The saga that has no end: Vikings lose again

Vikings runningback Adrian Peterson dives to recover his fumble against Saints cornerback Tracy Porter and linebacker Scott Fujita in the third quarter.
REUTERS/Mike Segar
Vikings runningback Adrian Peterson dives to recover his fumble against Saints cornerback Tracy Porter and linebacker Scott Fujita in the third quarter.

They threw one of the biggest blowouts in the history of New Orleans Sunday night, celebrating into the morning sun and dancing on the ashes of one more flameout by the Minnesota Vikings in their futile pursuit of Super Bowl glory.

The Vikings loss in the National Football Conference finals wasn’t a classic pratfall. It went into overtime before the Vikings lost 31-28 in a chaotic and brutal game in which the Vikings gained 475 yards to 275 for New Orleans and hogged possession. But they fumbled six times, surrendered the ball five times on fumbles and interceptions and somehow defied all odds by losing late in the game at a time when it seemed almost impossible for them to avoid winning

All of which thrust the New Orleans Saints into the NFL’s Super Bowl in Miami Feb. 7 against the Indianapolis Colts, their first Super Bowl ever after 43 years of sad- sack ignominy and ridicule. And most of the nation, remembering Katrina, celebrated with them. If the game was messy, it was also charged with suspense and the shifts of luck, blunders and savage play on the line of scrimmage. For the roaring Superdome crowd and the television millions it was also full of bewilderment. Nothing was predictable. It presented a wounded Brett Favre playing heroically and then, in a climactic moment, rashly and unwisely.

And it raised some towering questions over his availability to return next year, although people who know him best will tell you there is a high likelihood that he will at age 41. In meantime, nobody including Favre can or will tell you who is going to quarterback this team next season.

“One way or another,” he said after the game, “I know I’m going out on top.”

Does he foresee another beat-the-training-camp dodge into August? If not, how long will he want to make a decision?

“I wouldn’t say months,” he told reporters after the game. “I know people are rolling their eyes or will roll their eyes. I really don’t want to make a decision right now based on what’s happened, because I do know the year could not have gone better aside from us not going to Miami.”

When Favre talks this way he usually wells up, as he did Sunday night. He loves being a football player. He can’t stand being away. Trying to get back to the Super Bowl is a ruse. Playing football is a carnival ride for him, whatever his age. It lights him up.

After Sunday in New Orleans, he might have to get rid of the aftertaste because late in the brawling and the turnabouts, the Vikings had it within grasp, moving toward a winning field goal in the closing seconds.

Favre galvanized the team
How many times had a scenario like this played out? Behind Favre and the Vikings was a huge advantage in the flow of the game. They were tied 28-28, but the ball was in the hands of Brett Favre, who had dominated the 2009 season in his third-coming as an NFL quarterback at the age of 40. He had galvanized a Viking team looking for a quarterback to lift them over the hump. He’d been battered physically from the opening moments of the game, limping at times on a sprained ankle, sore all over. But he was still the charismatic superstar in his 19th season in the game, football’s story of the year.

The Vikings had reached the New Orleans 33. Trying to make a player change with time running down before a field goal attempt, they drew a 5-yard-penalty for having too many men in the huddle. They were back to the 38 and the ball was in Favre’s hands to get them closer.

How many times had he been there and won? Never mind that three years ago against the New York Giants he’d thrown an interception that blew the Green Bay Packers out of the Super Bowl and pretty much drove him into retirement. On Sunday he was moving his team toward a field goal that would have won the game in the fading moments. They were near the range limit of their kicker, Ryan Longwell. Another few yards would about clinch it.

Buying time, Favre rolled right and threw the ball across his body to Sidney Rice, his most dependable receiver. Favre and every quarterback alive has heard doomsday warnings about throwing across the body on the move. You can’t see all of the defenders. It’s high risk.

But Favre is Favre and he has earned a handsome living, a ton of football games and wide public adulation as a gambler and a winner.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre puts his head down during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game.
REUTERS/Sean Gardner
Vikings quarterback Brett Favre puts his head down during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game.

“I was late on the ball to Sidney,” he said after the game. He said he might have made a mistake in not running for a few extra yards to give Longwell a decent shot. He offered no excuses, injury or other, apart from the subliminal one that he’s a quarterback and he was trying to win the game.

The Saints cornerback, Tracy Porter, flashed in front of Rice, intercepted and the game stood 28-28 after regulation time. The Saints won the coin toss to receive in overtime, got a kickoff runback of 40 yards from Pierre Thomas and needed 25 yards to reach field goal range. Drew Brees, nothing remarkable during most of this game but the heart and guts of his team, hit two short passes. The Vikings’ Ben Leber was called for pass interference and the officials joined the expanding mess with two eye-of-the needle first down calls that kept the New Orleans drive moving. The Saints now were within field goal range.

The Ain’ts no more
And when Garrett Hartley kicked a 40 yard field goal to win the game, the Superdome shook with the deliverance of generations of Saints’ fans who had suffered through embarrassments and foolish hope for years. Glumly they wore brown paper bags on their heads and called their team the Ain’ts.

