The returning legend was telling a packed crowd of reporters what it was like to celebrate an emotional victory over the team he used to lead. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback might as well have been talking to the 71,213 fans that witnessed the weirdness – most of who screamed their lungs out trying to will an opposite outcome.
"I'd like to think I've always handled myself with class," Favre said quietly. "It's always a little tougher when you lose. I understand that. I've never been one to rub it in anyone's face."
In fairness, Favre didn't have to rub it in. The 40-year-old passer's four-touchdown, zero-mistake masterpiece in a 38-26 pounding of the Packers had already done that in emphatic fashion, simultaneously showing Green Bay fans what they've been missing and validating the Vikings' decision to grovel for his services.
Just as he had done four weeks earlier in a 30-23 victory over the Pack at the Metrodome, Favre outdueled Aaron Rodgers(notes), the Green Bay quarterback who took the job he felt was still his, and showed up Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, the men he blames for the turn of events that led him across enemy lines.
By the time Sunday's once-unthinkable encounter was done, the NFC North-leading Vikings (7-1) were a supremely confident bunch with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations while the second-place Packers (4-3) were a flawed and deflated outfit trying to figure out how to stay in the playoff hunt.
To the league's best running back, the Favre vs. Rodgers argument had been undeniably settled.
"I'm sure Green Bay fans are slapping themselves," Adrian Peterson said afterward. "Aaron Rodgers is good, and he's a great athlete, too – you saw how he competed out there. But we've got The Man."
Deep inside, could The Man have been any more ecstatic with the way his return to Lambeau unfolded?
Favre, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 244 yards and the four TDs – it was his 21st career game with that many scoring passes or more, tying Dan Marino's NFL record – threaded some insanely difficult passes between defenders without making any of the pivotal errors that many of us believed his high-risk style would provoke. For the second time against the Pack Favre was not sacked, and the fumbled shotgun snap that set up Green Bay's sole first-half points (on a Mason Crosby(notes) field goal) was not his fault.
Meanwhile, though Rodgers (26 of 41, 287 yards, three TDs, no interceptions) had a brilliant and valiant second half and was under far more duress, the second-year starter took way too long to get going in a game of this magnitude.
At halftime Rodgers had thrown for just 38 yards and had already absorbed four sacks, at least two of which appeared to have been his fault because he didn't get rid of the ball quickly enough. (The Vikings sacked him six times overall, increasing his league-high total to 31.)
And while Rodgers deserves a ton of credit for rallying his team from a 24-3 third-quarter deficit, the record will show he got the ball at his own 19-yard line down by five points with 8:13 remaining and couldn't summon the sort of transcendent drive for which Favre is famous.
It was an utterly regrettable day for McCarthy, whose team committed boneheaded penalties (the Packers have been whistled for an NFL-high 8.1 infractions per game) and looked lost on kickoff coverage. The coach also made the dubious decision to have Crosby attempt a 51-yard field goal with 5:43 remaining and the Vikes leading 31-26; the kick went wide right, giving Minnesota a short field on what became its clinching touchdown drive. (For more on McCarthy's miserable day, see Two Things I Can't Comprehend.)
Throw in the somewhat surprising near-uniform hostility to which one of the most beloved Packers in history was subjected on Sunday, and you could see how Favre might've been goaded into gloating after the game.
Let's face it: He still might be, eventually, especially if he and the Vikings sustain their success and McCarthy and the Packers continue to fall short.
In the meantime, in a predictable development that undoubtedly makes every Packers fan susceptible to throwing up his/her cheese curds, the people in purple-and-gold have embraced Favre as though he were born in horns.
"Once we added Brett, everybody came together and got even closer," defensive tackle Pat Williams(notes) said. "He brings a mentality that's old school – that everything's OK, so just have fun with it. We take our job seriously, but we ain't stressin'."
