There are approximately 2,300 clinical psychologists licensed to practice therapy in the state of Minnesota.
This information is offered today in the spirit of social service to a few million flummoxed Viking fans and to Brad Childress, the often-unloved coach. Ignore the fact that Childress graduated from Eastern Illinois with a degree in psychology. It did introduce him to the deepest edges of abnormal behavior — split personalities, delusions of grandeur and paranoia. All of this richly prepared Childress for a career of coaching professional football players; and, not so incidentally, surviving some of their media camp followers.
But it left him woefully unprepared for the psychic phenomenon of Brett Favre. To give Childress his due, he has held up better in the latest Favre-induced calamities than the fans.
The burst of good news today is that Favre will decide later whether he is still the Viking quarterback, that he will play if his healing ankle allows him and it has nothing to do with money.
This comes as a virtually unprecedented burst of clarity. That mean’s today’s clarity. Tomorrow, maybe not so much. It is enough so that some of the same oracles who were convinced 48 hours ago that Favre was lost to the Vikings forever, and the team was dead meat as a Super Bowl contender, now believe the chances are 99 per certain that he will open the Viking season as their quarterback, or play soon as he is healthy, and God is back in heaven. Favre does this so well that in the end virtually everybody forgives him.
And why is that? It may be that most of his melodramatics aren’t really calculated. The truth about Favre is that he can’t honestly make up his mind to quit, and to plunge into an alien life without football.
Consider that 48 hours ago Visanthe Shiancoe, a Favre co-conspirator in the locker room burlesques after the games, reported that Favre had been texting some of the players with news that it was all over, he can’t play because of his bad ankle, and bon voyage. The fan base was instantly horrified. Among his several hundred promises of the last few years, Favre had pledged to wait until a final verdict on his ailing ankle before announcing his decision in broad daylight. But here was the bad news from Favre, creeping in on somebody’s Blackberry in the middle of a pile of discarded jock straps.
These things were said to have happened almost immediately:
The Viking owners and damage-control strategists were reported huddling on the training camp sidelines to offer Favre an additional $7 million on the remaining year of his two-year contract, thus expanding the original $25 million to protect their full court press for a new football stadium after next year.
Favre was denounced by fans and authors alike as a man who no longer deserved their trust. On the Internet, everybody who wasn’t first to report the latest bombshell sulked and seethed. The always-delightful Jaws Jaworski declared himself shocked by Favre’s latest retirement. Twelve hours later Jaws was unshocked when Favre climbed into the cab of his pickup truck after working out with the high school kids in Mississippi. He announced that he wasn’t taking questions. He started the truck, let it idle and, of course, took questions. He denied that he was retiring for the fourth time and he will play for the Vikings this year if he’s able.
And why did Brett Favre take questions? Because this is his life, pro football in all of its pulsations, pants-on-the-floor idiocy, its fourth- and-10 touchdown passes, its celebrity, the thunder of the crowd and the raw, exhilarating combat in it. And he can’t bear to leave it.
Nor will he this year, if he can play on the now-aching ankle. Which means, basically, nothing has changed. It almost never does with Favre. Whether you want to kick him in the butt or wear his jersey to church, as some do, you have to know that this guy is a warrior, which is why the players love him, including the brutes he is trying to beat. In the gruff shorthand of the athlete, he brings it, which means every play, and he usually delivers. He does it when he is able and sometimes when he’s not. And he’s going to do or say anything it takes to make a deal for himself to stay in the ball game. With players like Favre, that’s not a psychological cancer. It’s their DNA.
The difference between Favre and the hundreds of others who try desperately to hang around when they get older is that this is still one of the very best football players you will ever see.
Is he trustworthy when you ask him about his future? Probably not, because the truth is he doesn’t know, not when he’s trying to stitch together one more season to erase what happened three years ago when he threw an interception that took Green Bay out of a run at the Super Bowl. And then two years ago it was one more season to redeem when he loused up the chances of the New York Jets by playing with a bad arm; and now one more to blot out when in January he threw another interception that took the Vikings out of the Super Bowl.
It’s fundamentally why Favre wants to play one more year, again, to leave as a winner, which a superstar is supposed to do but rarely can.
So he is conflicted. Playing is one thing. Being able to play well is another. Dodging camp is a distant third. So he says he is going to tell us in a few weeks whether he can play.
Maybe we ought to count our blessings. If there wasn’t Favre you’d have to read news from the real world, which is even less credible and a lot more painful. This brings you back to Childress, who probably understands Favre better than most. Two days ago when Favre was supposed to have leaked his retirement and people yelled that the sky was coming down, Childress said: “He hasn’t told ME that it’s over.” And so he hasn’t. Childress has to placate Favre because that’s the way the relationship stands. But he is the coach, and one of the better ones. The best he will say about the current Favre saga is that “it’s fluid.”
Put it on your bulletin board. That is fluid like the Johnstown Flood was fluid. And if in the end Favre really can’t play, and you want to know what to do about it, set your watch back two years and ask Tarvaris Jackson to practice his handoffs to Adrian Peterson. Worse things have happened.