Favre-first philosophy will come back to bite Childress, Vikings
The pursuit of Brett Favre speaks to the level of desperation in Minnesota
Brad Childress apologized for lying but said that was what it took
The Favre Rules already seem to be spilling over to other Vikings
Somewhere around the third or fourth time Brad Childress was asked Wednesday about his general level of discomfort in what it took to lure Brett Favre out of his Hattiesburg, Miss., barcalounger and back to Minnesota for another season, the Vikings head coach said a pretty revealing thing.
"When the terrain varies, you go with the terrain,'' Childress opined, sounding more like an African bush country guide than a football coach.
New terrain is certainly where Childress and his team have found themselves today when it comes to their celebrated 40-year-old starting quarterback. Even by Vikings' standards that were established last summer, the pursuit of Favre this time around spoke of a whole new level of desperation by the Minnesota organization.
Childress himself making a trip to Mississippi to beseech Favre in July wasn't enough. Nor was the dangling of a few extra millions in salary and incentives earlier this month, when word of Favre's well-timed "retirement'' text messages leaked out and sent another wave of panic through the team's Winter Park complex.
This time, with the regular season again pressing in on them and no sign of No. 4, a plan was hatched to send three Vikings envoys to Favre's house, basically to stage an intervention of sorts and bring the conquering graybeard home. Friends of Favre (FOF) members Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson and Ryan Longwell were exempted from practice and dispatched on the rescue mission to Mississippi, with no less an assignment than to salvage the Vikings' 2010 season.
In other words, whatever it took in the way of a spectacle, as Childress even gave voice to. Even if that meant having a couple of his assistants in Darrell Bevell and Brian Murphy stand up in front of the media on Tuesday and embarrassingly try to cover up the fact that Allen, Hutchinson and Longwell weren't at practice.
"That's what that took,'' said Childress on Wednesday, after first issuing an apology to Bevell, Murphy and the Minnesota media for the subterfuge. "You look and see what a situation calls for and you do it. Now, it may have never been done before, but you do what you need to do, or you feel like you need to do, in a given situation. I thought it was common sense with what needed to happen.''
To that I say, whatever. Personally, I'm not falling for the banana in the tailpipe again. Believe if you will that Favre wasn't playing football again this season unless three of his most favorite teammates appeared on his front door step and asked him to, giving it everything but the Gipper speech.
I happen to think Favre was eventually coming back to Minnesota this year, even if he had to pay his own way on a Greyhound bus via Biloxi. Everything he did or said this offseason was toward that end, but as always, he needed some prodding before taking that final leap back into the pool for yet another lap.
Favre's three teammates and their sojourn to the South were mere props in the whole made-for-television drama that has become No. 4. It's like watching our favorite show, knowing the writers have to come up with a new twist for the new season, and tuning in to see where they'll take the script. See what they did there? He's only playing for his teammates this year and his love for all that locker-room camaraderie. Otherwise he would have stayed home and been content to miss out on a 20th NFL season and a potential Super Bowl trip. But what about the ankle? Oh, never mind. That was only the storyline they used in the last episode.
It's just that now that everything's Favre-ulous with the Vikings again, I can't quite get over the feeling that there will be a price to pay for all this new terrain they're covering in Minnesota. This isn't a second guess, mind you. It's a first guess. I could be wrong. After all, every season so far with the Vikings, Childress has won two more games than he did the year before. So maybe a 14-2 magic-carpet ride is coming down the pike, he knows exactly what he's doing, and the end really does justify the means in Minnesota.
But I don't think so. Somewhere, at some point, the Vikings seem likely to pay for how they've flipped the script when it comes to traditional team-building methods, ceding almost all power and authority to the franchise quarterback, rather than the front office or coaching staff. You can't quibble with the notion that the message has been sent that Favre's bigger than the rest of the team. Not when the head coach fairly well screams it at the top of his lungs with every move he makes (see Favre, training camp 2009, 2010, thanks, but no thanks).
Call me cynical, but I'd say the stance that the rules don't apply to everyone equally in Minnesota has seeped into a few other corners of the Vikings' locker room. My educated hunch is that the Favre Rules have at least a little something to do with how much trouble Minnesota had getting offensive cogs like running back Adrian Peterson and receiver Sidney Rice to take part in as many camp practices as the Vikings would prefer.
I'm not saying Peterson (hamstring) and Rice (hip) don't have legitimate injury concerns that have factored into their work levels, but I am saying that when you foster a climate in which one of the team's stars can tell the head coach when and if he'd like to participate in the 2010 season, it's not lost on some of the team's other stars that coloring outside the lines is not only tolerated but also celebrated in Minnesota. Especially when those stars -- both Peterson and Rice in this case -- happen to be seeking rich new contract extensions.
Again, the Vikings haven't paid for taking such an unconventional approach, even by typical levels of the NFL's star system. Yet. But I think they will. I don't know when or how it will show itself, but the Favre-first mentality is fraught with potential pitfalls and locker room issues unless the Vikings win and win big, as they did last season.
But what if there's no 12-4 season and trip to the NFC title game in store this time around? If something less than Super Bowl contention unfolds for these Vikings, my guess is the end of the 2010 season in Minnesota will resemble the close of the Jets' 2008 season more than the Vikings' storybook 2009 run.
Remember how Favre wasn't exactly portrayed by some Jets as the consummate teammate or leader once New York's season and playoff hopes swirled down the drain amid four losses in the last five games of the year? Maybe a potential repeat of that bitter ending is one of the reasons Favre was legitimately dragging his feet on returning to Minnesota, sensing that last year's winning formula couldn't be rebottled.
I haven't talked to him, but I'm willing to bet that in the pit of his stomach, Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman hates the Favre-first structure that has ruled this franchise the past two years. The winning last season was great, of course, and it sure beats the unemployment that always eventually comes to underachievers in the NFL. But Spielman's a football guy who knows that putting the team first in this sport isn't just a bunch of hollow talk. He also knows that's not the Vikings way of doing business right now.
Yeah, even a taskmaster like Bill Parcells was willing to bend his rules and have a special way of treating a special player like Lawrence Taylor. That is the way it works for stars in every facet of the real world. But there can be a point where traveling that road becomes counterproductive, and I think the Vikings are too far down it now to reverse course. They've put every egg they have in the No. 4 basket, and they're just crossing their fingers and hoping they get through another spectacular season without anything cracking.
Maybe they will. Maybe Favre is that special, that unique of an X factor. Maybe Childress and the rest of the Vikings will wear a ring some day next offseason because they were willing to do what they needed to do and go to any length to get Favre back. The terrain varied, and they went with the terrain.
As sound bites go, that's pretty effective stuff. But it still leaves Childress and his Vikings on some dangerous ground.