Favre faces age-old questions

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That Brett Favre(notes) would play quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings this season was never really in doubt – especially when reports emerged earlier this month that he was "done." With Favre, nothing says return like retirement.

A three-Viking recruiting team went to Mississippi on Monday to convince Favre to make one more run at a Super Bowl. Apparently that was all that was needed. He boarded the return flight to the Twin Cities and practiced Wednesday. He could return as soon as Sunday night's nationally televised preseason game at San Francisco.

So the question of whether he'd return is over. The question about what No. 4 can bring the Vikings now gains pertinence.

[Photos: Brett Favre's career highs]

Favre was brilliant last year in leading the Vikings to the NFC championship game, a stunner to many in football.

At age 40 for a bulk of the campaign, he threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns, more than any season of his since 1998. He delivered a career high passer rating (107.2) and a career low in interceptions (7).

He avoided both injury and the late-season swoon that had marked his most recent campaigns with the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets. His new teammates loved him – and not just for his locker room renditions of "Pants on the Ground." While his final pass in the overtime playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints was an ill-advised interception, the Vikings would've never gotten to the brink of the Super Bowl without him.

Favre was brought into Minnesota last summer as a "game manager." The plan was for him to be a sure-handed veteran who would make the simple plays as the Vikings rode the legs of Adrian Peterson and the defense of Jared Allen(notes).

"Workmanlike," coach Brad Childress described Favre's opening game, a 14-of-21, 110-yard and one-touchdown performance in a victory over the Cleveland Browns. "No blips. Don't make it sound like unspectacular is a bad thing. Make routine plays look routine. We talk about that a lot."

Unspectacular went out the window by midseason. Soon Favre went from managing the offense to being the offense, gun-slinging it around the Metrodome.

Old? The guy looked anything but old.

[Timeline: Favre's roller-coaster ride]

"I noticed the most fatigued or tired I got today was celebrating," Favre noted after throwing four touchdowns in the divisional playoff rout of Dallas.

That the Vikings are better with Favre is now a forgone conclusion. At least if the 2010 version of him is remotely like the 2009 version. While that's a gamble well worth taking, whether Favre can put together another career year on the wrong side of 40 remains one of the key questions in the NFL.

Can he really keep getting better as he keeps getting older?

With the 2009 Brett Favre, Minnesota is a Super Bowl contender. With the 2008 Favre, they regress.

Favre with coach Brad Childress shortly after joining the Vikings last year.
(Hannah Foslien/AP Photo)

Favre's health will remain a season-long concern (although that's the case with any quarterback). His record consecutive games started streak (285) and his survival of a beating at the hands of the Saints defense last January shows he's still plenty tough.

Still, he'll be 41 in October in a league that isn't kind to age. At one point this offseason he claimed he had gained 16 pounds and needed to get in shape – so who knows where he stands today on that.

Chances are he'll be fine to start. A year ago he was motivated by trying to beat his old bosses in Green Bay (twice). He was successful both times.

[Photos: Brett Favre's busy offseason]

The Packers are division rivals so they're on the schedule twice again, and that alone should keep Favre sharp. Lambeau still wants their former hero's blood (Oct. 24 they get another shot at it). That Green Bay has legitimate championship hopes itself ups the ante.

Then there's the clear understanding that the Vikings have all the necessary ingredients to win the Super Bowl. Losing in overtime of the NFC title game left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth. They were one play away. You only get so many cracks at that.

So the organization patiently waited through the predictable Favre offseason drama and saved a spot for their best-hope signal caller.

Monday they flew Allen and a couple other players down to get him.

What vintage of Brett Favre they returned with may determine the entire NFL season.