Favre-Childress connection spent years in development
The Brett Favre-Vikings deals seems likely, but it didn't happen overnight
Favre's and Vikings coach Brad Childress' connection started in the 1980s
But neither expected it to develop into a potential player-coach relationship
The scenario by which Brett Favre joins the Minnesota Vikings, which probably will happen (though might not with a verdict coming as soon as today but maybe not for another week or more), gets portrayed at times as one of kismet.
All the stars in the heavens above unexpectedly coming into alignment. Either that, or it's attributed to a few sheer, hard football and competition factors:
1) The Vikings are ready to chase a Super Bowl at every position other than quarterback.
2) Favre is, perhaps, capable of being a dynamite, one-year, Hall-of-Fame-bound round peg for a round hole.
3) It's a salty way for Favre to lick at old wounds and open a few new ones with his former team six hours by pickup truck to the east.
But then you learn about the photograph. It's a snapshot of Cara Childress, when she was about 12. She and another person are posing and smiling, and the photo was lying on the kitchen counter at Brad and Dru-Ann Childress' house just the other day, with thoughts of family, years passed and good times revved high by Cara's wedding two weeks ago. Turns out, that's a Green Bay Packers player Cara, now 26, is standing next to in the picture. Turns out, that's Brett Favre.
Innocent coincidence given intriguing context by recent events, all shrugged off by Vikings head coach Brad Childress this week in an office chat. Except that it seems like a magic trick, the way some prestidigitator might produce the card you selected and signed moments ago from an envelope sealed and postmarked back in 1995.
And like all good magicians, The Amazing Childress isn't giving away any secrets.
"I didn't have any allusions one way or the other. I didn't know where that thing would head,'' Childress said of cell-phone conversations from the spring of 2008 between Favre and Childress or Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, providing the sparks of the great Favre-unretirement-to-Minnesota blaze burning now. "Obviously, he goes to the Jets, and I think I heard about provisions that if he was ever traded, he couldn't be traded back to the division or la la la la.
"But I don't think anybody in their wildest dreams thought they'd waive him, and he'd be on the street. Or they'd take [top draft pick Mark] Sanchez. I mean, who knows? It's just kind of a cocktail, the way things lined up. I don't think there was a master plan. That's why I say how fluid it is. You didn't even entertain it.''
Well, yes and no. Connecting any two dots in the massive and ever-changing NFL is like trying to dock space crafts somewhere out there in the limitless universe, using 1960s technology. So anyone thinking that Favre and Childress somehow envisioned more than a decade ago that they would work together in 2009 toward a common, ultimate goal ... nah, not a chance.
But this sort of stuff doesn't happen overnight. The ongoing flirtation, the reluctance on both sides to step on the other's toes, the curiosity and apparent twinkle in both their eyes getting served this summer, even though neither has any time to spare -- all of it suggests a history. Seeds planted long ago that only now are poking through, ready finally, maybe, to bend toward the sun.
That is why you have to call Childress on it when he starts out referring to "No. 4'' and "the other guy'' because you know, behind the coach-ese, it's a Brett and Brad thing with them. Has to be, after so many years. "Um, you're listening with a very careful ear,'' Childress said. "I'm just trying not to overblow it or anything like that.''
At first glance, they would seem to have little common ground, an arranged marriage (if it happens) between the Riverboat Gambler and the Librarian. Favre, save for the salt-and-pepper hair and constant two-day whiskers, looks like he's from Mississippi en route to Canton via Central Casting, pretty much what every veteran NFL quarterback should look like (unless you're Gisele Bundchen). Childress is no one's caricature of a head coach, more team comptroller by way of Jimmy Finlayson.
One is a psychology major who prides himself on his "flat-line'' temperament, the other a good ol' boy adding daily to his reputation as the NFL's reigning drama king. Satellite trucks queue up to record Favre's every workout and grocery run. Childress admits that he can fly below fans' radar when dining or otherwise in public and, simply by donning a cap and skipping a couple of morning shaves, he recently fooled a bunch of friends who "looked me right in face, including guys on my staff, and they had no idea who I was.''
