After the convulsive end in New Orleans, the good news for the Minnesota Vikings is that the shelf life for the usual public wailing and distemper is shrinking.
The trauma of 40 years of debacle in the post-season has become a basic condition of life in Minnesota. It is bearable. The natives live with it. It’s still a source of grumbling and malaise, but it’s now more or less accepted as a tradeoff for the approaching spring ice melt on 12,000 lakes. Call it maturity. The shock of losing out for the Super Bowl one more time, which once disrupted families and led to pledges of a life in the convent, has been eased.
Credit Brett Favre.
The whereabouts of Favre when the team returns to the field in September have essentially replaced the sieges of depression and revenge that followed one more Viking failure to reach or win in the Super Bowl. Suddenly the Vikings have discovered the indispensable man, nearing age 41. Beginning in a few weeks his movements will be chartered carefully and sometimes accurately.
He describes himself as genuinely undecided, which is a promising start but nothing especially new or worrisome. If and when he starts throwing footballs to the11th graders in Kiln, Miss., hordes in Minnesota can begin making plans for the fall, reserving the weekends and a couple of Monday nights. Is that a sure sign that Favre is returning to quarterback the Vikings?
No. But what is Brett Favre without suspense?
This year, though, it will go deeper than the dog and pony show of last spring. The Vikings now have a football team that moves in the higher echelon of championship contenders. Most of its best players are in their prime, a few like Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice moving there, others like Antoine Winfield on the ebbing sides of their careers.
The Vikings today have a respect and power rating in the NFL they had not held for years until Favre joined them. The organization is now maneuvering not only for the Super Bowl in 2010 but for a new stadium, the fate of which will decide whether the team stays in Minnesota.
So does Favre have any ethical responsibility in all of this building drama — the manipulations of it and the hopes not only of his newest public but the 50-odd athletes that he joined late in the game? He’d become the centerpiece of their offense, a public hero within weeks and the ringleader of their Our Gang rough-housing in the locker room.
He does have a responsibility, and it has nothing much to do with the $12 million or $13 million they gave him for the 2009 season. It’s primarily about making a sensibly early choice when the medical tests are in and the personal vibes that run his life tell him he can still play; whether he wants or needs to play, and how well he can play.
The team’s owners and head coach have given him space, a decision not only deserved but pragmatic. After 19 years of running football teams on the field, Favre is not going to be pressured into an early decision to please his paymasters. He does carry substantial aches from the mauling he absorbed in the playoff game in New Orleans.
A timely decision is something else. It would be one of the upsets of the year if Brett Favre told you tomorrow or four months from tomorrow that he doesn’t think he can play winning football next fall. It would be an even larger upset if he told you he doesn’t think he would get the same bang out of throwing footballs, meeting and enabling new stars like Sidney Rice, playing with principled football players like Steve Hutchinson and Adrian Peterson, hammering the rear end of wild ones like Jared Allen and emerging stars like Percy Harvin and Chad Greenway. Or getting the same raw and overwhelming charge out of throwing the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds to a Greg Lewis.
This is one phenomenal football player, his newest audience learned this last year. Now he may not be in physical condition to confidently expect to once more reach that plateau of performance or exhilaration.
If that is correct, the Vikings can tell him “thanks for the year you gave us.”
But, remarkably, Favre is not likely to be making those admissions. And if he’s moved to come back, one more time, and he’s physically capable of doing it, then he pleases not only owners and coaches and his huge news audience. He also pleases guys like Jared Allen and Visanthe Shiancoe and a few dozen more who have decided that it’s OK for Favre come to camp when he wants to, a choice in which the management seems to concur.
But he would also make life a lot easier if decides sooner, one way or another. The team has to plan for the draft, make player deals, find another quarterback to go for the title if Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels don’t look to be the answer.
Maybe all of this explains why the predictable anguish after the New Orleans loss didn’t quite emerge. There was some, of course. A few days ago a Viking fan, beyond consolation, brooded that his team was out-motivated by the Saints on the eve of the conference championship game.
They brought in the great Hall of Fame defensive back, Ronnie Lott, to inflame the Saints hours before kickoff. They also hauled in a half cord of purple baseball bats to let the players know how they were expected to hit, and who.
The Viking response to this assault of psychological warfare, the fan said, was to bring in Larry Platt, the original “Pants on the Ground” choreographer to rev up the Vikings.
It’s not likely that the “Pants on the Ground” schtick was intended to inflame the Viking athletes. More likely, an upgrade of the Favre performance a week before.
The use of inspirational tools to excite professional ballplayers is largely oversold. The Vikings met the Oakland Raiders in the 1977 Super Bowl. They had lost in their three previous Super Bowls, a good team losing to three teams — the Kansas City Chiefs, the Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers — who were probably better teams.
For weeks after the third defeat, inconsolable Viking fans (who carefully spared the iconic coach, Bud Grant) claimed that the Viking teams, with players like Alan Page, Carl Eller, Ron Yary, Mick Tingelhoff, Fran Tarkenton, Jeff Siemon and Ed White, had great skills and toughness but didn’t play with enough “intensity.” They were, the accusation went, automatons.
So in the finals days of the regular season and in the weeks approaching the Super Bowl, Chuck Foreman, the great and energetic running back, stoked the team. He created a song and did the words, “Let’s Go Crazy.” He rehearsed the team, whipped up their glands, waved his fist, a certified rabble rouser; fired them up with a roar and they left the locker room for the opening kick shouting, “Let’s Go Crazy, Go Crazy.”
The Vikings lost 32-14.