What they got Sunday was not playoff football at its gleaming best. It was angry men flailing at each other on the line of scrimmage. It was Adrian Peterson, fumbling again, twice, running almost maniacally at times. It was Peterson going over 100 yards, scoring three times, looking mortified after his fumbles, needing Favre’s earnest therapy on the bench, and going out to slash some more. It was Bernard Berrian, once the forgotten man of the Viking passing game, restored in New Orleans, making critical catches with Rice occupied with double teams.     

That kind of game. For New Orleans the allegedly new Reggie Bush, a great college star at USC but fundamentally a feint-and-duck runner in the pros, had a few moments but was basically a feint-and-duck runner again. But the game early on had settled into a slugging match in which one of the small moral victories for the heavyweights on the line was just getting up from the scrimmage line without calling 9ll.

But when it was over the Viking score sheet over the last 40 years read like this: Four Super Bowls played and lost. Five conference championship games played since 1978, five lost.

In the large scheme, is this an embarrassment impossible to live if you’re a Viking fan?

Why should it? It is uncanny, though, when you think about it. Those losses include one game when the Vikings’ field goal kicker was 100 percent flawless during the season, and then missed a 38-yard tap that would have put them in the Super Bowl a fifth time.
    
If there was rage from the Viking millions watching the dismal finish on television and in bars, it was muted, more shock than anger.

“It was like a dagger,” admitted Tom Szarzynski, a Minneapolis technology dealer who watched the game in a Hennepin Avenue sports bar. “It was hard to believe Brett threw that ball when the Vikings were close to the winning field goal. It looked like he could have run a few more yards to set up the field goal that would have won. We were so close, again. I know this sounds a lot like sour grapes, but that overtime rule, the first team to score wins, is still lousy.”

And the team’s public? Dumbfounded, again.
     
Favre watch begins
For Brad Childress, on the verge of reaching the Super Bowl rainbow in his fourth season as coach, there will now be the usual braying from bloggers and the restless vigilantes among Childress’ critics. It had to be a blow to the gut. It had been a season marked by Favre’s remarkable year, and that of Percy Harvin, who played well again Sunday despite his migraine, both of them brought to the Vikings primarily by Childress’ intervention.

So the Favre watch begins again. He hates to retire because he knows he’s going to be miserable if he does. Favre does not take age seriously. That chronic indecision bucks up against the availability this year of $12 million more if he comes back under his two year contract. Childress’ response (and that of owner Zygi Wilf) is to give Favre all the time he needs. “I told him to ‘go home and lick your wounds and I’ll do the same and we”ll catch up down the road'”

There’s one other thing to remember about the Favre Era, brief as it might be in Minnesota. It launched the team on a remarkable odyssey that stirred fans by the millions, unlike any phenomenon in the Vikings nearly 50 year history. The loose camaraderie he brought to the team was real and deeper than the typical locker room roughhousing. Although Favre has a well-advertised need for self-fulfillment, he knows team play and fosters it with his energy, his playground wackiness and his commitment to sacrifice as part of winning. It ignited a Viking fervor around the state unequaled in the team’s history here. The perfect mating of football with television in today’s high tech environment is part of the reason. Favre was another. Losing in New Orleans isn’t going to change that.

And it’s highly unlikely to change Brett Favre.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Joe Schweigert on 01/25/2010 - 09:58 am.

    i didn’t think reading this would make me feel better, but it did. thanks jim.

  2. Submitted by Lance Groth on 01/25/2010 - 10:58 am.

    Good article, good summation.

    A tip o’ the hat to the Vikings for a great season, and special respect for Brett Favre. The man played with all his heart, inspired his team, and seeing him keep getting up for more after the physical beating he took – words fail. I hope he comes back, but if not, thanks Brett! You did us proud.

  3. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 01/25/2010 - 11:25 am.

    Monday morning. Dreary day in Mudville. Even so, it was a great ride. We had so much fun (and so many jangled nerves) this season. The Vikes are incomparable with regard to generating belly butterflies, aren’t they?

    Could they have won? Really? We’ll never know. And if they had . . . ? How many cardiac episodes would that have generated?

    And then there’s this. Got an email earlier this morning from the Vikes, offering discounted Brett Favre merchandise. Yesterday’s hero. Hmmm. We are a callous lot sometimes.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 01/25/2010 - 11:51 am.

    I don’t blame anyone, but we lost the game. The Saints didn’t win it.

  5. Submitted by Mary McCarthy on 01/25/2010 - 12:10 pm.

    Thanks for the piece, Jim. It told the story of the game with no excuses, but it also captured the spirit of a great year. It was a great ride, and Farve was the one who brought it together.

  6. Submitted by Marilyn Meier-O'Brien on 01/25/2010 - 12:15 pm.

    I agree with Lance. I hope Brett comes back. I dread when he does retire. He makes football fun to watch and I agree with Coach. Go home lick your wounds and come back. I respect and love your work and spirit Brett.

    You put your heart and soul into the game and we walk with you. I am from Wisconsin and I am a Brett Favre fan no matter were he goes. were’a to you Brett. May God Bless.

