Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (4) passes as offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie (74) blocks Bears defensive end Henry Melton (69) in the first half of a game in Chicago on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010. / Kiichiro Sato/AP
So how much magic does a beat up, 41-year-old Brett Favre have left?
Enough that in the second half of a bitterly disappointing, going-nowhere season, he can lead the Minnesota Vikings to a win over the ascending Green Bay Packers?
At 3-6, Minnesota might be on the brink of a total freefall, but the Packers know not to count out a quarterback who’s an all-time competitor and holds a major grudge against their front office.
“It would probably mean everything to him,” said defensive end Ryan Pickett of Favre’s desire to beat his former team.
This, in fact, is looking more and more like the last time Favre will face the franchise that he personified from 1992 to 2007. When it comes to Favre and retirement, never say never, but with how poorly the Vikings’ season is going and how badly beat up Favre is, it’s a relatively safe bet that 2010 actually will be his last season.
Ryan Longwell, the former Packers kicker who’s been Favre’s teammate in Minnesota the last two years, said Favre “without a doubt” will retire after this season. Longwell was one of three Vikings players who visited Favre at his home in Hattiesburg, Miss., during training camp to convince him to play another year.
“When we went down to Mississippi, the three of us, to talk to him, that was pretty much adamant even before he agreed to come back,” Longwell said. “I have no doubt this is his last year.”
At first blush, Favre couldn’t look more vulnerable. His passer rating of 72.2 points ranks No. 31 in the NFL, and he’s thrown a league-worst 16 interceptions and lost five fumbles playing behind a declining offensive line. He’s played all season without his favorite target, receiver Sidney Rice, who still is recovering from hip surgery and might not be back this week, and he recently lost Randy Moss as his deep-threat replacement after only a month together because of Moss’ insubordination.
Favre also is as beaten up as he’s ever been. He’s playing on an injured ankle, had tendinitis in the forearm of his throwing arm and has soreness in his throwing shoulder that might be related to a previous injury.
Yet, as bad as it all looks, Favre has had his share of good moments and still presents a serious threat because of his strong throwing arm, invaluable experience and spontaneous ability to make plays. He showed it Oct. 24 at Lambeau Field when he almost brought the Vikings back for a dramatic win — trailing by four points, he moved them to the Packers’ 15 with 1:03 to play but couldn’t get in the end zone.
Two weeks ago against Arizona, he kept the Vikings’ season alive by leading two touchdown drives in the final 4:39 to tie the game, then taking them to the game-winning field goal in overtime.
“You saw (his magic) in the Arizona game,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “That was a heck of a game. I was really impressed with what he did, to have a career high in passing yards, bringing a team back and going to overtime and winning the way he did. That’s impressive.”
With this likely his last game against the Packers, Favre’s competitive fire figures to burn especially hot Sunday. His animosity for the organization is primarily aimed at General Manager Ted Thompson, who Favre thinks pushed him out the door in 2007. With the Vikings’ season essentially shot, Favre probably can get no greater satisfaction than to beat Thompson’s Packers this last time, and three times in his four tries with Minnesota.
“You can just see it, last year during the games he’d throw a touchdown pass and he was super-amped, ‘Yeah, got ’em,’” receiver Greg Jennings said. “That was his mindset, that was his demeanor, body language, everything.”
However, the same likely holds true from the Packers’ side. Since the early 1990s, Minnesota has supplanted Chicago as the Packers’ greatest rival, and last year Favre and the Vikings swept the two-game series that was the difference in the NFC North Division title.
“That on top of the fact that we can throw some dirt on their coffin, it does nothing but give us more motivation and more fuel to get the job done,” Jennings said.
Also, beating Favre figures to have special meaning for several members of the organization, most notably Thompson. Though the Packers’ GM would never even hint at it publicly, and probably would confide only to the closest of his friends, he’d gain satisfaction in defeating Favre in this likely final matchup.
“Anybody in the front office or coaches, it’s always tough to know what they’re thinking because they have to stay so professional,” Jenkins said. “You’ll probably never really know what’s going on or what they’re thinking until they retire and write a book. You know they’re going to want to win, being a competitor. We just have to go out there and win.”
Rodgers, likewise, would never say publicly that anything personal is at stake in this matchup. But in his three years as Favre’s backup their relationship never was particularly warm, and he was caught in the middle of the firestorm in ’08 because he was the player Thompson chose over Favre.
“(Rodgers) being our leader now, it’s important for us,” Jennings said. “He endured a lot, he went through a lot, and for reasons that are beyond him, he had no control over it. Seeing what he’s gone through, it would mean a lot to us, not only for our organization but for Aaron. We know how much of a competitor he is.”