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Playing psychologist with sports knuckleheads

What were they thinking?

*Brett Favre: A year ago at this time Favre was still taking bows for, arguably, the greatest season any pro quarterback ever experienced at such a late age, 38. Last week he retired once more, supposedly for good, via an e-mail to the New York Jets, for whom he flamed brightly for half a season and then went down in flames. His one-season team unaccountably missed the playoffs, got his coach fired and left a locker room full of teammates with unfavorable memories of him.

Motivation: Delusions of grandeur and a stubborn insistence that the laws of aging didn't apply to him.

*Alex Rodriguez: Already the best player in baseball, A-Rod wasn't satisfied and went for the juice. Apparently the steroid that propels a player to great things in baseball's postseason hasn't been invented yet. Now he's doomed to be known as "A-Fraud" forever and instead of slam-dunk entrance to the Hall of Fame he threw up a brick.

Motivation: Greed, but not the financial sort. He wanted to be ranked above Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron but now he's linked to Barry Bonds forever.

*Joe Torre: He spent a lifetime building a reputation as "Good Joe," and he deserved it through his playing and managerial career. His days with the Yankees probably iced a place in Cooperstown. So why should he feel compelled to write a book, largely about his Yankee experiences working for George Steinbrenner, now a sick man, and making public Rodriguez's "A-Fraud" image in the dressing room? His work with the Dodgers polished his image. Now he already seems to regret his experience as an author.

Motivation: Torre spent years in St. Louis and was an immediate hit in Los Angeles, but he's a New Yorker from his bald spot to his toenails. He was pushed out by the Yanks, probably unfairly, and it left a smudge on his professional reputation. The book was supposed to be a measure of revenge but it leaves him looking like a bitter man.

*Michael Phelps: This nice kid was America's hero with eight Olympic gold medals and a reputation as the best swimmer in history. Now he's the famous Olympian who was caught inhaling from a bong and recorded for posterity on the front page of a British tabloid. Sure, we all know good young people who experimented with the weed, but Phelps is an idol and the public remembers fallen idols longer than they do just plain idols.

Motivation: It was more naivete than motivation. The lesson here is if you plan on doing something stupid make sure no one in your company is carrying a camera.

*Jerry Jones: The Dallas Cowboys owner puts up with Terrell Owens (at least for the moment) and foolishly tried to rehabilitate Pacman Jones, but when Dan Reeves, the wise old head who formerly coached Denver and Atlanta, wished to get back into active coaching in some role with the 'Boys, Jones wanted a guarantee from Reeves about a certain amount of hours to be worked. Reeves, 65, who would seem to be an ideal tutor for the quarterback Tony Romo, a nervous-breakdown candidate every time Owens berates him in the sidelines, said he couldn't guarantee hours. Jones brushed him aside.

Motivation: Jones had enough of strong coaches during Bill Parcells' stay and now he wants to re-establish his role as Mr. Control. Reeves would stand up to him.

*Dodgers' management: They got a great year out of Manny Ramirez but now he's a free agent and despite deflating at the end of the season the Dodgers apparently think they can't live without him. Meanwhile most of the supposed bidders for the bizarre slugger don't want to deal with his agent, much less the player himself, who was "Manny being Manny" as he quit on Boston and Cleveland when he still had a future.

*Motivation: The Dodgers feel compelled to keep up with the Anaheim Angels, now a better organization.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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