Is football graybeard Brett Favre a hero or a villain?
Over the course of Favre's extraordinary season, it is a question that had almost been forgotten. But after a last-second interception in the NFC championship game Sunday, which deprived his Minnesota Vikings of the chance to kick a game-winning field goal and advance to the Super Bowl, Favre has once again put himself at the center of a sporting world determined either to love him or loathe him.
Last summer, there was Favre's chronic indecision (and some would say deceit) about whether he would play again, followed by his eventual decision to join the Minnesota Vikings – the archrival of the team where he had spent virtually all of his Hall of Fame career, the Green Bay Packers.
This was, it seemed to many, rank villainy.
Yet by Sunday evening, a different Favre had emerged, one who had taken a team that had previously been less than the sum of its parts to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. He had played the best football of his career, turning untested receivers into stars along the way, and becoming the heart and soul of his new team.
He was every bit the hero.
That, however, came crashing down in the final seconds of regulation Sunday. Favre, battered by a New Orleans Saints defense that said it was "determined to hit him over and over and make him feel it," threw an interception with the Vikings in field goal range and only a few seconds remaining in regulation.
The Saints, manhandled for much of the day, squeaked by with an overtime victory, and Favre never had a chance to atone for his mistake.
The interception has become a Rorschach test to separate football fans into two camps: the Favre lovers and haters.
“Vintage Farve,” critics are saying, pointing to the passionate Mississippian’s penchant for trying to do too much at key moments. His selfish desire to be the hero led to the Vikings needless defeat, says the I-told-you-so crowd.
"It was only a matter of time before the old Favre made an appearance," writes Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com. "The old Favre ... you remember him. The reckless Favre, the scary Favre, the alter-ego who for so long made Packers fans pull the hair strand by strand from their heads and the one Minnesota thought they'd never see again."
Yet many others are coming to Favre's defense.
“Favre should be considered a hero in Minnesota, and I don’t mean simply because he took the team to the final moments of the NFC championship game – although that’s more than reason enough,” writes the Kansas City Star’s Martin Manley in the paper’s “Upon Further Review” blog. “He also played a respectable game Sunday. If you want someone to blame for the loss (unless you are a Green Bay fan), there is plenty of blame to go around.”
Indeed there is.
How can you win games against a team as good as the Saints when you fumble five times, losing three, as the Vikings did? And why was Head Coach Brad Childress content with a difficult 50-plus yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation?
Short passes and draws had worked for Farve all game, but with just under a minute to go, the Vikings took their foot off the gas once they got within the outer limits of kicker Ryan Longwell's field goal range. Twice they ran the ball, unconvincingly. Both wenr for no gain. Then there was the bone-headed too-many-men-in-the-huddle penalty that pushed the Vikings back five yards, making it a potential 55-yard field goal attempt.
To win the game, Favre needed to make a completion to shorten the distance. The star was forced into that position by the play calling, his defenders say.
'He went out a champ'
None of that will stop Favre’s many detractors from blaming him for the Vikings loss. But, elsewhere in sporting world, another champion had his back.
"I felt a little bit like Brett Favre today," she said when asked about heavy strapping around her right thigh. "He's such a champion, so I'm like, 'Hmm, I got to be like this guy'. He went out a champ today. Hopefully, he'll come back."
And in Vikings territory, you won’t find many fans ready to ditch Favre.
“[Favre] was like a coach on the field, and he can take a lot credit for the development of young football players such as Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and others,” writes Sid Hartman in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, adding that the Vikings need to bring Favre back if they want to win next year.
Yet in that question – Will he come back? – the notoriously indecisive Favre has already planted the seeds for another reprise of the hero vs. villain debate. He told ESPN that his return is "highly unlikely."
For longsuffering fans of the Vikings – a team that lost four Super Bowls in the 1970s and five NFC championship games since – the proverbial “wait 'til next year” approach just got a lot more longsuffering.
At least there's always ice fishing.
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