THE SHIFTING TIDES OF BRETT FAVRE

brettfavreG_450x300Favre renders the childhood of thousands of Packers fans useless…

The Vikings are 5-0, and looked at objectively by NFL writers as one of the top 2 or 3 teams in football. The Vikings. The team that was going to run Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels out at quarterback and hope for the best. But with the team closing training camp, head coach Brad Childress rolled the dice and talked Brett Favre into coming back to the NFL one more time and playing for the Vikes.

And now they are the toast of the league.

Yet finally, the public opinion on Favre shifted. For the longest time the man could do no wrong. Waffle about retirement? That’s just Favre — the competitor — not sure if he can walk away from a game that he loves so much. Throw brutal interceptions? That’s just Favre — the gunslinger — trying to make a play to help his team win. Get out front and block for a running back or wide receiver? That’s just Favre — the perpetual child — playing the game with more love for it than any other player since pigskin was stitched into a goofy shaped ball. Start 273 consecutive games? That’s just Favre — the warrior — that will never let something as trivial as an injury get in the way of him and his teammates.

Now? Favre is a brittle old man that surely can’t make it through an entire NFL season. Peter King, one of my favorite football writers even though he has long lusted over the great Favre, finally had enough. After Favre neglected to tell King about his plans to continue playing, King had a seismic shift in his man-love for Wrangler #4, and it was brilliantly chronicled by Josh Levin at Slate.

King and Favre are the sports world’s leading symbiotes. For two decades and 78 retirements and unretirements—including Tuesday’s signing with the Minnesota Vikings—the quarterback has given Sports Illustrated‘s football scribe unrivaled access to his life and inner thoughts. In return, King has lovingly documented Favre’s on-the-field derring-do and off-the-field tractor-riding and lawn-mowing. For King, the QB has been both a meal ticket and a member of his extended family: The twosome dined together on the Fridays before Packers games and shared quality time on Favre’s Mississippi property.

As Favre began to contemplate retirement, the writer and the source stayed close. When the quarterback has that sinking feeling he might want to retire, King gets the first phone call. “I’m just tired,” the QB told the writer last year. “I wish I had some big dramatic reason why. But I don’t.”

Today, King continues to bang his new Brett Favre drum, and wonders (again) whether or not Favre can stay healthy. As if the 273 games of consecutive evidence means nothing and that Favre is merely one hard slap away from combusting on the field of play.

Favre turned 40 Saturday — doubt he got many birthday cards from Green Bay zip codes — and celebrated by leading the Vikings to their fifth straight win, in St. Louis on Sunday. But that’s not the milestone date I was thinking about this weekend.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the hit from Cincinnati linebacker Rashard Jeanty that led to Favre’s right biceps injury, and led to the arm and shoulder pain that made his late 2008 season so miserable. In his first first games a year ago — the injury happened during Game 5 — Favre completed 71.3 percent of his throws for the Jets, with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He was 63.3 percent after that, with nine touchdowns and 16 picks. So my question to him last week was the same as my question to him in the summer: Can you last?

“I don’t know,” he said when I spoke to him in the tunnel at the Metrodome, an hour or so after the emotional win over the Packers. He looked like he’d been through a 15-round fight, emotionally and physically. “No one knows. You never know what’ll happen. I know how hard I’m working for it.”

He said he hasn’t had anything to drink but water, has sworn off sweets, hasn’t been hunting, and said he’s throwing totally pain-free. I asked him about the gigantic welcome-to-Minnesota billboards Wrangler, one of his employers, has put up around town. “Haven’t seem ‘em,” he said. “All I see is the road between my house and the training facility.” Tunnel vision.

That probably gives him the best chance to make it. But we won’t know how this story turns out until we see if Favre can make it and play competently through December, and he knows that.

It’d be one thing if Favre’s injury was something chronic — a knee, back, concussions — but we’re talking about a bicep tendon. That could happen if you’re 25 or 45, it’s a fluky injury that’s easily fixable, and was by a surgeon that may know a thing or two about arm injuries named Dr. James Andrews.

Listen, I’ve despised Favre for over a decade, his hyper-jubilance and fake team-first-rah-rah gag worthy, especially with him playing for the Guantanamo Bay Packers, but let’s all be honest. Favre has finally run out of good will, he hasn’t run out of football acumen.

It’s a brave new world for Vikings fans and while I’ll never fully get behind Favre as a man of purple, I’ll enjoy the ride, especially since it’s so wonderful to revel in the anguish of Packer fans everywhere, watching their savior quarterback the enemy.

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