NFL: Vikings cope with defeat, ponder Favre’s future
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — One after another, the Minnesota Vikings mentioned how much they enjoyed playing with Brett Favre.
Will the fun will be one season and done?
The devastated Vikings gathered Monday at their practice facility for exit physicals and meetings with coaches, two weeks sooner than they hoped thanks to that epic overtime loss in New Orleans for the NFC championship.
Despite all the other intriguing in-game developments and offseason story lines, the day-after focus fell on the 40-year-old Favre’s future. He didn’t appear in the locker room at Winter Park while it was open to reporters, but his demeanor after the game and responses from teammates suggested he’s leaning toward quitting.
“In a situation like this I really don’t want to make a decision right now based on what’s happened, because I do know the year could not have gone any better aside from us not going to Miami,” Favre said Sunday night at the Superdome. “I really enjoyed it, to be honest. Just wondering if I can hold up, especially after a day like today.”
He took a beating by the Saints, and the ankle injury he suffered in the third quarter was another reminder of how draining the game has been for him mentally and physically down the stretch of his 19-year career.
“From a physical standpoint I feel for him, but definitely mentally and emotionally as he always does he lays it on the line and gave it everything he had,” linebacker Ben Leber said. “I truly wish we could have him back next year, but that will be his decision.”
Leber sounded resigned to losing Favre to retirement, though the NFL’s all-time leading passer is so famously prone to waffling over his decision he could always find a renewed desire to return for more after a break from the grind.
“It’s still early. Way too early. Brett is liable to change his mind five, 10 times down the road,” wide receiver Bernard Berrian said. “He already knows that we want him back. It’s more or less letting him go off and do his thing.”
Without prompting, player after player brought up how fun Favre was to play with. Respectfully, they declined to speculate about his decision, but the consensus was that he can take all the time he needs even if it means skipping training camp again.
The Vikings are still searching for that elusive Super Bowl victory, but this was as close as they’ve come in 11 years. With one of his best seasons, Favre was a major part of that.
“I just hope he’s with us next season,” center John Sullivan said. “Whatever schedule he needs to be on to do that is just fine with me.”
Linebacker Chad Greenway was one player who publicly questioned last spring whether the pursuit of Favre was worth it.
“He deserves the right to relax and enjoy himself now. He had an unbelievable year,” Greenway said. “He fights to the end. As much respect as I had for him before the season, I have 10 times that now, with the chance to play with him and the way he handles himself.”
On the plane home from New Orleans, Favre and kicker Ryan Longwell reflected on their careers together, nine years together in Green Bay and now this once-unfathomable union in Minnesota.
“It was a pleasure to see him play the way he did this year, because he shut a lot of people up and I’m proud of him for that,” Longwell said. “You know that he loved the guys in this locker room. It was instant. The second he got here there was a huge bond, and it just kept growing and kept growing and that’s why it was so sad the way it ended the way it did.”
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Favre’s habit of forcing risky throws was revealed at the most critical time. His on-the-run interception on third down cost Longwell a chance to try a long field goal for the win late in the fourth quarter, and the Vikings never touched the ball after losing the coin toss.
Longwell said he believes Favre has already made up his mind about next season.
“I will be one of the ones trying to convince him, but at the same time he’s put in numerous years,” said rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin, who called his relationship with Favre brother-like. “I don’t know how much of a beating a man can take, but we’ll see.”
Favre was widely viewed as Minnesota’s missing piece, and the challenge of consistently assembling a legitimate championship contender in this league contributed to the pain.
If he retires, the quarterback position will become as unsettled as it was before, though the offense boasts several young stars. Defensive stalwarts Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield are aging, and linebacker E.J. Henderson’s status is uncertain after a badly broken leg.
“We had a great opportunity with the guys that we had, the chemistry, the coaches, everything,” Leber said. “Even look at the game. We put up 475 yards of offense to their 250 or something. So, certainly there are some missed opportunities and I think that’s why the loss is just so hard to take.”