And yet they go back, these two, far enough that Favre would have the Vikings, alone among the 30 left, on his ultra-short list of teams to play for. And that Childress, at a point when most coaches want all juggling stopped, still would be willing to have a ball in the air.
"I think there's probably a number of quarterback battles going on in the NFL. People are blessed to be able to go in with clear-cut No. 1, No. 2, No. 3. Would you like to have something set in stone? Sure you would,'' Childress said. "[But] when I hear, 'This is the week but wait, no, Brad's in Alaska. So it's surely going to happen by Fourth of July weekend.' Or, 'Nope, it won't happen this week because his daughter's getting married.' You don't have to know.
"I don't want my guys sitting, rocking in their chairs, at 10 o'clock in the morning when kickoff's not 'til noon. [Our players are] just trying to enjoy the last 10 days of their break, last seven days. That's my perspective looking at this. Let's put it this way: I don't think there are a lot of our guys who are already down there [early for training camp] at the AmericInn, that they've taken a room and are vibrating in their rooms now, just trying to get acclimated to Mankato. Ya think?''
What the heck, Childress and Favre have waited this long. Their connections start in the 1980s, when Childress -- six years out of school at Eastern Illinois, fresh from an assistant stint at the University of Illinois and one season with the Indianapolis Colts -- landed on the same Northern Arizona staff as Andy Reid, Bill Callahan and Marty Mornhinweg. They lived the same life, breathed the same air, slept the same short-hour nights.
"As our football careers started to move around, [Andy and I] both ended up back in the same state, me with the University of Wisconsin, him with the Green Bay Packers. Two hours up and down the road. Our families were close, our kids were close. Spent Memorial Days together, barbecuing. Went up -- you're always looking to get better, so if you're a college coach, the next level is the NFL. I had a great 'in' there.''
There's more. Packers head coach Mike Holmgren had brought in one of Childress' NAU passers, Greg Wyatt, as a 49ers backup. Another 'in.'
"There has to be a little trust, a little give and take,'' Childress said. "So I went up and sat in on some meetings. Brett happened to be a young quarterback at that time.''
Sat in? Childress tells a story about Favre, reviewing film of Super Bowl XXI, almost playing to Childress, loudly and profanely, to elicit a reaction or at least entertain.
During Childress' time in Philadelphia with Reid, the Eagles had quarterback Doug Pederson around while Donovan McNabb grew into the job. "Doug ended up bouncing to Cleveland, then right back to Green Bay,'' Childress said. "He had been Brett's backup and he went back, he's a good personal friend of Brett, and he is actually back working for Andy now as an assistant coach. Then all of a sudden 'Bev' is back there, and he played for me at Wisconsin.''
The Bevell connection sealed any deal that might transpire now, Favre to Vikings. He was with Childress at NAU, redshirting for a year, then went on a Mormon mission. In 1992, he reunited in Madison as Badgers quarterback. That put him two hours up and down those Wisconsin roads from Favre, too, and in 2000 Bevell was hired by the Packers, spending 2003-05 as their quarterbacks coach. He's the one who knows Favre's games best, then and now, assessing the arthroscopic repair to Favre's right biceps with Vikings trainer Eric Sugarman down in Hattiesburg a few weeks ago, dissecting the 39-year-old's throwing motion after 18 NFL seasons.
And what d'ya know, there's even a magical photograph of those two fellows, too, from 1995 in the Wisconsin State Journal, that predates all this 24/7 Internet frothing, clamor and speculation. Favre and Bevell both were 25, young star quarterbacks, Bevell still with Childress and the Badgers (after his two-year Mormon mission), Favre with the Packers. "You can probably still get the picture,'' the Vikings coach said.
All that leaves now is one more abracadabra moment for Favre, Childress and the Vikings.