He looked like a man oddly disengaged and misplaced, silently grappling with his thoughts on the sidelines while he looked out on the banging and cursing of a professional football game waged by men who thought he could take them to a Super Bowl.
For Brett Favre’s football team, the Minnesota Vikings, the game was the final stroke of a serial disaster that began three days ago with the collapse of the Metrodome in Minneapolis and ended in the strange atmospherics of Ford Field in Detroit. There, the Vikings played their ugliest game of the season and lost to the New York Giants, 21-3, before an eclectic crowd of some 45,000 that included mostly locals but also a few thousand transplants from Minnesota. They gamely made noise when the Giants lined up, but clearly not enough.
For Favre, it was the end of a marathon party of 297 consecutive games that he had started in the National Football League, an achievement that seemed to dwarf any previous iron man saga in competitive athletics. That made it an international story that attracted testimonials from the greatest names in professional athletics, including figures in baseball, basketball and more. But his was his game, pro football, which in turn made it his life. In a real way it was also his domain because no professional football player in the game’s history has attracted both the audiences and the player respect that mark the career of Brett Favre, no matter his quirks of self-indulgence and basically his refusal to grow up.
On this strange, jerry-built night in Detroit Brett Favre yielded to the attrition of two decades of broken bones, torn muscles and concussions and admitted he couldn’t play.
He stood behind the benches of his team, wearing warm-up pants, a black shirt and a blue knit ski cap, a spectator after all those years. He followed the game, but not aggressively. He was interested but not vocal, sometimes exchanging a few words with the players or a coach who stepped back to chat during a break in the action. There really wasn’t much action. It was a wretched football game but it could have been the game of the century and somehow it would still have been all about Favre.
That might have been a relief because the Vikings return to Minnesota today looking at a scenario of horrors no one could have imagined a year ago when they were heading for the NFL playoffs, conceded to be one of the three or four best teams in football. Consider these bleak prospects for the next three weeks and, for some serious anguish, the next three months.
Out of the playoffs
Having absorbed their eighth loss in 13 games with just three remaining, the Vikings have now been formally eliminated from this year’s playoffs. Returning home Monday night, they didn’t know where they’re going to play the Chicago Bears next Monday night, a game that was heralded as the centerpiece of the Viking management’s celebration of 50 glorious years of Viking football.
With Favre surely gone as the Vikings quarterback, they don’t know who will succeed him in 2011. Tarvaris Jackson got another trial Monday night, and basically blew it.
They don’t know who will coach them in 2011. Leslie Frazier opened with two straight victories as the interim coach, but the Vikings Monday night did nothing to dress up his resume.
They don’t know if Sidney Rice will stay with the Vikings and they’re not sure that Percy Harvin can cope with his migraines after he missed another game Monday night. They have no idea how the public will handle the full court press when the Viking management, with their lease on the Metrodome expiring next year, opens the newest and perhaps final campaign for a new stadium.
When you think it through, it may be a relief for the Vikings if the problem solvers can work up a deal to move their Monday night’s game with the Bears to the University of Minnesota’s open-air stadium next. Domes haven’t been friendly to the Vikings lately.
But this Monday night belonged to Favre, where some 45,000 of the curious showed up basically not to cheer but to watch a game without feeling miserable.The hometown Lions rarely give them that chance. They also came to watch Favre, but took almost as much satisfaction being able to sit in on history.
And why were they making all that fuss around the country today about Brett Favre taking himself out of the lineup?
The setting was the weirdest imaginable. Favre is accustomed to routine adulation whether in Green Bay, Minnesota, New York, Mississippi or in the studios of ESPN. But this was the stadium bowl of Ford Field in Detroit, where the game was transplanted because of the Metrodome’s breakdown during the weekend snowstorm. The shoulder injury he suffered a week before had produced a numbing effect on his hand, and he couldn’t throw the ball.
Afterward, he didn’t formally announce his retirement — which he claims he has already done. Nor did he rule out a remote chance of a return to the wars in the remaining games with Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. But his hand is numb, he said, and he can’t throw the ball if he can’t feel it.
Did he regret returning for one more year that had so much promise but disintegrated week by week, fundamentally because of Favre’s inability to deliver anything close to his extraordinary season of 2009? About the end of the streak, and the Viking season he said:
“I will not hang my head one bit. I think [as a kid] about goals and dreams. I far exceeded all of those. I never dreamed of playing 300-plus games [counting playoffs]. It’s been pretty amazing…whether it ended today, or in several weeks at the end of the season it’s been a great run. God has blessed me, no doubt, with ability to play at a high level and endure physically. I may pay for it later, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
For the night in Detroit, Ryan Longwell’s first-quarter field goal constituted the bulk of the Vikings’ offense. Adrian Peterson, still the best runner in professional football, gained 14 yards. Tarvaris Jackson was nimble but inaccurate. Joe Webb, the third-string quarterback, was nimble but is probably not going to break Favre’s passing records. The Viking defensive line, primarily Kevin Williams, held off the Giants’ power runners, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, for 15 minutes or so but both scored eventually and Eli Manning recovered from a horrendous start to eventually throw straight, including a touchdown pass to Kevin Boss. The huge Giants defensive line swallowed the Viking run game and gave it only 66 yards.
If they gave game balls to the losing team, the Vikings’ undoubtedly would have awarded theirs to the punter, Chris Kluwe, who represented most of the offense.
The Bears, incidentally, also have a strong defensive line. For the Vikings this week, figuring out a place to play the game may be a start.