Added tight end Visanthe Shiancoe(notes), who caught Favre's first touchdown pass with 10:42 left in the second quarter: "He brings structure, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of winning. When they got back in the game and things tightened up, he kept his composure and was collected – you need that from your offensive leader, 'cause it's contagious. He's not panicking, so the young guys aren't."
The unassailable conclusion is that young players like third-year wideout Sidney Rice(notes) and rookie receiver Percy Harvin(notes) (five catches, 84 yards, one TD; five kickoff returns for 175 yards) are thriving under Favre in a way that could never have happened if Tarvaris Jackson(notes) or Sage Rosenfels(notes) were running the show.
Favre's signature play from Sunday's game, the pass that will certainly be included in the highlight clips that accompany his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame sometime next decade, was so audacious that even his most fervent critics had to give the man props. After dropping back to pass on first-and-10 from his own 49, Favre pump-faked before sending a sharp spiral to the middle of the field toward Harvin, who was bracketed by three defensive backs. Harvin reached up to grab it at the 20 as Charles Woodson(notes), Atari Bigby(notes) and Nick Collins(notes) collapsed in a heap of empty-handed futility, then raced to his right and into the end zone for a 24-3 lead.
"That [expletive]'s cold-blooded," Vikings receivers coach George Stewart said of Favre. "He's an assassin. I've been coming here [to Lambeau] for 22 years and never won here, because of him. And tonight I won here, because of him.
"He's a cold-blooded killer. He's the best I've been around … at 40. I mean, the best, better than what I saw in San Francisco [Hall of Famer Steve Young]. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin give all the credit to him – because, let's face it, this guy has made us all better. And our organization did a good job of sticking with him and doing what it took to get him here."
Translation: All that sucking up and swallowing of dignity that occurred as Favre was hemming and hawing and ensuring he wouldn't have to go to training camp was, apparently, an astute organizational imperative.
It also added to the besmirching Favre's once-impeccable image has taken over the past year-and-a-half, ever since the quarterback's tear-filled news conference at Lambeau announcing his retirement in March of 2008 was revealed to have been premature.
Favre's subsequent decision to return created a tumultuous rift with Thompson and McCarthy that culminated with his being traded to the Jets in August of '08 – a move explicitly designed to keep him from going to the rival Vikings, his preferred destination because of a familiar offensive system and the potential for payback.
Packers fans had their feelings bruised further last fall when it was reported that Favre had spoken with then-Lions president Matt Millen by phone before one of Detroit's matchups against Green Bay, ostensibly providing inside information about his former team.
The hard feelings continued last February when Favre, after telling the Jets he planned to retire, admitted to Sports Illustrated's Peter King that "part of me coming back last year, I have to admit now, was sticking it to Ted."
When the Jets released Favre in April, his ultimate reemergence as a Viking – Thompson's worst nightmare – was facilitated.
And just when you thought he lacked the capacity to make his former fan base any more resentful, Favre was judged to have dissed his previous teammates (including the 1996 team that won the Super Bowl) after defeating Green Bay in the Metrodome last month by proclaiming, "I think physically and from a talent level, this is the best team I've been on."
So yeah – he was going to get booed. And though he might claim otherwise, the message behind the boos – the change in the way he's perceived by Packer Nation – bothers Favre, too.
On Sunday, after doing a postgame interview with Fox's Pam Oliver, Favre left the field with kicker Ryan Longwell(notes) – another former Packer – and said as they walked up a staircase toward the visitors' locker room, "Man, I couldn't believe it – I was choking up with Pam Oliver. You know, I'll probably get ridiculed for that, too."
“I'm sure Green Bay fans are slapping themselves. Aaron Rodgers is good, and he's a great athlete, too – you saw how he competed out there. But we've got The Man.”
– Adrian Peterson
Cue the REM: Everybody hurts …
As bad as things have gotten since Favre was traded, I've always maintained that once the quarterback retires for good and a few years pass, he and the Green Bay fans who've adored him will come back together, and he'll resume his status as a cherished icon of Titletown. I still think it will go that way in the end – I guess – but as Sunday's bizarre scenes unfolded I started to have my doubts.
