This Is Why Favre Came Back
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - New NFL city, same boyish Brett Favre. His love for playing football remains as persistent as the thick, gray stubble that lines his chin.
Favre, who wore his ever-present, sweat-stained red baseball cap, cut-off T-shirt, shorts and sandals for his first public appearance as a Minnesota Viking during this week's news conference, had the relieved look of someone who just found what had appeared lost - his identity.
Favre, who turns 40 on Oct. 10, will start today, testing his surgically repaired throwing arm in a preseason home game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. This comes after he retired following a one-year, 22-touchdown, 22-interception stint with the New York Jets, saying Feb. 11 that he was done because his injured, cannon arm betrayed him down the stretch.
Although winning another Super Bowl and proving he can still help a team are reasons for returning to the league for a second time, Favre also was listening to the advice of friends and family. He joins a Vikings offense similar to the one he ran for 16 years with the Green Bay Packers, and he carries on a love affair with the game his late father taught him.
However, Favre's legacy as one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks might be tainted by his reluctance to leave the spotlight and a penchant for returning on his own timetable with his second team since leading the Packers to the 2007 NFC Championship Game. His iconic standing with some, including Packers fans who cheered as he led their team to a 1996 Super Bowl title, might be diminished as he returns with one of Green Bay's hated rivals.
Favre's offseason-long flip-flopping and abrupt, all-in reversal with the reigning NFC North champions to return for a 19th NFL season have set the stage for one of this season's most compelling dramas.
"You can't just be a mercenary gun for hire: It's almost Labor Day and I'm Brett Favre and this is what I do," says CBS and Sirius Radio analyst Solomon Wilcots, who played defensive back for three NFL teams, including the Vikings in 1991. "Chemistry is important in team. When you have 22 players who are starters becoming a team during organized team activities and camp, this smacks against all of that."
Favre and friends don't seem concerned that he's changed his mind as often as he's changed jerseys the last 18 months.
"When people start talking about my legacy, it's mine. It's what I think of it," says Favre, who has not spoken publicly since his introduction.
Maybe the most telltale sign of his enduring passion were this summer's television clips of Favre playing pitch-and-catch with Oak Grove High School players near his Hattiesburg, Miss., ranch. As he tested his arm after May arthroscopic surgery to repair a partially torn biceps tendon, the grizzled kid looked comfortable among the star-struck ones.
"He still loves being Brett Favre," says former teammate Don Majkowski, whom Favre replaced as Packers quarterback in 1992. "He loves football."
Favre also seems driven to play on to honor his late father, Irvin, who raised him on the game and coached him harder than other teammates at North Hancock Central High in Kiln, Miss. Favre told USA TODAY in 2004 that his father never told him he loved him, adding, "It's the way he was. I knew he did." @
Says Majkowski: "Brett's the toughest of the tough. It's tough to let go of. It's a difficult transition. He might be a little afraid of retirement. But if he has a little more gas left in the tank, why not ride until it's absolutely empty?"
Remove the purple Vikings backdrop, and Favre could have been sitting at a news conference in Green Bay on March 6, 2008, scene of his tearful initial retirement. Or he could have been standing at any Jets postgame news conference after he arrived last Aug. 6 in a trade forced by his bitter divorce from the Packers, who wouldn't trade him to the division-rival Vikings, his preferred destination.
After Favre told Vikings coach Brad Childress on July 29 that he would stay retired, former Packers center Frank Winters gave the quarterback a friendly shove.
"I told Brett, if he's healthy enough, why shouldn't he have that chance to go back?" says Winters, who played with Favre in Green Bay from 1992 to 2002. "I said, 'Dude, this is America. What has this country come to when you can't go back and earn a living?'"
Favre, a three-time league MVP who has thrown a league-record 464 touchdowns, always has been about taking risks. Now Minnesota is taking one with him. Favre revealed this week that orthopedic surgeon James Andrews said a May MRI showed an existing, undiagnosed minor tear inside his right rotator cuff.
"The Packers didn't want him last summer, and I didn't think he was a good fit with the Jets. He didn't know the offense," says Boomer Esiason, a CBS analyst and ex-NFL quarterback. "Now he comes to the Vikings, where he knows the offense and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (Packers quarterbacks coach, 2003-2005) extremely well.
"Favre is 10 times better than what they've had at quarterback the last few years."
Childress, who had watched his Vikings battle the Favre-led Packers in 2006 and '07, reached out to a respected rival to upgrade his team's weakest link.
