Brett apologized to the Vikings' players, with tears in his eyes. But he has kept his poise publicly. When Minnesota visited the Jets the following week and the media pummeled him with questions, Favre never got defensive. He turned every question into an answer about football, and as the clock wound down on his media availability, he kept talking ... slowly ... until it was time to go.
When Brad Childress was in high school in Aurora, Ill., he moved in with his football coach. Childress was angry about his parents' divorce and had been getting in fights at school. He wanted discipline, and he knew he could find it in Chuck Dickerson's house.
If Favre's conflict with his father spurred him to challenge authority, Childress's relationship with Dickerson inspired him to become an authority figure. It's as essential to Childress's existence as Favre's independence is to his; for the two to truly get along one would have to change his core.
Childress's coaching style is about system. He worked under Favre's old QB coach, Andy Reid, in Philadelphia, and believed his system would take care of his new quarterback. "Some people told me, 'You'll be perfect for him,' " Childress says. " 'You'll be like Holmgren, like Andy—you'll make him do the right things.' That's what he needs. He doesn't need to run over the top of you."
Favre's playing style is about feel. He hates meetings but loves studying tape by himself. Sometimes he watches it at home, and sometimes he drives to the Vikings' facility at odd hours, says hello to the janitor and goes off to study. He is so obsessive that Childress would tease him: "That's the first step toward mental illness: repetitive thought."
The little battles began as soon as Favre showed up in 2009. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Vikings were running a drill early in camp and Favre was supposed to throw a short pass. Instead he threw a bomb. When Childress asked why, Favre said the safety fell. There was no defense on the field at the time.
Childress fundamentally misunderstood Favre. "There's times you have to let Brett think he is running the show, even though he's not," Chmura says. "Mike [Holmgren] had designated 'yell' guys. He had guys he could yell at and rip, and guys you couldn't yell at and rip because they would go in the tank. Brett was the latter."
Still, Childress and Favre appeared to have struck a balance—after all, Favre had his best season in 2009, and the Vikings came within a game of the Super Bowl. This year, though, when Favre struggled, Childress seemed determined to remind the quarterback who was in charge. At a moment when Favre was at his most vulnerable—after a 28--24 loss in Green Bay in Week 7, when he threw three interceptions to his old team in his old stadium—Childress called him out. "You can't throw it to them," he said to reporters. "You've got to play within the confines of our system."
If Favre is restrained, he pushes back. If given control, he is empowered. He proved it again in a game against the Cardinals in early November. Trailing 24--10 in the fourth quarter, the Vikings had to go to their two-minute offense—and let Favre call some plays. He led Minnesota to a 27--24 overtime victory, finishing with a career-high 446 yards.
Afterward someone asked Favre, "Did you feel like you were playing for Brad's job?"