The thunder of the crowd had receded and so had the usual cacophony of the winning locker room. But the aging ballplayer who had ignited much of it seemed less triumphant than grateful.
The questions from the media posse afterward focused on Brett Favre; and why wouldn’t they? A few minutes earlier he had presided over the Minnesota Vikings’ ninth victory in 10 games, a 35-9 mismatch with the Seattle Seahawks in which Favre had thrown four touchdown passes for the 22nd time, more than any quarterback who has played pro football. His efficiency rating for the afternoon was 22 completions in 25 throws and he and his team had fired the crowd into a passable level of delirium — a remarkable feat for any Minnesota crowd.
It had been that kind of game, in baseball lingo a virtual no-hitter. Seattle’s offense, devoured by the Vikings’ front line, made 10 yards on the ground. The Vikings’ defense spent nearly 75 percent of the game on the bench, possibly worried about getting rusty.
But afterward Favre was quietly introspective and confidential. He said he hadn’t known what was waiting for him in Minnesota and had, in fact, experienced times when his confidence waned and had to be bucked up both by his wife and his longtime confidante, the Minnesota offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell. Those doubts, incidentally, did not leap out from anybody who has seen Favre step into the Viking garments after his celebrated divorce from the Green Bay Packers and establish almost instant rapport with his teammates and a winning attitude in the huddle.
What he found, he said, was a team ready to win. “My one goal and only goal,” he said, “is to lead this team to the Super Bowl. There’s no doubt that the way I’m playing now is a direct result of the guys around me. It’s not like I found some fountain of youth.”
He ticked off some of his personal thrills, the simple act of handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson and watching him run, throwing to Sidney Rice, Shanks, [Visanthe Shiancoe], Bernard [Berrian] and Percy Harvin…”
His fondness for embracing drama is part of Favre’s persona. He takes no pains to conceal his emotions or his internal conflicts, is comfortable with public reflection and does it convincingly. It’s part of his appeal as athlete-celebrity, and once launched he seems fascinated, exploring the plots and personalities in his extraordinary life on the biggest stage in sports in America.
But his game-time demeanor, especially when his team is hitting all the high notes, is different; and he was in form again Sunday, romping with the players on the sidelines, slapping butts, bantering with the coaching assistants, reinforcing good plays, acting like a kid loose in pizza shop. If you’re a coach, you call Favre a bread winner. If you’re a social engineer, you’d call him a community builder.
One of those personalities is his head coach, Brad Childress, who staked his job on bringing Favre to the Vikings in the face of public and media skepticism and the Hamlet act that Favre seemed to be playing in Mississippi.
Favre’s growing ease with Childress was evident Sunday in the aftermath of the rout of Seattle. The contract extension through 2013 that Childress received from the Viking ownership was clearly deserved in view of his performance over the last two years but did not ignite wild block parties among the fans. To most of them he seems distant and nerdy, a football technocrat. The players know him better today and obviously with more warmth. The coach, Favre said, “is cerebral and sometimes it goes over your head but …” But players understand that his mantra of finding good people who are good ballplayers has built the team and an uncommon camaraderie among them — including the pass receivers, who are notoriously covetous of their catches and reps.
There were enough Sunday for a gaggle of Viking receivers. Harvin, Shiancoe and Berrian caught touchdown passes from Favre in the second quarter for a 21-0 Viking halftime lead. Rice went aloft again to score a fourth and when Tarvaris Jackson, now a genuine protégé of Favre, frolicked around in the cleanup minutes he connected with Rice again in the final minutes.
In the midst of the Viking passing spectacular, Adrian Peterson still managed 82 yards and mercifully was not required to throw another reverse toss to Harvin, which bombed a week ago.
By all of the rules of compassion, Seattle should have been accorded the right to cancel the playing date Sunday. Its injury rolls are among the worst in the league, which meant misery all afternoon for the quality quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, and a rueful day for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the receiver who last winter turned down the chance to join the Vikings. He went instead with the Seahawks, never imagining that the Vikings five months later would sign a quarterback who has put more money in the pockets of pass catchers than all of the football agents and Nike commercials combined.
Hasselbeck soldiered on but the Vikings defensive front choked off the Seattle’s dismal attempts to run, and the Vikings hogged the ball for more than 42 minutes. It was a feast for the crowd, which couldn’t get enough of Favre all afternoon. When he was replaced by Jackson, he was toasted by thousands of voices shouting “MVP, MVP” when the crowd learned about his latest record, the 22nd four-touchdown passing performance.
This is the moment
In the aftermath, Childress offered his own form of gratitude. He is a man ceaselessly committed to the concept of “the urgency of now,” which comes across as something close to the idea of “this is the moment.”
From the beginning of the season, he said Sunday, his goal for the Minnesota Vikings was to close the gap between “what we are and what we can be.”
They came closer Sunday, and the team now stands 9 and 1 with six to play. In the eyes of a sizable number of football insiders around the country, the Vikings — not the unbeaten New Orleans Saints or Indianapolis Colts — are the strongest team in the National Football League.
The rest of the schedule, while less than frightening, may provide a more authoritative answer. In the next six weeks the Vikings play the Chicago Bears, Arizona (the Super Bowl runner up), Cincinnat (now a serious playoff contender), the improved Carolina Panthers, the Bears again and the New York Giants. The dome-dwelling Vikings have to believe it would be nice to clinch homefield advantage in the playoffs BEFORE they play the Bears outdoors, on Dec. 28, at night, in Chicago,
The Bears are not going to win the Super Bowl, but they rarely go quietly. They were at it again last night, roughhousing with the Philadelphia Eagles and losing late. They were led, but not well, by quarterback Jay Cutler, who leads the league in scowls and tantrums but has a howitzer arm. The Bears squabble a lot but hit hard and still give the impression that they would rather lose a game than lose their reputations.