Some Packers fans stood and cheered Favre during warmups, the coin toss and at the start of Minnesota's drives, but most of them vented, seemingly protective of their franchise and affronted by their former quarterback's exuberance in the face of their misery.
In the end, Favre got exactly what he wanted. However, it was fair to wonder, will the psychic cost of Sunday's triumph ultimately obscure the glorious 16-year run that preceded it for Packer backers? We'll have to wait and see.
"I think deep down inside I know how [the fans] feel," Favre insisted as he conducted his first-ever news conference from the cramped visitors' interview room with his wife, Deanna, observing from the back. "Packer fans cheer for Packers first, I know that. I hope that everyone in the stadium watching tonight said, 'You know, I sure hate that that joker's on the other side, but he does play the way he's always played … his excitement and passion for the game.' As long as I play that's not gonna change. And I think that's what people have admired about me throughout my career."
Earlier, Favre had struck a conciliatory note toward the fans, saying of the two-game miniseries, "I'm glad it's over. I'm glad we won both. But I'm not going to sit here and throw any daggers."
He didn't have to – he had thrown them all over Lambeau, all afternoon long.
For most of those who witnessed it, the pain will linger.
I'M HOT CAUSE I'M FLY …
• If I told you that an NFL player intercepted a pass in the end zone, crossed the goal line in an effort to return it, then circled back and got nailed for a safety on Sunday, wouldn't you just know it happened in the St. Louis Rams-Detroit Lions game? Sure enough, St. Louis' James Butler(notes) accomplished the unlikely feat in the second quarter of the game at Detroit's Ford Field – yet, for the first time in more than a year, the Rams walked off the field as winners. In ending its 17-game losing streak against the team that recently ended its own 19-game skid, St. Louis rode the strong legs of its best player, halfback Steven Jackson, who ran for 149 yards on 22 carries, including the determined 25-yard burst that gave the Rams their winning points with 1:44 remaining in the 17-10 victory. "I was on another level [of intensity]," Jackson wrote via text message Sunday evening. "Man, this feels incredible!" He'd best bottle the feeling – the Rams won't win next weekend, as they have a bye, and the following Sunday they host the Saints. Oh, and speaking of great running backs leading their winless teams to victory, the Titans (1-6) finally won on Sunday as Chris Johnson (24 carries for a franchise-record 228 yards, including second-half breakaway TDs of 52 and 89 yards) keyed Tennessee's 30-13 triumph over the Jaguars.
• "Be careful," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) texted Sunday night after Baltimore's 30-7 beatdown of the previously undefeated Denver Broncos. He wasn't talking to me (thank heaven); he meant the rest of the league should watch out for a Ravens team that, in ending a three-game losing streak to improve to 4-3, finally put together the kind of dominant defensive effort that was commonplace last season: Denver got into Baltimore territory just three times and into the red zone only once. If the Ravens can combine their newfound offensive firepower with the defensive might they displayed in '08, they can make a run at AFC North foes Pittsburgh (5-2) and Cincinnati (5-2) and compete for a conference crown. We'll find out more next Sunday when the Ravens visit the Bengals, who beat them in Baltimore last month. "It's time," Lewis added.
• The budding rivalry between the Miami Dolphins and Jets since New York hired Rex Ryan as coach has been wildly entertaining – and I'm kind of bummed that we won't get to see these two teams play again until 2010. On Sunday, for the second time in three weeks, the AFC East foes provided great theater, beginning with a healthy portion of trash talk leading up to the game and a shoving match between Miami linebacker Joey Porter(notes) and New York safety Kerry Rhodes(notes) during pregame warmups. (If only Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder(notes) had been active, he and Ryan might've had one as well. And then we saw another entertaining, back-and-forth game that ended in a somewhat surprising victory for the Dolphins (3-4). Consider that in the third quarter there were 30 points and five touchdowns scored on the following plays: a pair of kickoff returns by Miami's Ted Ginn; a 48-yard fumble return by Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor(notes); a one-yard run by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) after a muffed punt by Miami's Davone Bess(notes); and a 19-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Braylon Edwards(notes). There was even some sarcastic postgame jabbing by linebacker Bart Scott(notes) of the Jets (4-4), who told reporters, "They're a great team. … They are stacked across the board. I'm serious. They are great. … They are Super Bowl contenders and they will probably take it all the way." Given that Scott's team just got beaten twice by Miami and has now dropped four of its last five games, I wish he hadn't said that stuff. But when the two rivals meet next year, something tells me I'll be glad he did.
