The Non-Engagement Strategy

Today, you create a work of art everyone laughs at. Fifty years from now, you’re a genius. Today, you’re a zit riddled teenager no one wants to sleep with. Fifteen years later, you have amazing confidence and can sleep with anyone. Today, you deal with a powerful enemy that humiliates you. Five years from now, that foe loses his ass in the stock market and is suddenly not so powerful anymore. You have them right where you want them. What do these scenarios have in common? Time. This is the only element that has more power than money, sex and power itself.

Because everything eventually changes. You just need to live beyond the terrible situation you’re in today. Not force anything and let nature take its course. Could any of us foresee the end of Blockbuster Video? Starbucks, Google, Apple seem powerful now, but one day, just like anything, they will be toppled and it will be someone else’s turn. You could be that someone else. The laws of nature finds its way into every facet of life, whether we recognize it or not. Understanding its mechanism could determine your fate.

Welcome back to THE 33 STRATEGIES OF SPORTS, a concoction of Robert Greene’s “The 33 Strategies of War” and sports history.

RETREAT TO ADVANCE

On January 20, 2008, the Green Bay Packers were one game from the Superbowl. The game was in Lambeau Field, where the Packers almost always won with franchise quarterback, Brett Favre and second year coach, Mike McCarthy. They were facing an exhausted New York Giants team. The weather would eventually reach as low as 5 degrees, reducing the field to an ice skating rink. When the game went into overtime (tied at 20-20), the Packers had the Giants right where they wanted them. They won the coin toss and Favre led his team up the field with ease… until he shockingly threw an interception. The Giants kicked a field goal and won, 23-20. The Packers home crowd (or Cheese Heads) were shocked by the defeat. The Giants would win the Superbowl that year.

Favre decided it was time to retire. He was going to turn 39 and had enough. He called a sorrowful retirement speech, while the Packers turned to their new young quarterback, Aaron Rogers. McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson insisted they could still be a winning team without Favre and even expressed relief that Favre finally made a decision. They both got 5 year extensions.

But during training camp, Favre said strange things to the press, claiming McCarthy and Thompson pressured him, the face of the Packers for the last 17 years, into making a decision. Brett Favre did not really want to retire. His desire to come back should be welcome and prompted with a red carpet. McCarthy and Thompson discussed Favre’s future with the team for hours and decided it was too late for Favre. They would continue on course with Aaron Rogers. Favre would be traded, if he decided to come out of retirement.

However, the Packers did everything they could to dissuade Favre from coming out of retirement. They offered him $20 million. Favre not only turned it down but wanted to play for the Packer’s most hated rival, the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers did not grant him his wish. They traded the legend to the New York Jets under coach, Eric Mangini, for a fourth round pick.

New York loved Favre, a born self-promoter. He was given a key to the city, boxes of New York Cheesecake, but most importantly, he was winning games, while the Packers had a miserable season. They ended 6-10 in a season where Favre dominated the news with his magical abilities, as well, with sound bites about the mistakes the Packers made letting him go. He singled out Thompson and McCarthy consistently, as well as belittled Aaron Rogers. He was a legend, after all. How could they wrong such a legend.

The nightmare was only cushioned by a Favre injury, a torn bicep, which cost the Jets 5 consecutive games. The Jets would also miss the playoffs. Favre’s age had finally caught up to him. After the season collapsed, Eric Mangini, who named his first child “Brett”, was fired. Favre decided that 18 years was enough and retired for good.

Thompson and McCarthy survived a year of terror, but at the least Favre and his mouth were gone for good. Or were they? During the summer, there were reports that the Jets officially released Favre, allowing him to sign with any team as a free agent. But summer camp went by and there was no sign of Favre. Had he finally retired?

On August 18, 2009, a week before pre-season, footage dominated the news of coach Brad Childress driving Favre from the airport, headed toward the Minnesota Vikings’ practice facility. It was horrifying news for the Cheese Heads. Brett Favre, the man who brought the Packers back from obscurity, who ended a 3 decade championship drought, the only football player to ever win 3 consecutive MVPs, the man who literally started every game for 18 consecutive years, was now going to play for the Packers’ most hated rival, the Minnesota Vikings.

It turned out, the nightmare had just begun for Thompson and McCarthy. On Monday October 5, 2009, Favre finally got his wish, and played against his old team. He humiliated the Packers in a 30-23 victory, jumping like a kid chasing an ice cream truck every time he scored a touchdown. After the game, Favre continuing dominating the media with his sound bytes, ripping McCarthy like the loaf of bread he looked like, while the Vikings players expressed puzzlement that any franchise would let go of such a legendary quarterback in lieu of unproven Aaron Rogers. On November 1st, the Packers would get a rematch against the Vikings, but it got worse. Favre won again, 38-26. Favre would act like he won the lottery every time he scored, jumping up and down. The Packers eventually even cheered form him. He rubbed it in the face of Thompson and McCarthy indeed — through his actions. Favre stopped talking shit, but the media went wild with Thompson and McCarthy’s titanic error. And they had to endure it. The popular opinion on these guys was, they made a terrible mistake.

The Vikings would end the season 12-4 and earn second seed in the playoffs. The Packers would eke into the playoffs, but lose in the first round to Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals (on an Aaron Rogers’ interception). Meanwhile, the Vikings would face the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship. Favre was once again only one game from the Superbowl. There would be terrible humiliation in Green Bay if Favre won. In the last minutes of the game, the Vikings were in a position to beat the Saints, but once again, Favre threw an interception that cost his team. The Saints would advance to the Superbowl. McCarthy and Thompson breathed a sight of relief.

