Once-endearing Favre no longer charming

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Over the years, regardless of how great or devastating the games had been on the field, Brett Favre(notes) could always charm. He stood at lecterns beneath stadiums all around the NFL rambling on, revealing every emotion that bubbled up as he spoke. These were endearing moments, almost as if he was bearing whatever torment broiled inside while still sorting out those thoughts himself. Then he sold them with a wink or a squint of his eyes and it made him impossible not to love.

Favre celebrates his third-quarter TD connection with Randy Moss.
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

So now that he is no longer so easy to embrace, as those circuitous monologues look less like stream of consciousness and more like a cover for something hidden beneath, he has become two men like so many athletes now: The player hated in the public and yet respected inside the locker room.

But what the Minnesota Vikings players have to decide is if he can still take them to the playoffs.

He is a dirty old man now. No measure of laughing or telling of old jokes makes that go away. His hair is white, his face lined. When he smiles, crow’s-feet still dance around his eyes. He walks away from locker rooms with a limp. His arm is sore. Monday night, after his Vikings fell to the New York Jets 29-20 for their third loss in four tries, he mumbled about his aches to a team official as they walked together to the interview room.

The innocence is gone. Whatever was left after the vacillations about his future – the training camps missed, the dramas created – disappeared with the accusation that he sent photographs of his genitals to a Jets sideline reporter. Harassment is never endearing. And when it is attached to a man who is a grandfather, one who hobbles through hallways, it is downright embarrassing.

Monday, on what should have been his team’s biggest game of the year, he was instead addressing the players, reportedly apologizing for the distraction he has become.

Then in the game, finally playing with Randy Moss(notes) – a receiver he pined to throw to for nearly a decade – he was sloppy. He missed throws that he later laughed, “I could make in my sleep.” He even threw a pass too high for the 6-foot-4 Moss to catch, shaking his head in that old folksy Favre way saying he thought it was impossible to overthrow the receiver.

It could have just been a bad game, one that could be accepted with a better second half and the fireworks of his 70,000th passing yard, a plateau only he has reached. Yet he also looked very much like a man who should have left football on that field at the Superdome back in January, back when he was a step from the Super Bowl again. His 264 yards passing and three touchdowns look better on a stats sheet than they did in the game. In the end he was still the quarterback of a football team with two brilliant receivers and a dominating running back and yet a 1-3 record.

If age and injuries haven’t caught up to Favre then the allegations of personal misdeeds probably have. It’s hard to believe in a leader if the league is investigating whether the pictures of a male private part floating around the Internet is his. Say he manages to lead the Vikings back from this dreadful start. Say he turns Randy Moss back into Randy Moss and Minnesota storms into December on a playoff surge and then the commissioner’s office drops a three-game suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy? What then?

For now the Vikings support him. You could tell that in the way players kept walking up to him in the locker room in those minutes after Monday’s game was over, hugging him, giving him supportive pats on the shoulder. A couple tapped fists. He told them stories of passes he missed to them and they laughed and you could see they still believed in him, that he was the best hope they had.

“It was kind of a leap [of faith], his coming here,” said guard Steve Hutchinson(notes) – one of the Vikings players who flew down to Mississippi to talk him into coming back this summer. “He took a chance on us. Everyone remembers him for that. There is genuine affection for him in here.”

But how much can they believe in him if he can’t deliver the victories anymore? Or even if he does, will the knowledge the league could yank him from the lineup be enough to make players wonder?

Eventually teams lose faith in quarterbacks. Minnesota has not, but that time might not be far away.

On Monday night he tried to be the old Favre. After bumping fists and hugging teammates he tried to charm his way through another press conference. Only this time the move was far more transparent.

He was asked if he was guilty of the allegations.

“If you want to talk about what happened in the football game I would love to,” he said. “I would love to talk about Randy Moss’s touchdown catch.”

He was asked if he thought the charges were embarrassing.

“I’m embarrassed we lost this football game,” he said. “I thought we gave a great effort. We had a chance to win the game with 40 or 50 yards. They are a good defense but we are a good offense.”

He smiled, he chuckled. A few people chuckled back. But there is no selling of the old Brett Favre anymore. That person has been tainted forever.

The player might not be far behind.

Les Carpenter is a feature writer and columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Les a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010