Fans, players not fretting over Favre rumors

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! SportsAugust 4, 2010

MANKATO, Minn. – Brett Favre(notes) wasn't on the field Wednesday. Still, Regis Fritsch sat in the stands at Minnesota Vikings training camp wearing Favre's purple No. 4 jersey.

He wasn't fretting. He wasn't praying. He wasn't holding candles in a solemn vigil for an ailing hero.

"Tell him about the chicken heads," joked the guy in the next seat, Tom Hynes, amused that an out-of-town writer would wonder if the fans were worried.

"There are no chicken heads," laughed Fritsch.

There is no voodoo. There is no panic. There is none of that here.

While retirement talk is swirling again around Favre, the quarterback who was at his best last season and led the Vikings oh-so-close to the Super Bowl, you won't find folks nearby sporting white knuckles and nibbled fingernails.

First of all, nobody buys that he's retiring. Favre announced his retirement twice in the past, only to come back, and people have become desensitized. When Favre was tracked down by reporters Wednesday at home in Hattiesburg, Miss., and asked about texting teammates, "This is it," he denied doing so. Whom do you believe?

"No opinion," shrugged fan Drew Peterson as he stood along the fence watching the Vikings quarterbacks.

"He'll be back," Peterson's buddy, Shane Bialke, said. "He's probably hunting and fishing somewhere."

"That's what I'd be doing," Peterson said.

"He'll probably be back with a suntan, asking, 'What's everybody talking about?' " Bialke said.

Favre's teammates don't seem alarmed. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) said he hadn't heard directly from Favre, but he wasn't about to play reporter and reach out to him because "I'm pretty sure he's going to let us know when he's ready."

Defensive end Jared Allen(notes) said he wouldn't try to convince Favre to come back, teasing reporters, "We're just the act. You guys are the circus tent."

It's not just that we've been through this before. It's that all the constant updates, in-depth interviews and funny TV commercials have had another effect: We've gotten to know Favre well. We know he waffles. We know he can believe wholeheartedly that he's done at one moment, then feel the burning desire to play at another.

Favre is 40 and has a bad ankle. That has been well-documented. The Saints mangled it in the NFC championship game. He had surgery, and he has said that if he is healthy, he will play.

How healthy he feels depends on when you talk to him.

"The one thing he's told me is, it's the getting out of bed," said Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell(notes), who also played with Favre in Green Bay. "When his feet hit the floor, you've got the stinging shots that fire through the ankle. That's really it. It loosens up throughout the day."

Catch him in the morning, Favre might feel like retiring. Catch him in the afternoon …

"If you ask him right now what he feels, he'll tell you," Longwell said. "If you ask him in two hours, he'll tell you that, and it may be conflicting to what he said earlier. He didn't ask for this whole thing to break out yesterday morning like it did. He's just sharing minute by minute. That's kind of how he plays the game, and that's kind of how he approaches talking to guys."

The darker side of this is Favre's reputation as a drama queen and the suspicion that this could be about money. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported the Vikings have offered to increase Favre's salary from $13 million to $16 million, plus $4 million more in incentives.

But Favre and his agent, Bus Cook, have denied this is about money. And Longwell insists this is solely about the ankle.

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell has turned into a spokesman for Favre.
(The Star Tribune/AP Photo)

"Brett loves to play the position a certain way," Longwell said. "He told me the other day. He's like, 'I don't do this for the money. I never have. I just love the game. But if I can't play at the standard that I've set for myself, then it leaves question marks whether I want to.' "

What if Favre took more money and came back? Wouldn't that stain his reputation further? Not necessarily. Not here, anyway. There are no illusions. He is a mercenary. And Mark Rud, wearing a No. 4 Pro Bowl jersey, said simply that Favre was "worth it."

The feeling in Minnesota is that Favre is worth the cash and the risk. The Vikings knew what Favre was when they signed him last year. The fans knew it, too. Whatever they got out of him, at his age, under the circumstances, would be a bonus. The way he played last season, they're already ahead.

"It's gravy," Rud said. "What you had last year was magic. … He made memories for us, and we'll appreciate that. On the radio, they're talking about how we're going to hate him if he doesn't play. We knew what we were getting."

Remember, too, that Minnesotans don't have a deep-rooted emotional connection to Favre. There were a few Favre jerseys in the stands Wednesday, mostly on kids, but there were as many or more Adrian Petersons, Jared Allens and Percy Harvins. Favre spent most of his career kicking the Vikings' butts for Green Bay. No one will forget that.

"To me, once he retires, he's still going to be a Packer," Bialke said.

In fact, Bialke thinks the Vikings would be fine without Favre, even if most people no longer would consider them a top Super Bowl contender. Believe it or not, he wants to see what Tarvaris Jackson's(notes) got. The Vikings went 10-6 with Jackson and Gus Frerotte(notes) at quarterback in 2008. Jackson played nine games that year, starting five, and posted a 95.4 passer rating.

Bialke is such a firm believer in Jackson that he flipped open his phone, and the wallpaper was a doctored picture of a Vikings quarterback holding the Lombardi Trophy as if it were a football he was about to pass. It wasn't Favre. It was Jackson. And over the top were the words: "THE FUTURE IS NOW."

We'll see.