He lay face down on the snowy turf, a 41-year-old legend in the closing stages of a career that lasted one season too long. In what might have been his final play, Brett Favre(notes), perhaps poetically, was at one with the frozen tundra, a metaphorical domain he once owned like no other.
Down and blacked out after being spun facemask-first into the turf by Chicago Bears defensive end Corey Wootton(notes) early in the second quarter of a game his team would lose 40-14, Favre, too, appeared frozen, yet another unexpected scene from a surreal NFL season.
Viewers everywhere – especially in Green Bay, where Favre once dominated in frigid conditions – were filled with conflicting emotions Monday night. Watching in a crowded Baltimore restaurant, Ravens All-Pro pass rusher Terrell Suggs(notes) burst out into laughter at the sight of the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback in a prone, motionless position. It didn't seem to be personal, other than the fact that Suggs hunts passers for a living and enjoys it when they hit the ground.
"You know he's regretting this!" Suggs bellowed. "He's thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?' "
It was a valid question. A week earlier, Favre stood on the sideline during the Vikings' blowout defeat to the New York Giants at Detroit's Ford Field, unable to feel his throwing hand, as his record streak of 297 consecutive starts came to an end. With three games remaining and Minnesota long since eliminated from playoff contention, it was believed that Favre might not play another down, a presumption reinforced by the team's decision Saturday to list him as "out" for Monday night's meeting with the Bears.
[Rewind: Woman in Favre scandal offers deal]
Then, about seven hours before kickoff, Favre was upgraded from "out" to "questionable," a highly unusual (if not unprecedented) move. That meant Favre might play in a game that, because of the recent collapse of the Metrodome roof, would take place at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium – the Vikings' first outdoor home game in 29 years.
In other words, it was an ideal setting for one last bit of Favre drama, with a delicious subplot involving the fan base that once adored him. By surprisingly suiting up, Favre gave the Vikings a fighting chance to upset the Bears, a development that would have been cheered heartily in Green Bay. With Chicago a victory away from clinching the NFC North – and relegating the Packers (8-6) to a scramble for the conference's final wild-card spot – this game between the Pack's chief rivals had great significance in Titletown.
For 17 years, Packer Nation adored Favre like no other player who'd ever worn the green and gold, before he retired in the spring of '08, made a messy return a few months later and ultimately forced a trade to the New York Jets. Then, in the summer of '09, Favre ended a second supposed retirement and went rogue, signing with the hated Vikings and sticking it to his former fan base by twice beating the Pack and nearly leading Minnesota to the Super Bowl.
Booed heartily upon his return to Lambeau Field last November, Favre was largely viewed as a traitor who'd gone out of his way to spit in the face of the fans who'd faithfully supported him for all those years – or something along those lines.
With Minnesota poised to start ultra-raw rookie Joe Webb(notes) at quarterback, the Vikings' prospects of beating the Bears on Monday night weren't promising. So when Favre swooped in to lead the purple and gold, many fans who bleed green and gold were forced to fight against their darker impulses and embrace his presence.
When he threw a short pass that Percy Harvin(notes) turned into a 23-yard touchdown reception on the game's opening drive, staking the Vikings to a 7-0 lead, the possibilities were tantalizing. Pull out this game – do Packer Nation this one solid – and it would have been a giant step on the path to ultimate forgiveness.
My mind, for one, started wandering. Who knew, maybe Favre would request his release on Tuesday, re-sign with the Jets and lead Rex Ryan's team into Soldier Field the following Sunday, where he could engineer another upset? At that point, Packer fans would have no choice but to call it even.
OK, back to reality. This was the Bears' night and – after Favre got sacked by Wootton and went out with a concussion, the Viking/Packer dream died a swift and emphatic death – as fans in the Windy City got to celebrate the team's first division title (and postseason appearance) since the Super Bowl season of 2006.
There were other big winners as well. Jay Cutler(notes), who struggled through a miserable 2009 season after the franchise stepped up to trade for the strong-armed quarterback, threw three impressive scoring passes. Coach Lovie Smith – and, for that matter, general manager Jerry Angelo – made a major move away from the firing line and toward contract-extension territory.
Favre stood on the sideline and watched it all play out, a thick grey coat shielding him from the elements. He looked cold and old, and all out of dramatic comebacks, though it's hard for anyone – even Packer Backers – to fault him for having tried.
IF I SLIPPED JON GRUDEN SOME TRUTH SERUM …
Early in the game, Gruden said of the Vikings' rookie halfback who was replacing the injured Adrian Peterson, "You know, Toby Gerhart(notes) was that kind of back at Stanford – he was a good cold-weather back … Some backs are better in cold weather, and Gerhart might be one of them." What we would have heard had he ingested the magical substance:
You know, Toby Gerhart was that kind of back at Stanford – he was a good cold-weather back. You know, at Stanford, home to one of the coldest autumn climates in all of the U. S. of A. One time, they had a night game in November, and I think it might have even dipped into the 40s. And don't get me started on those road games in Tempe … Obviously, what I just said doesn't make much sense. And you know what – none of that matters. For one thing, it's not like I'm gonna get killed in the media for this. I ain't Tony [expletive] Kornheiser. I'm not some joker who writes a sports column for a living. I'm pretty damn far from bald. And I'm not bitter, if you get my drift. Besides, I'll be back on the sideline before you can say, "Dennis Miller," hopefully working for a very rich owner in a very balmy climate. Because some coaches are better in cold weather – and I'm sure as hell not one of them.
TUESDAY MORNING HAIKU
Hearing Matt Millen
Talk up Rod Marinelli
Lions fans recoil
ONE E FOR FREE
Clearly I am a biased Giants fan, but I disagree with you about Michael Vick(notes) stepping up his game. He is clearly a different QB after learning how to actually play the position, but his game still depends on his ability to not get hit and I think the Giants have just enough to keep him running and rushing a few more decisions than he would like. That said, I have no idea who is going to win this game. If I had to guess, I'd say the team that makes the least mistakes (duh), which does not give me that much confidence. Anyways, great column, my point was just that I don't think Vick will be the deciding factor in this game.
First of all, I appreciate the respectful, non-confrontational, non-paranoid tone of your email. It is an increasingly rare commodity these days, and I am always enthusiastic about receiving feedback from people who understand that my picking for or against a certain team is not akin to a declaration of war. That said, after the dramatic events at the New Meadowlands on Sunday, can we all acknowledge that I am a sage, and everyone else is living in the dark? Oh, wait, I was wrong about the Jags beating the Colts? Never mind – I'm a complete and total moron who, according to emailer Tamam from Paris, is wrong on a "consistant" basis. Also, Tamam is certain that he would have my job "if it were not for me travelling the globe with my model/diplomat girfriend." I am not making this up.