… YOU AIN'T CAUSE YOU'RE NOT
• Brrrrrrrr … It just got awfully cold in Tampa, where the Bucs (0-7) emerge from their bye week as the NFL's lone remaining winless team. And that's a fairly dubious distinction in a season in which seven other franchises (Browns, Chiefs, Lions, Raiders, Rams, Redskins, Titans) can make a case for being abominable. For now, the Bucs stand alone after a week in which one of its owners, Joel Glazer, forcefully denied a report by Dan Sileo of Tampa radio station WDAE-AM that he and family members had lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the Bernard Madoff investment scam and that, consequently, the team might be for sale. Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who lives in Tampa, told the Los Angeles Times' Sam Farmer that he "would be a moron not to at least look into" a possible purchase of the franchise; and, most disturbingly, it was reported by WDAE's Steve Duemig that second-year cornerback Aqib Talib(notes) screamed profanities at rookie coach Raheem Morris after he and other players showed up at the team's London hotel significantly past curfew following the Bucs' defeat to the Patriots in Week 7. Assuming that last report is true, I'm sort of speechless. This happened in front of numerous witnesses? Can you imagine if one of the Steelers' players had tested Mike Tomlin that way during the '07 season? I have a sneaking suspicion that if a Pittsburgh player had been stupid enough to do so, he'd have spent the flight home in the baggage area with a giant shoeprint on the back of his pants.
• It's hard to be a Texans fan, right? On Sunday Houston rolled to a 31-10 victory over the Bills in Buffalo – its fourth win in five games – to improve to 5-3, the first time the Texans have been two games above .500 in their frustrating, eight-year history. Yet it looks as though standout tight end Owen Daniels(notes) might have torn his right ACL, which would be an enormous blow to the team's prolific passing offense. The man nicknamed "Awesome" by his teammates couldn't come to terms with Houston on a long-term contract over the offseason and ended up accepting a one-year, $2.79 million tender as a restricted free agent. As with the Jets' Leon Washington(notes), who broke his leg the previous Sunday against the Raiders, rolling the dice Rod Tidwell-style might have proven to be the wrong call. The Texans play two of their next three games against the 7-0 Colts, the team they're chasing in the AFC South (with a bye and a game against the Titans sandwiched in between), so we'll have a much better sense of where they stand by the end of November.
• It's hard to imagine that anyone in pro football had a worse Sunday than Raiders coach Tom Cable, who was accused by an ex-wife and a former girlfriend of having a history of violence toward women in an ESPN report. Combined with the allegations levied by exiled Oakland assistant Randy Hanson – Napa County (Calif.) district attorney Gary Lieberstein decided not to press charges against Cable for the incident that resulted in Hanson breaking his jaw, but the coach still faces a potential civil suit – it seems as though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might have to take his fingers out of his ears and actually do some investigating. As I've said before, I support about 99 percent of what Goodell has done since becoming commissioner, but on this issue he looks a bit hypocritical given his aggressive stance toward players who face embarrassing allegations on a repeated basis. It's not just me saying this; numerous players to whom I've spoken feel similarly. Given Goodell's previously stated stance against workplace violence, the fact that, as of this weekend, no one from the league office had contacted Hanson to ask him about the allegations is absurd. It's also clear that, unlike most organizations, the Raiders (and specifically owner Al Davis) have no intention of addressing the matter on any meaningful internal level – which is further reason for Goodell to get involved. Meanwhile, Cable coached his 20th game on Sunday in San Diego, and for the 15th time the Raiders (2-6) scored one offensive touchdown (or fewer) in a 24-16 defeat to the Chargers. Could Oakland's bye week become bye-bye week for Cable? It's a question that 31 other franchises would be asking.
