For many years, Gerry Cosby and Co., a New York-based sporting goods store based out of Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden, displayed a New York Rangers sweater in its window that reflected a brief, wistful moment at the end of a great career.
In 1980, the Rangers invited Bobby Hull, a future Hockey Hall of Famer but vastly over the hill at that point, to training camp, hoping he might have enough left to pop in a goal from time to time. But after 23 seasons in the NHL and World Hockey Association, Hull was done, and the Rangers cut him.
Cosby’s had been the Rangers’ primary outfitter for decades, and a Hull No. 9 sweater found a prominent place in a display. You couldn’t look up at it without wondering how the Golden Jet might have skated in his prime as a Broadway Blueshirt, speeding down left wing, unloading that big slap shot.
That memory flashed back with all the commotion over Brett Favre perhaps coming to the Vikings, something that now appears to have as much chance as the Twins winning another regular-season game at the present Yankee Stadium. (That would be zero, if you’re scoring at home.)
Presuming he claimed his familiar No. 4 from rookie John David Booty, Favre would have been the most notable player in Vikings history to don that number the moment he pulled it over his head. No blasphemy here; the Vikings haven’t had many No. 4s in their history, at least according to the alumni list at Vikings.com. Almost all have been kickers or punters, and a few have been beauts.
Doug Brien (2002) missed two extra points in an eventual overtime loss to Buffalo, annoying Coach Mike Tice to the point he called the postgame radio show on his drive home to rip him. Tice cut Brien soon after.
In 2003, the number fell to punter Eddie Johnson, a one-season wonder best known for pulling into training camp with the oldest, ugliest car in the lot – a 1972 Chevy El Camino he bought for $1,500 from a guy in California when he was 15. The car was in such shaky condition that Johnson paid $700 to have it shipped from Pocatello, Idaho, to Mankato on a flatbed. Not everyone found this quirky or funny; crusty defensive tackle Chris Hovan said Johnson made enough money to drive a real car.
The best-known No. 4: Quarterback Archie Manning, father of Peyton and Eli, who played here in 1983 and ’84. Booty is believed to be the first non-kicker to wear it since.
Judging by talk radio and message boards, some Vikings fans would rather chug green bile or push their propane grills over a cliff than accept Favre in purple and white. That’s silly. That the Vikings seriously considered this (and of course they did, no matter how the tampering charges play out) shows they understand their roster, their standing, and their narrow window of opportunity.
Adding Jared Allen gave the defense what it lacked, a Lawrence Taylor-type disrupter that offensive coordinators must compensate for. But Pat Williams, Darren Sharper and Antoine Winfield, the veteran playmakers, are all in their 30s. This might be the last prime season for all three.
The 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens demonstrated a team can win a Super Bowl with a dominant defense, a good running game and an average quarterback. The pursuit of Favre suggests some internal doubt about the readiness of Tavaris Jackson, and Jackson must dispel that notion as camp progresses and the regular season starts. Favre might not be a Pro Bowler, but he could handle the job competently when competence is all that’s required. Year Three of the Brad Childress era might be the last if the Vikings don’t make the playoffs this time.
If nothing else, the Favre talk put the Vikings near the top of the sports discussion at a time when nothing much besides baseball is happening here. Plus, the Vikings desperately need to create momentum for a new stadium that few, outside the team and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, appear interested in building. Favre provided a provocative distraction that, in a few days, will run its course, leaving the legacy of the Vikings’ No. 4 to Mr. Booty.