Leaving the game before the game leaves you

For the first time in a while, I watched ESPN’s SportsCenter this morning.  Football season is starting early for them, as news has broken this week that Brett Favre looks like he’s making his annual decision to come out of retirement.   (As a side note don’t you have to be retired at some point to come out of retirement?)  The rumor even spurred rampant speculation on the whereabouts of Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings Coach and star of Arrested Development.

Of course, the reaction seem to be nearly universal from the sports fans I’ve talked to: they feel Favre showed his age during the New York Jets’ 1-4 collapse last year and should leave the game with the dignity he still has, instead of rehashing his annual will-he-or-won’t-he dance that threatens to overshadow a career as an NFL icon.

But it made me wonder: do other professions have the same issue?  Is there a point in the career of a politician, journalist, or pundit where he or she should just pack it in – or, perhaps, do something different (just as an athlete might become a broadcaster)?

Karl Rove may be a good example.  The architect of George W. Bush’s political victories and many of the Republican gains of the 2000s is now nearly ubiquitous – regularly contributing to the Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal.

Rove is no wash-out, of course – he left the campaign business at the top of his game, having guided a President to election and re-election and having contributed to  the electoral victories that strengthened Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

But you could also argue that Favre would have had the same stature if he had simply retired after the 2007 season, having lead a 13-3 Packers team to within a game of the Superbowl.  Who knows how we would think of Rove if he had pulled the equivalent of Favre’s move to the Jets – joining, perhaps, a losing 2008 primary campaign?  Instead, he maintained his personal brand and is still rightly considered an expert in his field.

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