Favre signing brings new level of excitement, expectations to Vikings
Brett Favre ended his retirement and signed a two-year deal with the Vikings
Favre doesn't believe joining an NFC North rival will impact his Packers legacy
Coach Brad Childress expects Favre to make his debut with the Vikings on Friday
EDEN PRAIRIE, MINN. -- Visanthe Shiancoe tried to edit himself, but it was too late. The Minnesota Vikings' tight end had said it, loud and clear -- "the road to the Super Bowl'' -- in the giddiness immediately following Brett Favre's first practice in purple and red (quarterback jersey), and there was no taking it back.
"We're going to take it 'one game at a time,' " Shiancoe said, a weak push of toothpaste back toward the tube. "I probably spoke a little prematurely -- I probably shouldn't have done that. But that is my inner thoughts.''
It was a lot of folks' inner, outer and shamelessly expressed thoughts Tuesday, shouted literally from rooftops as the Favre mini-motorcade made its way from the private airport in St. Paul to the east to the Vikings' practice headquarters in the southwest suburbsan. With a helicopter overhead, head coach Brad Childress' black Escalade SUV was tracked on camera as breathlessly in the hinterlands as it moved along at posted speed limits as if it was a white Bronco, Al Cowlings at the wheel. Favre and his wife Deanna had landed in team owner Zygi Wilf's private jet at about 11 a.m. Twin Cities time, the unofficial starting time now to his second NFL comeback in as many seasons and the moment when the Vikings turned onto that street Shiancoe no longer shall mention.
Still, there was no denying the effect on the Vikings practice field. The sky was bluer, the sun shone brigher, the air had -- there, feel it -- a touch of autumn in it. There was no denying, either, the stakes involved. Once Favre assured Childress by phone Monday evening that he was "all-in'' on this little adventure, the coach's job security, Favre's new teammates, the Wilf family's new-stadium ambitions and the team's fans stood up at the table with him.
"Things moved pretty quickly,'' Wilf said after Favre and Childress answered questions at a news conference. "When Brad called us and we spoke about [it], we felt the same way: This was a small window and we wanted to take that opportunity to make our team better. We just didn't want to worry about the future and say, 'What if?' Life is too short. We're just very excited for everybody here in Minnesota, for our fans. We're trying our best to repeat as division champs and move on to better things.''
Favre swatted down suggestions that this signing with an NFC North rival was a betrayal of the Green Bay Packers ("This is not about revenge'') or that he risks tarnishing his legacy ("My legacy, it's mine''). He sees it simply as one more chance to win, to satisfy his 10-year-old daughter who cried after he made his premature decision to stay retired.
"My expectations are high,'' Favre said. "I'm not going to sit here and make predictions, but I didn't come here to lose. I think we can be as good as we want to be.''
The deal, this time, now, came down to the phone call Childress placed to down to Favre Monday as he was headed to work out with the high school kids again. The Vikings coach wanted to verify, he said, that Favre's mind truly was made up. It wasn't. Favre revealed Tuesday that he had -- and still has -- a tear in his right rotator cuff. Three weeks ago, that scared him off the idea of returning for a 19th NFL season. By the time he and Childress chatted, the quarterback and the coach had been reassured by doctors -- including Dr. James Andrews, the surgeon who repaired Favre's torn biceps muscle -- that the rotator cuff injury was old and that Favre had played well with it for some time.
"We all know there's no guarantees that this wouldn't be an issue. Once again, you never know,'' Favre said. "My arm has felt, I wouldn't say 100 percent, but it's felt pretty good. Good enough for me to feel confident about making the throws I need to make. ... I felt like, if they were willing to take that chance, I was too.''
It is no small chance, not just for the health of Favre's shoulder and arm but for the impact on Childress, who might run out of chances if 2009 doesn't bring playoff success. Then there are Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, the quarterbacks who in a matter of hours went from competing for the Vikings starting job to jockeying for the backup role. If there was a downer to the ebullient mood in Minnesota, it was watching and listening to Jackson and Rosenfels, and knowing how this Favre-mania was playing out for them.
"It's not a good feeling,'' Jackson said. "I just have to take it for what it's worth and try to get better. ... I tried not to listen to all that stuff. Sometimes you hear things, but you've got to keep working. I'm just taking it day by day.''
Rosenfels, who didn't practice Tuesday due to a sore ankle, was asked if he might push for a trade. That's how fast his world changed, from his 10-of-13 passing performance Friday in the first game and apparent edge in the quarterback race to now being asked about his exit.
"It seemed like [an edge],'' Rosenfels said. "Obviously that wasn't the case. I was excited to get out there the other night. I thought I played pretty well. I really got a good grasp of this offense. It's sort of come naturally to me the last few weeks -- I think guys have noticed that. So ... I'm just going to keep working. Keep working, stay ready, stay focused for when this team needs me.''
That would be never, if this works out the way Favre, Childress, Wilf and everyone else close to the Vikings hopes. The plan is for Favre to start Friday night against Kansas City at the Metrodome, despite his brief time with the team. All those seasons of experience, all those snaps in offenses identical to Childress', all that film work makes this seem, for this guy, like riding a bike.
"Right today, I would expect him to play,'' Childress said. "There's no question, systematically, he could do that. We went out on the football field without a meeting, anything. He had a physical, ate lunch, got his stuff on and went out there.''
Favre had arrived at Winter Park to a throng 200 or so deep, with pedestrians spilling into the street out front yet safe from vehicles driven slowly by gawkers. By 1:30 p.m., Twin Cities time, he had joined the other players and coaches on the field. And he did nothing there to dampen anyone's enthusiasm. Lot of handshakes, lot of smiles, then the grind of stretching. His early throws were behind Nick Moore, high to Vinny Perretta and low to Glenn Holt. But Favre found first-round pick Percy Harvin about 30 yards deep on his best throw of the day, and he aired out another pass an estimated 40 yards before it was caught out of bounds.
Then there was the Favre factor, just having in place -- finally -- this guy around whom so much of their offseason centered. The biggest non-issue of the day was Favre's ducking of two-a-days, as reporters asked numerous players if they resented that. Their reactions ranged from shrugs to scoffs -- different rules for a Hall of Fame-bound legend like Favre. Different results, maybe, too.
"We'll see excitement, we'll see energy, we'll see a will to win and a rocket arm,'' said Ryan Longwell, the placekicker with whom Favre teamed for eight seasons in Green Bay. "He can throw the ball like not many who have played in this league. So it'll be fun to watch him.''
He still has it, Longwell was asked? "Oh absolutely. For being up since 3 in the morning? He can still win games.''
Favre spoke briefly to the other players after practice and lightened the mood, saying, 'I'm Brett from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and I'm the only guy on the team born in the '60s.'' All part of fitting in, he said. "What you've done in the past is great, but it means nothing here,'' Favre said. "I like to play a certain way, carry myself a certain way. But I feel like you don't do that the first day. The second day? I don't know when that happens. I think you pick your spots and earn the respect of these guys.''
It already was happening in the first practice. Said Shiancoe, quite aware that Favre and tight ends make beautiful music: "There was a lot of promise you could see in people's eyes. A little different look or gleem in their eyes. People in the huddle had a little extra jump here and there. You could tell people were really excited. Just like a pink elephant in the room.''
More like a purple-and-white Packer-derm now.