Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Strangelove or: How I Learned To Quit Worrying & Love Brett Favre

When he played for the Packers, I despised Brett Favre. And no, it wasn't solely because he often found a way to beat the Purple--often in dramatic fashion and almost always at Lambeau Field. It was the constant chorus of hosannas about how "nobody has more fun than Brett," "nobody loves the game more than Brett," "nobody is tougher than Brett," that not only flowed freely from the puckered lips of Packer fans, but from most of the media as well. They sought to create an image of one of the more selfish, monomaniacal men to ever play the game as an aw shucks, good ol' boy populist hero. And Favre took every opportunity to hone that image and build the Favre folklore that eventually became a cult of personality among the Packer faithful. It was really quite a sickening spectacle.

And so one year ago (almost to the day), when Favre fever first broke in these parts, I was relatively immunized from the hype:

The other group of Viking fans are cool-headed and rational enough to realize that while Favre once WAS a great quarterback, his best days are long behind him. Now, he's nothing more than a washed-up, egomaniacal prima donna whose brain is writing checks that his arm can no longer cash. Yes, he's still a gun-slinger, but one who's now much slower on the draw and less accurate with his shooting. Worst of all, he still carries with him some of the arrogance of youth that most men with his experience have learned is unfounded. The idea that he's going to calmly and carefully help quarterback the Vikings to the Super Bowl with deliberate style is absurd. Even if he wanted to take such a measured approach to the game, he couldn't. It's not in his nature. He's still Brett Favre and even if he manages to contain his urge to improvise for a good part of the season, you know that at some critical point in a key game he's going to try to do too much. When the Favre of old gambled, he usually won more than he lost. But expecting the Favre of late to pay off is a sucker's bet. I estimate that 20% of Vikings fan--the Realists--are not suckers today.

As I did after the heart-breaking loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship game, I will resist the urge to say "I told you so." Because even though Favre did end up reverting to form at the very worst possible time, I have to admit that I was almost entirely wrong about what his impact on the Vikings would be. No, he didn't get the Vikings to the promised land, but he is the reason they came so agonizingly close. He played spectacular, mostly error-free football last season and anyone who thinks the Vikings would have achieved the success they did without him is delusional.

The fact that he has once again decided to don a purple and gold jersey gives Vikings fans hope that this finally could be the year. These hopes will undoubtedly be crushed somewhere along the way as they always are, but hey at least we can hope (definition of hopeless: Detroit Lions fans).

At this point, I'm very skeptical about the Vikings chances. There's no way Favre can be as good as was last year and some of the injuries and issues with other offensive players are concerning. And then there's the coach.

About a month ago, I heard an interview with Darren Sharper on a national sports talk show. Sharper was on the Saints Super Bowl team last year and before that played for both the Vikings and the Packers. The host asked Sharper what it was like to be on the field during the closing minutes of regulation in the NFC Championship game with the Vikings driving for what could should have been a game-winning field goal. Sharper said that he and his defensive mates were plenty worried that their Super Bowl dreams were fast slipping away. Then, he said something to the effect that he looked across the field, remembered similar situations when the crew on the other sidelines had troubles in critical moments, and felt confident. Cue the twelve men in the huddle penalty, the interception, and the rest is history. Clearly, without coming right out and saying it, Sharper was intimating that he knew that Childress would find a way to choke. After all, he had played under Childress and had witnessed his late-game meltdowns firsthand. He knew Childress couldn't finish the game.

I don't like to make absolute statements. When it comes to sports, I can only recall a few cases of doing so. One was that with Denny Green as coach the Vikings would never win a Super Bowl. That proved accurate. The other, that the Gopher hockey team would never win a national championship with Adam Hauser in net turned out to be incorrect (much to my satisfaction). I now think I've seen enough to say that the Vikings will never win the Super Bowl with Brad Childress as coach. Not exactly a stretch, as the Vikings haven't had to worry much about where to display their Lombardi trophies in the past, but one that I think is necessary with Favre's return once again leading Vikings fans to indulge in flights of football fantasy. With Favre, the Vikings may have the right QB, but they still have the wrong coach.

Along with hope, Favre also brings the sports media circus back to town. Last year, I grew tired of the endless speculation, sightings, and snippets of nothing reported as news about Favre. But I was convinced by JB that rather than being annoyed by the sideshow, I should instead appreciate its entertainment value and embrace it. And this year that's exactly what I've done. From the moment the rumors first began last spring to the Tweets hinting at retirement to the glorious implausibility of the story of his teammates going down to Mississippi to bring him back to the team, I've loved every minute of it. Like any good reality television show, you don't really know how much of this is authentic and how much is following a planned script. But it's such good drama that you really don't care.

Through the course of this year's Favre's Follies, I've also come to respect the man pushing everybody's buttons. Yes, he is a selfish, monomaniacal SOB. But he's also amazingly adept at playing this little waiting game and expertly stringing people along. You can almost see him winking at times and I can only imagine the laughs that he shares with family and friends every night as he recounts his latest moves and the reactions they brought. I half expect him to step to the podium at today's press conference with that sly grin on his face and announce, "'Course I'm coming back. I was just having fun f***ing with you all for a while." Hard not to like a guy who can pull that off.