostly joking, that I was perfectly capable of writing about the Williams sisters without writing about Federer and Nadal.

Theirs is a rivalry I’ve been aware of but haven’t really followed. I find tennis uncompelling in the extreme these days, and where I once tuned in to the late stages of most major tournaments — Australia never did it for me because it happens at a bad time of year, but I rarely missed the semis and finals of the other three — I now sometimes catch a few sets of the Wimbledon finals, if that.

I’m clearly not alone here, as evidenced by sagging TV ratings — though this year’s finals drew good numbers — and the sad spectacle of NBC Wimbledon commentators Ted Robinson and John McEnroe saying throughout the Federer-Nadal match that it was somehow proving that tennis is not irrelevant or in trouble.

Embrace the nichetude, fellas, and quit worrying that maybe soccer has passed tennis as America’s favorite non-favorite sport.

Nadal-Federer was every bit as great as Robinson and McEnroe kept saying it was, maybe even as great as Wertheim and Lupica say. I’m in no position to compare a tennis match to its antecedents, and comparing the 2008 Wimbledon men’s final to, say, Game 7 of the 1960 World Series or Jesse Owens’ performance at the 1936 Olympics is just silly bar talk. Nadal-Federer was better than all but two burritos I’ve ever had and not quite as good as “Vertigo.” You?

I don’t know that it needs to be anything more than what it was, a great tennis match, maybe even the best ever. It’s not going to save tennis, make America embrace this great game again, as McEnroe suggested it ought to do.

Any sport can cough up a great event, as we’re about to relearn from the Olympics, when millions of us will be spellbound by some badminton match or team handball game. Everything came together for tennis last week, as Wertheim points out, and it coughed up a doozy. Good for tennis. What’s next?

The rest of the week seemed to involve a whole lot of Alex Rodriguez’s private life. Now there’s a niche that does not need to be embraced.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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