Wow, 60 years of causing smiles

Just in case you missed it, Brett Favre retired earlier this week.

The mercurial Green Bay Packers quarterback/gunslinger decided to pack up his toys and go home after 17 fun-filled years of monumental performances and near-historic blow-ups — with each performance of his career holding us tight to the couch as he took risk after risk, fighting for victory with every inch of his heart.

He was exciting. He was exasperating. And he was absolutely beloved by Packers fans. I always knew he was a fan favorite, but I guess I never truly appreciated the extent of his popularity until I was listening to the NFL Network the day he retired, and heard the outpouring of love from Packers fans filling the air for hours. He was, to put it mildly, a hero to many.

I began mentally comparing it to the sadness I felt when Cal Ripken Jr. retired from the Baltimore Orioles. Sure, he was past his prime when he walked off into the proverbial sunset, and he was never really a player comparable to Willie Mays or Babe Ruth or, heck, Barry Bonds. But he was my guy, and he was the guy for thousands and thousands of baseball fans.

I always liked Favre. I liked his cowboy-like swagger when he walked to the line of scrimmage, I admired his spirit to play week after week with injuries and I always appreciated the way he went for victory every single game, as opposed to the boring, buttoned-down, over-coached quarterbacks of today who are afraid to take a risk. Sure, it blew up in his face time after time, but he went for it — and there’s something I respect in that.

As callers recounted their own favorite memories of Favre, the one that kept getting told was the Dec. 22, 2003 Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders. Favre’s father, Irv, had passed the day before the game, and even a casual fan like myself knew all about how close the two of them were with one another. Surprisingly enough, Favre took the field that night and, even more surprisingly, threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-7 victory for the Packers. I remember watching Favre break down emotionally in postgame interviews, and getting a little misty myself.

That’s because I appreciated the relationship Favre had with his father, and thus appreciated how much he wanted to put on a spectacular performance for his father. See, I also have a father I admire a great deal.

Dennis James McCann turned 60 on March 6. He’s retired from the software industry and a brief foray in the golf tournament business now, and enjoying his life with my mother down in Pinehurst, N.C., where he spends most of his free time playing golf or poker, bowling or following the national recruitment of high school football players on the Internet.

In short, he’s a happy guy.

But that’s probably a little simplistic because he’s always been a pretty happy guy. It’s a trait of my father’s that has always mystified me, and one I’ve tried to tap into for much of my adult life — his rare ability to simply appreciate the things he has around him, regardless of the stresses he was facing in his day-to-day life. When he came home from a two-week business trip he was happy to see us and listen to everything that happened in his absence, even if he looked like he was due a 48-hour nap.

Give him a birthday card, and he’d swell with pride. Get thrown out at the plate trying to score from second base on a single and he’d be congratulating you for going for it, even if you lost the game. Put him around family and forget it — that’s his happiest place on Earth.

There has always been a feeling with my father that no matter how bad it might look, it’s not the end of the world. For all the teasing I do about him using the same lines year after year, I do find myself stealing two of them frequently: The first is, “Is that your biggest problem in life? You’re a lucky guy. A lot of people have it way worse than you.” The second silly gem is, “My name’s McCann, not McCan’t. I hate the word ‘can’t’.” Ask my reporters how much they enjoy that one.

But that’s who he is. And I love him for it.

The greatest compliment I’ve received is that a few people have said that I remind them of my father. Though I’m guessing they’re discussing the bald dome, paunch and affinity for really corny jokes, it still rings as the highest form of flattery for me. When you aspire to be something, or someone, even the loosest link is an honor.

But he has set a high bar. He was succesful in business, has a loving and perfect wife (I do afterall love my mommy), adoring children and grandchildren who think he is the man of all men. He’s also been inseperable with a group of friends since his high school days, is very close to his brother and sister and has a string of nephews and nieces who brighten up whenever he walks in a room.

It’s a great life, that keeps getting better as more people enter our family. Maybe that’s what his secret to happiness has been — focus on those around you, and you can’t help but be full of life.

So, I guess I’m trying to say, “Happy birthday, Dad.”

The first 60 years of your life have largely been spent working hard and raising a family. Enjoy the next 60 years on your own terms, and know that you’ve created a legacy for generations of future McCanns — not McCan’ts. I love you.