BOSTON — There is a story, often repeated in football circles, that during his last years as a Green Bay Packer, Brett Favre was desperate to have Randy Moss as a teammate. They had chatted, they had dreamed, they had wooed each other with text messages.
But at the end of the courtship, Moss went to New England, and a year later — on March 3, 2008 — he signed a three-year deal with the Patriots. On March 4, 2008, Favre retired from the Packers. Moss was his Waterloo. If Green Bay did not want Moss, they did not want him.
Now, facing a Waterloo of their own, the Minnesota Vikings have gone out to get Moss — a 6-foot, 4-inch get-well card with Elmer’s Glue hands and a high-jumper’s leap — for the quarterback upon whom they have staked their season.
Reports suggest they have surrendered a third-round pick to the New England Patriots for Moss. It is a small price for a man who could well prevent the Vikings’ season from falling into the abyss.
Vikings: No ‘wait ’til next year’
Only three games into a season in which the only possible definition of success is a Super Bowl — and with a murderer’s row of opponents ahead — the team was disintegrating. Favre, who plays football with an almost indecent enthusiasm — as though every game is a frat party and he the stage-diver — looked instead like a man struggling through the morning after.
He was beaten and brow-beaten, chewed up by opposing defenses and apparently ruing his decision to be lured out of (another) retirement by a desperate mission of three Minnesota players in August. His favorite receiver, Sidney Rice, is injured, and without him Favre has been utterly lost. In an incandescent 2009, Favre threw seven interceptions in 16 games. In the first three games of 2010, he has thrown six.
Yet unlike the Packers in 2008, the 2010 Vikings had no Plan B.
In offering the 40-something grandfather Favre $16 million to play this year — and then sending three of their most respected players to his Hattiesburg, Miss., home to beg him to return, the Vikings were showing their cards. This is their moment. With some key contracts coming due at the end of the year and other players nearing the end of their careers, it would be this year or nothing for the Vikings.
In Minnesota, it could not be “wait ’til next year.”
So today Minnesota did what Green Bay would not. It brought Favre the one receiver he has wanted for three years.
The Moss factor
There will be debate about whether Moss is really the right fit for the quick-pass West Coast offense run by Favre in Minnesota. Moss is different player from Rice. He rarely ventures into those areas in the middle of the field where bodies fly like shrapnel and catching passes is as much a test of fortitude as skill. His loping pass routes sometimes seem aimless, lacking the slide-rule precision of other pass-catchers.
Yet what he can do — perhaps better than anyone who has ever played football — is catch the deep ball lofted as far and high as a quarterback’s arm can muster. He is all legs and arms and sure hands, a jungle gym for smaller defenders who have no answers to his height and speed. He is a touchdown in shiny pants.
And this thought must bring a smile to Favre’s face — perhaps the first one this season.
Moss will surely help an ailing Vikings offense. As defenders retreat to prevent Moss from beating them with a single, long-distance catch, space will open up closer to the line of scrimmage — space that can be exploited by the likes of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, slot receiver Percy Harvin, and running back Adrian Peterson. Almost instantly, the Vikings offense becomes much more difficult for opponents to defend.
Yet Moss’s most profound impact might be something less definable.
For Favre, a player whose energy is his edge, 2010 was increasingly looking like a lost season. Now, it is impossible to imagine that at least some of the old spark hasn’t returned for Favre.
And that, in itself, represents a brilliant piece of business.