Ninth-year veteran Sage Rosenfels and fourth-year incumbent Tarvaris Jackson had battled for two weeks of training camp for the starting job, but now are relegated to the sideline to make room for Favre, who is wearing his customary No. 4 jersey that backup John David Booty says he ceded to his idol.
Staining a legacy?
Childress, in the fourth year of a five-year deal, courted Favre after the Jets released him in late April. Favre initially told Minnesota he was remaining retired but said his 10-year-old daughter, Breleigh, broke down, telling her father she wanted him to win another Super Bowl. He says this prompted more vacillation.
So, 13 years after he won his only NFL title, Favre signed a two-year, $25 million deal to chase another. "I didn't want to ask, 'What if?'" Favre said.
Some might think Favre's indecisiveness has made his legacy as tattered as that trademark baseball cap. Some might wonder if he just wanted to avoid two weeks of training camp.
"Favre said three weeks ago he couldn't make it through 16 games because of his surgically repaired arm," ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth says. "What changed? The disingenuous nature of how it all played out didn't sit well."
Has the popular Everyman morphed into an annoying diva for changing his mind so often?
"I've heard people say, 'This guy's got tremendous courage,'" says Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology, where he works with athletes, in Philadelphia. "And I've heard others say, 'Isn't it sad. . . . Can't he see the writing on the wall?'"
But, ah, the excitement the hired gun is generating.
When Childress picked up Favre and wife Deanna at the airport in a black Escalade, a local television news helicopter followed the coach's SUV.
"We all realized how big of a superstar this dude is with how they followed him like he was O.J. Simpson in the car," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen says. "The helicopters were out for this man. They had fans lining the streets and police cars surrounding the building. I was star-struck."
How will Childress' call to Favre play in the locker room after the coach vowed he was moving forward with Rosenfels and Jackson?
"What do you think players are saying behind closed doors about the head coach driving to the airport and picking up Favre in an Escalade?" Schlereth says. "Would you see (New England Patriots coach) Bill Belichick doing that? Or (Miami Dolphins executive vice president of football operations) Bill Parcells?"
Childress says he has done what's best for his team. Jackson, the incumbent starter, told the Minneapolis StarTribune, "Of course you're always disappointed a little bit because you just want to play."
With the exception of a 50-yard wounded duck that caused wideout Glenn Holt to turn back for the catch, Favre threw with zip during Wednesday's practice.
"In his mind, I think he's cleared it up that his shoulder should hold up well enough," says NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, Favre's Packers quarterbacks coach from 1992 to 1995.
Favre's arrival also created needed sizzle for a small-market franchise seeking to fund a new stadium. The Minnesota market ranked 31st among the 32 NFL teams, and the Vikings' lease at the 27-year-old Metrodome expires after the 2011 season.
A proposed $954 million stadium could become "The House that Brett Built."
"Don't underestimate that part," NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth says. "Is Favre going to help sell tickets in Minnesota? Absolutely."
Vikings sales and marketing vice president Steve LaCroix says the club sold 4,000 season tickets and 14,000 single-game tickets within 72 hours of Favre signing. And 4,000 No. 4 jerseys already have been sold by the team.
"I loved to watch him play for Green Bay," says Lee Wegener, 49, a longtime Vikings fan who works for a Minneapolis-area roofing manufacturer. "He's a fierce competitor.
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel. We needed a spark at quarterback, and I think Brett wants to get back at Green Bay for putting him out to pasture too early."
Says Bevell: "The players were watching him throw and were like, 'Wow! This guy really can do it.'"
With Adrian Peterson, who rushed for an NFL-high 1,760 yards in 2008, drawing eight defenders in the box, Mariucci says Favre will get plenty of chances to find his receivers against one-on-one outside coverage.
Favre plans to make his 270th consecutive regular-season start when the Vikings open the regular season Sept. 13 against the Cleveland Browns.
And there's that bad-blood, Monday Night Football@ showdown with the Packers in Minnesota on Oct. 5 and the Nov. 1 game at Green Bay's fabled Lambeau Field. Earlier this year, Favre's family and friends reserved up to 30 rooms at a Green Bay hotel for that game.
"This is Brett's signature chance to ride off into the sunset if he can go to Minnesota and win a Super Bowl," Collinsworth says.
Adds Wilcots: "The deal isn't about what Favre does in September and October. It's who is Favre going to be in December and January?"
And maybe on Super Bowl Sunday.