As I was checking my e-mail and Yahoo! Sports during a post-lunch break this past Tuesday, three words made me stop in my tracks: “Brett Favre Retiring.”

I was shocked.

For 13 years, I had loyally watched and followed the all-star quarterback and his Green Bay Packers.

And now, it was all over.

Growing up as a baseball and basketball player, I never watched much football — or cared for it, really. My first exposure to football came in 1997 during Super Bowl XXXI, when the Packers beat the Patriots, 35-21. I, of course, watched Desmond Howard clinch the victory with a 99-yard kickoff-return touchdown. But what stood out to me, even back then, was Favre.

I watched the young quarterback throw two long bombs for touchdowns and then celebrate by removing his helmet and running off the field. From that point on, I was hooked.

I would be there for the Packers’ disappointing loss in the following Super Bowl and for the final regular-season game in 2003, watching and waiting for the Arizona Cardinals’ unlikely upset of the highly favored Minnesota Vikings that would propel the Pack into the playoffs.

Over the years, the one constant in all those games was Favre.

The numbers are plain and simple: Favre leaves the National Football League with the most completions (5,377), passing attempts (8,758), passing touchdowns (442), passing yards (61,655), career victories as a starting quarterback in the regular season (160) and, more dubiously, interceptions (288). The list goes on: a Super Bowl ring, three-straight MVP Awards and, most importantly, the most consecutive starts among NFL quarterbacks at 275, including playoff games. To put that number into perspective: 409 other quarterbacks have started in the NFL since Favre’s streak began in Sept. 27, 1992, with division rival Chicago Bears going through 21 passers.

But it won’t be the records for which people will remember Favre; those will surely be broken in the future. Rather, it will be the energy and sense of excitement that the Mississippi native brought every Sunday. For every moment of jubilation, there would be a remote-throwing-inducing play.

But that’s how it was with Favre.

He took chances and, more often than not, came up big. Favre gave the Packers a chance to win each week and the ability to pull out close games. In the NFC divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks earlier this year, Favre looked like he was about to get sacked as he stumbled his way towards the sideline. Miraculously, he was able to look downfield and flip the ball to tight end Donald Lee, who ran for the first down. Just another typical you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it play in his 17-year career.

Brett Favre showed audiences that playing football is fun. We easily become disenchanted with professional sports when we read headlines about players holding out for larger contracts or being convicted of various felonies. But all disgruntled veterans or controversies aside, Favre reminded us that, at its most basic level, football is an enjoyable game. Whether it was defending his crown as the belching king in the Green Bay locker room or throwing snowballs at his teammates, Favre showed us that, even at 38 years old, he was still a kid at heart and invited us — the audience, his fans — to join in the excitement.

For all his accolades and charismatic personality, Favre seems to be an automatic shoo-in to the Hall of Fame. For me, though, it was Favre’s handling of adversity that rendered him endearing and deserving of fame. Everyone loves a story of overcoming obstacles. During his career, Favre has battled a Vicodin addiction, struggled as his wife dealt with breast cancer and the weathered the destruction of his home by Hurricane Katrina.

My favorite memory of the Packer’s No. 4 was his Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 22, 2003, the day after his father passed away. Fans would have understood if Brett wanted to sit out and spend time with his family, but he elected to play in the game. In an emotional match, Favre was nearly perfect in passing for 399 yards, four touchdowns and a final QB rating of 154.9, en route to a 41-7 Packers victory. Watching his wife in the club seats and Brett attempting to keep his emotions in check on the field, I, along with millions of other fans, choked up and felt for Favre. That performance defined not only the type of person Favre is but also what it means to be an athlete and competitor.

To Favre, I owe my love of football and my own brief football career. Without having seen him play 11 years ago, I probably would not have made the memories I did on the football field. For those years, I laughed, shouted in joy and groaned in frustration while watching Favre play, and enjoyed every second of it.

Of course, almost immediately after Favre’s announcement, speculation ran rampant that he would eventually come to his senses and reverse his decision. To many, it makes a lot of sense that Favre would return after reaching the NFC Championship Game with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters and stating that he has a couple years of football left in him. The pieces are there for a great and competitive Packers squad. Did the Packers management not do enough to entice Favre to come back?

In spite of all the he-said-she-said, you can’t fault a man for making his own decision. After all, as much as we fans want Favre to return, he has the right to decide the trajectory of his career. The rumor mill will continue to churn, but regardless of what happens, I only have three words to say: Thank you, Brett.