  7. Submitted by Jane Cross on 01/25/2010 - 12:37 pm.

    I hope no one takes Nick Coleman’s comments seriously or jokingly for that matter.

    Nick Coleman has always had a “gas pain crossed sideways” when it comes to team sports in Minnesota.

    Moreover he has oonsistently had a case of “journalistic diarrhea” regarding the Minnesota Vikings. Good thing not everyone in this state has the same “illness”.

  8. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 01/25/2010 - 02:12 pm.

    It’s been a fun season, and a sad ending, again. However, I disagree that this ride Favre tooks us on was unlike any other before with the Vikings. To me, this season Brett Fave channeled Joe Kapp, 40+ years before, who also led a similar team with a strong defensive front four, led the team with verve and grit, only to fall just short of the mountaintop.

  9. Submitted by Jackie Rutten on 01/25/2010 - 02:37 pm.

    I absolutely agree with the comments about Brett putting his whole heart and soul into this game. He has brought so much to this season.I have been a lifelong fan and we have been season ticket holders for 8 years now and this BY FAR was the most fun we have ever had!!! We couldn’t wait to go to the games! Hats off to Brett for joining us and adding just what we needed to our team! And YES, this was a very dissapointing loss but let’s not forget what he has brought to this team, his sense of humor, fighting attitude to keep going no matter how many times you’ve been knocked down and his absolute LOVE of this game will remain with his team members and all of us die hard fans FOREVER, no game loss can take those things away! I can only hope that Brett decides to stay with us one more year!!!Thank you Brett!!

  10. Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/25/2010 - 03:10 pm.

    I thought coach Childress was a chump when he brought Favre in, particularly given how that process went down. I have to eat those words now. Favre was fun to watch, all season long, up to & including his final play. I thought – said to my wife – that he was going to run it, but instead he went for the heroic throw. When it sailed into the Saints’ posession, I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. But there it was, vintage Favre, right up to the end.

  11. Submitted by David Willard on 01/25/2010 - 06:07 pm.

    Jim Klobuchar, I have so much appreciation for your skills at putting pen to paper, or rather now, pixels to monitor. I ate up “True Hearts and Purple Heads,” as a young man. Writing like this is rare indeed now. Oh no, I sound like my dad…more and more. Thanks Jim.

  12. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/25/2010 - 06:19 pm.

    What a dramatic game Farve looked like a marathoner out there with having to sprint at the end with used up energy and a sore leg to boot. Kudos.

  13. Submitted by Steve Pease on 01/25/2010 - 08:45 pm.

    Great article.

    – Packers fan.

  14. Submitted by Jon Larson on 01/25/2010 - 08:49 pm.

    The sheer brutality of yesterday’s game was terrible to behold. If it had been a prize fight, there would have been calls to stop it considering the shots Farve was taking. This was gladiator stuff.

    NO ONE will be able to accuse Brett Favre of giving anything less than his all. Once upon a time, the real Viking wrote sagas about men who battled like that.

    So yes the Vikings lost, a yes they made some seriously boneheaded plays, but at least for once there was a Viking who lived up to his label.

  15. Submitted by Greg Ross on 01/25/2010 - 09:08 pm.

    I have followed this team since 1967 when I ushered at old met stadium. I’m now approaching 59 next month and in all those years of watching the vikings, I really felt yesterday they were going to finally pull it off!
    Going to work today I felt like old Charlie Brown when Lucy pulls the ball away at the last second.
    My father-in -law, who’s now 86 and just celebrated his 62nd wedding anniversary yesterday said it best….” I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to see them actually win a Superbowl”.

  16. Submitted by melvin morrison on 01/26/2010 - 06:08 am.

    They beat up Brett Favre for four quarters. It had to take a toll somewhere. And, it showed up in those final twenty seconds of regulation play.

    The Vikings didn’t protect that quarterback. For four whole quarters, they allowed the Saints to beat that man to a pulp. That’s why they lost.

    Under normal conditions, Favre makes that pass. But, things weren’t normal anymore. By now, Favre is playing to survive. He’s not interested in finding the second or third receiver. He’s not interested in crossing that line of scrimmage and taking on more defenders. He’s interested in passing to the first receiver on the list.

    The Vikings did not protect that quarterback, and it led to hasty decisions. That’s why they lost.

  17. Submitted by Rod Loper on 01/26/2010 - 08:36 am.

    Thank you, Jim for a great story, as usual.
    As I watched it develop at the end, I prayed
    for the “new team player Favre” to be there
    and set up the field goal to no avail.
    By the way, what happened to the supposed new
    rules to protect NFL quarterbacks from shots to
    the legs?

  18. Submitted by Dan Glass on 01/27/2010 - 09:16 am.

    Vikings blow it again! Big Surprise. You can always count on them screwing it up in the end. I can’t believe anyone wants Favre back. He is old and washed up. Can’t take a hit and always throws to many picks. If he would have just played a safe game Minnesota easily wins. Instead another playoff loss. Any other decent quarterback would have won the game, Favre thinks he can do whatever he wants. Good luck Vikings if he comes back.

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