Three weeks ago I ended my article The Ell Roberson Effect with the line “who wants to talk about Brett Favre?”. Well… who wants to talk about Brett Favre? Well, I do, and I’m the one with the magic electronic pen that makes words appear on the front page of the website, so we’re going to talk about Brett Favre.
I’m about to take a very unpopular stance: Brett Favre may be the best thing in professional football right now. He’s a flawed but redemptive hero – a guy who acknowledges and atones for his failings, both as a player and as a human being. He’s a good front face for the company too – he’ll do everything from commercials to cameos in R-rated comedies to locker room renditions of week one American Idol tunes. To top it off, he’s still one of the sport’s best athletes – entering his 20th season, he’s a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate, and, in the eyes of his teammates, he’s still the missing link that can take a team from a playoff berth to a Super Bowl appearance.
Why, then, is his presence such a divisive element? Why is he so persistently derided by fans and press alike? The answer is simple: he’s not playing for your team.
Let’s face it: Vikings fans don’t dislike the guy. He spent the overwhelming majority of his career playing for their closest division rival, geographically speaking, but he still has their support. At most, they’re vaguely frustrated with him for his indecisiveness, but you won’t see even a significant minority calling for him to retire or be cut. That’s because they reviewed their options, and they didn’t find an Aaron Rodgers waiting in the wings. They found a questionable career backup and a Kyle Boller impersonator. Based on that, they decided they liked the future Hall of Famer with the rocket arm a little better.
If he was on your team, so would you.
If he was on my team, so would I. I scanned through the Chiefs’ roster earlier today. If, for some bizarre reason, Kansas City was a legitimate contender, and, if for some bizarre reason, Minnesota elected to cosmically repay Kansas City for giftwrapping them a future Hall of Famer two offseasons ago by trading another future Hall of Famer to play out the remainder of his career in Arrowhead, there are a grand total of three players whom I would not trade to make that deal happen: Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, and Jamaal Charles.
The Vikings, by contrast, gave up nothing more than a few million extra dollars to entice him out of retirement. As with nearly everything else he does, Favre has been criticized for demanding more money, but the additional money still places his salary below those of many of his peers (Peyton Manning, for instance). Whether or not to seize the opportunity to hire a top 10 signal caller at or below market value isn’t really much of a question at all.
Every season I pick an NFC team to support alongside the Chiefs. I never choose the Cowboys for familial reasons, and I never choose the Rams because I don’t care much for the city of St. Louis. In recent years it has been the Giants, due in large part to my appreciation of Kareem McKenzie, whom I consider to be one of the most underrated players in the league. It’s been obvious, however, for the past few years that it’s time to pick a different pony. Kareem’s career is winding down, the front office is slowly dismantling the Super Bowl team of a few years ago, and I really don’t care about Eli Manning.
I like football games that are won in the trenches. Accordingly, guys like Steve Hutchinson and the Williams twins have made Minnesota a likable team for me for a while now. Jared Allen and a brief appearance by Tony Richardson didn’t hurt either. The NFL doesn’t thrive on fans like me though. They, as a business, thrive on the casual fan, and the average casual fan doesn’t care about the game in the trenches. The average casual fan won’t seek out a Pat Williams jersey. They’ll look for the skill position player whose story they like best. It’s hard to get excited about a team led by Tarvaris Jackson. Brett Favre? Easy. He’s the redemptive hero, engaged in battle with a former boss and a well-liked understudy. He’s the guy who helps us forget about the harsher realities of the game: steroid abuse, sexual deviancy, and an impending lockout that looks more and more likely every day.
And the guy can still play.
It’s a great story in an era that needs exactly that. Brett, unless my Chiefs are contenders, I hope you win it all. Here’s to a happy ending.
(And yes, I really am holding a beer right now).