Long after a SaberCats practice ended this week, quarterback Mark Grieb stood alone, lofting one football after another toward a small crate 25 yards away. It was as if he didn't want to leave the field.
But as the SaberCats visit the arch-rival Arizona Rattlers Saturday night for a first-round Arena Football League playoff game, Grieb's playing days may be nearing an end. At age 38, Grieb concedes that he is again contemplating retirement -- something that has become an annual occurrence.
"I figure that compared to Brett Favre's count, I've still got two and three more times where I can return," he joked. "Favre set the bar pretty high, so I'm still within my limit."
Yet Grieb, now in his 13th season, does wonder how much longer his body can take the pounding of pro football.
"I heard (John) Madden say, 'If a guy is talking about retiring, then he's already retiring,' " he said. "Well, it's a tough decision. This game is a huge adrenalin rush. It's almost an addiction, and this my fix. To think about walking away is really difficult, but you have to weigh the pros and cons. At some point the cons of health become too much to overcome."
Kurt Warner, who went on to NFL stardom, is the best-known Arena League quarterback. But Grieb might be the best ever to play the indoor game. His name dots the league and team record books.
An Oak Grove High and UC Davis product, Grieb excels in a high-scoring game with a smaller fieldby consistently getting the ball through tiny windows in defenses. He had the best statistical season of his career this year, ranking second in league passing, completing 67.6 percent of his throws for 5,744 yards with 112 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
More than just a player, he's also the SaberCats' de facto offensive coordinator.
"The offense is all Mark Grieb," San Jose coach Darren Arbet said. "I let him do his own thing because he knows what he wants, and I could only hinder him by getting in the way."
And for the SaberCats to win their fourth league championship, Grieb will have to lead the way. It has been a strange and sometimes traumatic season. After missing the playoffs last season, Arbet restocked the SaberCats by signing some of the league's top players.
But there were unexpected losses and the defense ended the regular season just 11th in the 17-team league in scoring defense. The franchise also dealt with tragedy when running back Johnie Kirton was found dead in the team hotel on May 28. (No cause of death has been released yet.)
That's why the SaberCats (12-6) are starting the playoffs on the road against West Division champ Arizona (13-5).
"This team shows up in the big games, and that says something about this group of guys," Grieb said. "I don't expect it to be any different Saturday. This team has character and I put them up with any team that we've had here."
Arbet said that if Grieb wants to continue playing, "he definitely has a couple more years in him." But that's a decision, Arbet added, that only Grieb can make.
"A coach told me once that every player has a hit count," Grieb added. "You only get so many in your career."
But he's hoping at least for a few more games' worth of hits in these playoffs.
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.