TWO THINGS I CAN'T COMPREHEND
1. The Musical Disappearance of Lauryn Hill.
2. How, after Harvin's 77-yard kickoff return set up Minnesota's first touchdown, the Packers continued to kick deep to him – even after the rookie (the league leader in return average coming into the game, by the way) followed with a 48-yard runback late in the third quarter. That latter return occurred immediately after Rodgers' five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Spencer Havner(notes) had cut the Vikings' lead to 24-20, and it was a complete momentum-killer. And it was maddening. McCarthy had wisely ordered Crosby to squib the ball on the team's previous kickoff, and the ball was fielded by defensive end Brian Robison(notes), who fumbled it back to Green Bay after a hit from A.J. Hawk(notes). So why not go with the same strategy? After the game McCarthy said he had ordered Crosby to squib the ball but that the kicker had "slipped" and ended up kicking short to Harvin at the 14. Um, OK – I guess the Packers need to practice not slipping on their attempted squibs. And since I didn't go to the Packers' locker room postgame, I didn't ask McCarthy about (and thus have no idea) what happened on the next Green Bay kickoff, after the Pack had cut the Minnesota lead to 31-26 with 10:26 remaining: Crosby again kicked deep to Harvin, who fielded the ball at the 12 and was stopped after a 14-yard return. While I'm a big McCarthy fan in general, I was also baffled by his decision to have Crosby attempt a 51-yard field goal with 5:43 remaining and Green Bay down 31-26. In my mind, the risk wasn't worth it – after the miss Minnesota got the ball at its own 41, and Peterson immediately rambled 44 yards on a screen from Favre, putting the Vikes 15 yards away from the TD that put away the game. And while I acknowledge that going for it on fourth-and-8 from the 33 would have also presented a risk, the problem could have been addressed on the previous down: Instead of Rodgers going up top to Donald Driver(notes) into double-coverage, McCarthy could have called a higher-percentage play that might have either a) set up a more manageable fourth-down play or b) set up a less-difficult field goal attempt.
OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE BEFORE DAWN
I once spent a long, enjoyable night and day with members of the 1972 Dolphins, and I admire the pride they take in their perfect season and the fact that a lot of them still keep in touch. Alas, they sometimes come off as the most annoying humans on the face of the earth, what with the champagne celebration every time the last undefeated team falls and the penchant some of them have for saying asinine things when silence would be so much more golden. Case in point: After reading what longtime standout guard Bob Kuechenberg said about current Dolphin Ginn at a charity event last week – "He's an embarrassment and a coward" – I've pretty much concluded that he's the grumpiest man alive. Fortunately, Ginn and the football gods did their best to make it right on Sunday. The demoted receiver had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in one quarter during Miami's 30-25 victory over the Jets and became the first player in league history to have two scores of 100 or more yards in the same game. (In continuing the trend of reacting to one's benching by becoming a special-teams stud, Dallas wideout Patrick Crayton(notes) scored on a long punt return for the second consecutive week in the Cowboys' 38-17 victory over the Seahawks.) Yep, Ginn is absolutely an embarrassment – to Kuechenberg, who undoubtedly yells at the paper boy for throwing the Miami Herald too close to his flower bed. On a cheerier note, the Broncos' defeat to the Ravens brings Kuechenberg and his fellow '72ers one step closer to that bottle of bubbly, with only the Colts and Saints still standing. If the football gods are really awesome they'll both win out – and remain tied after five Super Bowl overtimes before the NFL declares New Orleans and Indy "co-winners" to complete joint 19-0 seasons.
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