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At long last, Brett Favre(notes) is back on the practice field, meaning it is once again safe to come outside in the great state of Minnesota. Purple-faced Minnesota Vikings fans can exhale, Brad Childress can stop pulling out what's left of his hair, and Ryan Longwell(notes) can auction off his black BMW SUV to help feed the homeless – or, better yet, to help his groveling employers pay for the non-materialistic quarterback's reported contract adjustment.
In other words, despite recent insinuations from the Favre News Network to the contrary that some of us reflexively disregarded – ahem, ahem – it's all good at Winter Park.
Unless, of course, it isn't.
For as good as Favre was in his 19th NFL season, and as close as he came to leading the Vikes to their first championship, Part Deux has the potential to be a colossal failure that could send this proud franchise into disarray. And no, I'm not on drugs (unless you count Peet's iced tea, which perhaps you should).
I'm not trying to suggest that Favre's second season with the Vikings is inevitably headed for disaster. After all, I was skeptical about the move a year ago, and the future Hall of Famer responded with a brilliant effort that ended just short of a Super Bowl appearance. Favre was clutch, he was redemptive and, even at 40, the future Hall of Famer was one of the league's best players.
How could Favre not want to give it another shot in 2010? How could the Vikings not want an encore?
Here's the thing about encores, though. Sometimes, they're kind of flat. Every so often ("Caddyshack II," "Basic Instinct 2," "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde"), a sequel is so atrocious that it sullies the memory of the original and leaves us feeling dubious about everyone who had the misfortune of participating.
That's what I'm worried about happening with Stick It To Ted 2: It's Not About The Money.
The warning signs are everywhere. Favre, who'll turn 41 in October, is coming off what is arguably the best statistical season of a career that includes three MVPs. The law of probability suggests that he's not likely to replicate it.
A drop-off in and of itself might not be calamitous: After all, the Vikings were a good team before Favre arrived (winning the NFC North in '08), and they have plenty of elite players (Jared Allen(notes), Adrian Peterson, Kevin Williams(notes), Steve Hutchinson(notes)) who can handle their business and overcome a few errant passes, at least in the short term.
Yet it's very, very clear that the Vikings will ride or die with Favre. Has any NFL team ever groveled so shamelessly for a superstar's services, from sending a trio of players (Longwell, Allen, Hutchinson) to Mississippi to try to convince him to return to offering him a reported $3.5 million contract upgrade (and another $3.5 million in incentives) that could raise his 2010 haul to $20 million after he hinted at retirement two weeks ago?
I don't blame Favre for not wanting to come to training camp, a stance that 99 percent of veterans would adopt if they thought they could get away with it. And I understand why the Vikings, based on last year's body of work, were cool with him staying away through mid-August once more.
The real problem, however, is the power dynamic – Favre basically does whatever he wants, whenever he wants to do it, and if he gets any resistance he leaks his displeasure to one of his media mainstays and makes his superiors feel insecure.
When the superior in question is Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, this isn't a huge issue: Wilf can simply throw money at the problem, and given the larger stakes – a last, desperate push for a new stadium in Minnesota looming at season's end – it's not necessarily a bad economic decision to do so.
More troublesome is the relationship between the Drama Queen QB and Childress, a head coach who had credibility issues in the locker room before Favre's arrival and has been progressively disempowered ever since.
Sources close to Favre say that the quarterback is not particularly admiring of Childress' offensive acumen, especially as it relates to some of the noted strategists (Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden, Andy Reid) for whom he has played in the past. Surely, this is not a secret in the Minnesota locker room, and you can bet that most Vikings would defer to Favre's game-planning and play-calling sensibilities in a stare down between the quarterback and coach.
Throw in the fact that Favre clearly has very little respect for Childress' authority – a situation which, in fairness, was partially created by Wilf, Chilly's boss – and we've got a cauldron ready to boil over.
That's what happened last December in Charlotte as the Vikings absorbed a 26-7 beating from the Carolina Panthers that dashed their hopes of earning home-field advantage in the NFC. When Childress tried to take Favre out of the game in the fourth quarter, the quarterback pushed back and, remarkably, got his way.
Reports followed that Childress was irate after the game upon learning that Favre had revealed the dispute to reporters (though his angry curses were drowned out by the sound of Packers coach Mike McCarthy's laughter from hundreds of miles away); that Childress had unsuccessfully tried to bench him in two earlier games; and that the two had clashed repeatedly over Favre's penchant for changing plays at the line of scrimmage, which speaks to the earlier point about the quarterback's feelings about his coach's play-calling chops.
Favre and Childress haven't always been on the same page.
(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo)
At the time, noting that Childress had gotten a sweet contract extension in mid-November largely on the strength of Favre's accomplishments to that point, I sided with the quarterback. But it's a weird place for a journalist to be: Defending blatant insubordination and a superstar's ability to flaunt his unequaled locker-room clout. At the very least it's not a healthy environment.
To their credit, the coach and quarterback managed to coexist through that mini-saga and the Vikes got to within a couple of first downs of the Super Bowl. This year, they'll go up against that very high standard from the start, against opponents who have spent an offseason studying Minnesota's success last year and trying to mimic the Saints' rough treatment of Favre in January.
On paper, the Vikes have a tougher path to the Super Bowl this season, beginning with that Thursday night rematch with New Orleans in the Superdome on Sept. 9. In '09 they faced the downtrodden NFC West teams; this season, they get the NFC East. They also take on AFC East opponents, including road games against the New York Jets and New England Patriots.
What if things get ugly early and Childress feels he needs to make a change, either to give his team a spark and/or to get Favre healthy for a potential stretch run? Good luck with that, Chilly.
Remember, there's also the matter of The Streak. Can you imagine how Favre would react if Childress tried to end his NFL-record string of consecutive starts – even if the Vikings were already out of playoff contention?
Hopefully, for Favre, Childress and the Vikings, this is just a sports columnist fretting over worst-case scenarios, and none of this potential drama will ever come into play. Favre is certainly great enough to overcome these obstacles and surprise us once more, and I'm glad he has the guts and competitive spirit to go for it.
When it comes to encores, though, there's a simple rule that the best entertainers have been preaching since long before pro football existed: Always leave 'em wanting more.
And I have this sick feeling that by the time the 2010 season is over, we'll all be saying, No mas.