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Posted: Monday November 2, 2009 4:57AM; Updated: Monday November 9, 2009 12:38PM
Peter King

Back on the ground in Minnesota, Favre is relieved it's over

Story Highlights

Strained groin limited Favre in his return game at Lambeau

Chris Samuels, Walter Jones worthy of mention as careers near end

Saints, Colts at top of Fine 15; Eli Manning goat of the week

Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre combined to throw seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in their reunion at Lambeau.
Bob Rosato/SI
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NEW YORK -- I remember the first time Brett Favre mentioned the V word in the summer of 2008. Favre was officially retired but making noise about playing again. The Packers were on record as moving on with Aaron Rodgers, and now Favre wanted to play for the Vikings or Bears, with Minnesota his first choice because he knew their coaches and the offense well.

"You realize that half the kids in Wisconsin will rip the Favre posters off their walls and burn 'em in their fireplaces if you play for the Vikings,'' I said.

"I don't think it'll be that bad,'' he said.

Sixteen months later, it was. And Favre shrugged, basically.

I don't think there's been a game with a dramatic tinge to it in recent history like Favre's return to Lambeau on Sunday. Think of, say, the top 50 players ever -- Favre fits in there somewhere -- and think of how many of them played against their longtime team as an in-the-twilight player for another team. Jerry Rice played at San Francisco as a 42-year-old marginal Seahawk; that doesn't count. Joe Montana, dealt to Kansas City, played the Niners, but the game was in Kansas City. Green Bay's Reggie White played at Philadelphia, but the fans blamed Eagles management for losing White as much as anything and so White wasn't abused overwhelmingly on his trip back. Emmitt Smith got booed in Dallas on his return as a Cardinal in 2003, but the Cowboys were happy to let him go anywhere when he was in full decline.

Favre got the full-throated version from the time he walked out of the tunnel. "I had it at 80 percent boos,'' said Ross Tucker, your faithful correspondent who was in Lambeau doing color for the game on SportsUSA Radio. At least. Then Favre went out and basically duplicated what he'd done four weeks ago at the Metrodome -- which is to say he played near-flawless football (17 of 28, 244 yards, four touchdowns, no picks) in a pivotal Minnesota win. And I asked him if it was worth it.

"Yeah, it's worth it,'' he said over the phone late Sunday night, back in Minnesota, driving home from the airport. "Now people can see why I came back, and why I came back to this team. But I will say I'm relieved it's over.''

He's relieved in many ways, as it turns out. Favre told me he pulled or strained his groin in practice on Wednesday and took it easy in practice for the rest of the week. There was never any question he'd play, he said. But about an hour before the game, during pregame warmups at Lambeau with the groin wrapped tightly, he aggravated the muscle on the field. "I told T-Jack [backup Tarvaris Jackson] and [offensive coordinator] Darrell Bevell I may not be able to do it,'' he said. "I didn't know if I'd be able to drop back very well. After I aggravated it, there was no way I was going to be able to move around in the pocket very much. We never called one bootleg the whole game. But we made it through OK.''

And now, I wondered, how was the groin four hours and a lot of lost adrenalin later?

"It's throbbing right now,'' he said.

Now hold on here. A pulled groin? Is this the magic bullet, the injury that starts the 40-year-old Favre's decline? Is this the injury that, with Favre on the doorstep of his historic 300th consecutive start, finally rips him out of a starting lineup for the first time since Percy Harvin was 4?

"I think I'll be fine,'' he said.

With the Vikes on the bye this week, and 13 days 'til Favre starts number 300 in a row (including playoffs), he's sure he'll make the call to the post when the Vikings host Detroit Nov. 15.

So now we go back to the Favre Bowl. A few observations:

1. The pressure seems to agree with Favre. I'd argue that there have been three times in Favre's professional life that he's felt more than game pressure -- that he's felt an anxiety based on more than the X-and-O stuff each big game brings. Those games would be the two this year against the Packers, his team for 16 years, and the 2003 game he played in Oakland just 27 hours after his father died. "I'd agree,'' he said. "Those three games had as much pressure, or more, than the Super Bowls and the championship games.'' Here are his aggregate stats from the three games: 3-0 record, 61-of-91 passing, 67.0 completion percentage, 914 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 139.4 passer rating.

Favre's laid a couple of pretty big eggs in recent years, both when playing hurt and feeling fine. He gift-wrapped the NFC title game to the Giants two years ago. But there's something about the games that have personal stuff on the line. Maybe it's a coincidence; maybe the three-game sample size is just too small. But three decisive wins, 11 touchdowns, no picks -- I sense a trend.

He can compartmentalize the things that matter and those that don't. It's simple. Or at least it sounds simple. He'd make millions traveling the country, maybe as Tony Robbins' warmup act. Topic of his talk: Don't sweat the small stuff -- or the big stuff, for that matter.

2. He got emotional after the game. I was surprised to see him choke up a couple of times to Pam Oliver on the field, but that happened in part because he'd just left an embrace with longtime Packer director of security Jerry Parins, one of his favorite people. "I knew it'd probably be the last time I'd ever step foot on Lambeau Field, and it got a little emotional,'' he said.

OK, now: the last time? You sure?

Nope. "I'm reluctant to say that,'' Favre said. "You know me. At this stage, I'm game to game. That's it.''

3. He hopes, someday, he'll be able to go back to Green Bay and get a better reception. One of the things Favre doesn't often show is how much he wants to be liked in Green Bay. But he does. "I hope the people who booed at least watched the way I played today -- with passion, like I always do -- and say, 'That's why we loved him. He lays it out there on every play.' ''

4. He's pretty comfortable in his purple skin. On the charter home to Minnesota Sunday night, Favre said to seat neighbor Steve Hutchinson, "By the way, Percy Harvin's pretty good.'' Hutchinson said, "No [bleep].'' Favre feels at home in the locker room, is comfortable with the plays that are called in an offense he knows well, and feels he doesn't have to play to prove anything.

And so he moves on, relieved these games are over. I got no sense he took any great joy in beating Green Bay for vengeful reasons, but he wouldn't be human if he didn't feel some great joy for beating the team that said it wanted to move on without him. Who wouldn't feel good about that?

"Green Bay made a good decision,'' he said. "I know what I was a part of in Green Bay, and it was good. Now they've moved on. I've moved on. Am I a good fit for these guys [the Vikings]? I hope so. One thing I do know -- I felt the respect from those guys out there. And that felt good.''

In the end, Green Bay seems too nice a place to hold a grudge forever. Ten years from now, when his number's retired, Favre will step foot on Lambeau again. I doubt it'll be 80 percent boos then.

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