And once more, Favre retired. At age 41, the man had taken a horrible beating that season. He had now started every game for 19 years straight, an incredible streak. Why would anyone return? He had beaten his old team twice and proven that he could still play at an age when most football players are window shopping for a walker. The media loved Favre. He was the face of Wrangler jeans. He poked fun at himself in a Superbowl commercial where he won the MVP at age 50. McCarthy, Thompson and Aaron Rogers certainly could do without the guy. They just wanted to play football. America saw this amazing guy who should be on Mount Rushmore, but McCarthy particularly saw a demon that never left their house.

Indeed, Favre waited until training camp was well over and before ending his latest retirement. He would return to quarterback the Vikings one last year (he insisted). The Vikings had a great defense, the NFL’s most feared running back, Adrian Peterson, and eventually… they would even acquire receiver Randy Moss (after the Patriots let him go). It was now or never. The Vikes were built to win the Superbowl after coming only a few plays shy the previous year.

But like many sequels, this year did not have the magic of the original. The Vikings lost 3 out of their first 4. Favre finally looked his age, making terrible mistakes that cost the team dearly. They were in trouble, starting the season 3-6. They even lost to the Packers in their first divisional game. In the second game, the Packers ripped the Vikings into pieces, beating them by 30 points. To make matters worse, Favre found himself embroiled in a controversy from his New York Jets days. Apparently, he sent a text picture of his penis to the team masseuse and the media ate this up like a pack of wild dogs. Later, head coach Brad Childress let go of Randy Moss after being on the team only a few weeks, finding Moss uncoachable. The Vikings were collapsing inwardly. When the season became out of reach, Childress was fired (the third coach to be fired coaching Favre in the last 6 years). Finally, on December 2nd, 2010, Favre was battered by Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats and sprained his AC joint. The Vikings were done for the season. And Favre’s consecutive starting streak ended at 297. The now or never season became never.

Meanwhile, the Packers again barely made the playoffs, but this time kept advancing… beating the Eagles, Falcons and Bears all the way to the Superbowl, where they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25. Aaron Rogers was the MVP. Coach McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson survived three brutal Brett Favre-less years, absorbing insults, media skewerings, etc, but in the end they waved the Lombardi trophy to millions, putting the final nails on Favre’s coffin, ending his career for good, officially beginning a new of era of championships for the Green Bay Packers.

INTERPRETATION

Brett Favre was the face of the Packers for years, and accomplished incredible feats, breaking records that may never be shattered. He was amazing. But the same reckless mentality that made him who he was stood in the way of the Green Bay Packers success late in his career. He needed a coach that was bigger than him. Mike Holmgren was the last coach with such a presence, and the coach with whom he won his only Superbowl with. Without such a figure, Favre was simply chaotic energy that always came short of a championship.

Under soft-spoken coach Mike Sherman, the Packers would go into the playoffs regularly, only for Favre to throw an ill-advised interception that cost his team a trip to the Superbowl. This occurred almost on an annual basis and Sherman — like Mangini and Childress – was eventually fired.

GM Ted Thompson knew he needed a headstrong coach who would not bend to Favre’s whims and ego. This came in the form of Mike McCarthy. A man who coached his way and was never afraid to tell Favre when he fucked up. Favre did not like McCarthy or Thompson. He felt he should be treated like the superstar he was. Favre also thought it was joke that they considered Aaron Rogers a better quarterback. And the public was generally on Favre’s side. He had earned that respect. McCarthy and Thompson had to live through the storm of Brett Favre before they could go forward. They knew even a superstar of his magnitude would finally dim.

KEYS TO ENGAGEMENT

As Robert Greene puts it, “a key concept in Taoism is that of Wei-Wu, the idea of action through inaction. Of controlling a situation by not trying to control it… Wei-Wu involves the belief that by fighting and reacting against circumstances, by constantly struggling in life, you actually move backwards, creating more turbulence in your path… sometimes it is better to let the winter pass”.

Dealing with a Brett Favre, or someone who has so much more powerful than you, can be overwhelming. When you’re overwhelmed, you don’t think straight. When you don’t think straight, you make mistakes and get crushed. It’s happened to all of us. It’s better to allow the Favre-type his victories, since you are probably no match anyway. One day, even Favre weakens and that is the day you strike. Waiting heightens your power exponentially. McCarthy probably knew he could not turn the Packers into champions right away but understood his time would come.

REVERSAL

Retreating is a source of strength if you eventually fight. If you just keep retreating, it’s surrender. Derek Jeter was a joke two years ago. Jeter usually just gets to first base in an era where home runs are in vogue but now he’s done it 3,000 times. Reaching this milestone has helped Jeter regain his respect and fan base. But he was aiming for 3,000 all along. The idea is, if you cannot win the fight now, trade anything you have for more time to regain perspective.

2 thoughts on “The Non-Engagement Strategy

  1. Gosh Norith, you are probably the only man who can break down sports history in a way that would befit a university psychology class. I’d pay some good college tuition for it! Thanks for the lesson! :)

  2. Thanks Beverly, very nice of you to say that. It would be fun to teach a class like this.

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