Favre and Vikings Classically Heroic
Ralph Strangis – January 25, 2010
So often it is the outcome that consumes us, that validates our performances and supports our claims and beliefs. We use the scoreboard to tell us if we’re winners and trophies of every kind to proclaim to the world that we are who we say we are.
The problem is – that outcomes are the end product of complex equations. No single factor or person can control an outcome, despite our egocentric notions and grandiose beliefs to the contrary. In a football game the outcome is determined by combining all elements; your team’s players, their team’s players, subjective officiating, booth reviews, opportunities and mistakes, plays made and missed at all junctures, the toss of a coin, and the haphazard bounce of an oblong ball on a synthetic surface. It follows that looking at the scoreboard as the only means to evaluate success or failure is at least simplistic and often off the mark entirely.
In Sunday’s NFC Championship game the outcome, the final score said: New Orleans 31, Minnesota 28. Some will say then that simply the Saints won and the Vikings lost. They will posit that the Vikings are cursed, that Brett Favre choked, that the legacy of Minnesota late-season failures is secure and that New Orleans has finally shed its losing ways and are “AINTS” no more. Yes it is a hard-fought and important victory for New Orleans, and they are more than a deserving team to represent the conference in the big game.
As a lifelong Vikings fan I saw something else too. I saw a classic and epic tale of a group of players that would not shut down or quit. I watched as mistakes that would completely destroy a weaker group embolden them and solidify their intent. I watched as injured players pushed on through unrelenting pain. And I saw a 40 year-old quarterback defiant in the face of one bone-rattling hit after another willing himself and his team to keep battling no matter how many times he or they hit the canvas. Playing it safe, pushing the game down the tracks and hoping for something good to just happen for them is not a part of this group’s DNA.
Twelve months earlier the Vikings limped through a playoff game against the Eagles with all the purpose of a rudderless craft. They had players, but they were hardly a team. That group slipped into the pile with all those other Vikings teams which had teased their fans a bit, only to leave them hollow and waiting for next year.
The franchise is replete with heartbreaking losses and characterized by teams who either would not or could not show up when they were counted on most. Not this group. Not on that Sunday. This team is unlike any Vikings team before it, and it was because of one guy.
Vikings coach Brad Childress knew exactly what he was doing when he pursued Brett Favre and got him to leave his cozy quasi-retirement. And he also knew when to get out of the way after a late-season battle over whose team this would be. Favre’s message at the time - that Childress signed off on and the team took complete ownership of was – this is Brett Favre’s team – and Brett Favre’s team will not quit playing. Not ever. No matter what. In the second half of the Monday night game in Chicago the dye was cast. The Vikings smacked around a disinterested Giants team in the regular season finale and then hammered the Cowboys in the Divisional playoff game that put Dallas on an airplane home crying foul; that the Vikings had the audacity to keep playing – no matter what.
Saints Coach Sean Payton had been paying attention. His game plan was to go after the head of the snake, and that’s what his team did. But Favre and his team would not surrender or succumb, they would not, as many previous editions of the Vikings had, go quietly into the night. Despite Favre and his team’s own transgressions, despite sustaining a torrent of unwelcomed body belts, and despite a solid counter-punching opponent, this Vikings team did anything but go quietly into the night.
It may seem a stretch, but to watch the game I couldn’t help but think that Favre and his teammates more than once said “this game may do me permanent harm, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to keep getting up.” No – this is not your father’s Vikings team.
The most important lesson then is this; how will you acquit yourself at life’s most critical moments? How will you respond when things get “too hard”? Will you continue to battle with every last ounce you have – or will you just – slip quietly away…?
Brett Favre may be the classic literary tragic hero; his greatest strengths will also be his undoing. But he doesn’t know anything else. He is at all times trying to win a game, not trying not to lose it.
To a starving fan base he brought hope and promise and delivered more heroic moments in weeks than they’d seen in years. To a mid-pack team he brought a swagger and confidence and will to fight than they had never known, and those things will stay with this group going forward. And to an audience of millions he showed what true character and real heroism really is, if they were paying attention. That the scoreboard did not validate his actions is hardly the point.
You may find it odd that I think it selfish of me that I want him to retire. I’m a Vikings fan, yet I want to remember Sunday as his finest hour and can’t imagine anything ahead that will match this season or his performance against New Orleans. At 40 years old - he took their best shots and kept coming back at them. This was his opus, his master work. Favre put everything together for one day – all of it – every representation of his body of work. His young warriors alongside him followed his lead. And he and his team just flat out refused to stop playing.
I think about the interception; the decision and the throw. Is there any doubt that they would have been in that spot in the first place without him? And at the end of the day, it’s just one play in a game that had many that conspired to form the outcome.
But honestly - that’s the Brett Favre I saw in Green Bay, that’s the Brett Favre I saw all season, and that’s the Brett Favre I want. And Sunday gave us every indication that as long as his body is able to do what his spirit commands, he’ll stay with it. Someday, and perhaps sooner rather than later, the body will fade, even though the fire still burns, and he’ll know it, and that will be that.
I know, if you’re a Vikings fan you really wanted the Super Bowl champion sweatshirt. But on Sunday, Favre and the Vikings gave you a much more valuable souvenir.
Ralph Strangis is a Minnesota native, lifelong Vikings fan, and is the play-by-play broadcaster for the Dallas Stars hockey team, currently in his 20th season with the club.