Even Brett Favre was amazed by what he did last season as a 40-year-old quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. In his 19th season as a professional quarterback, Favre threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns while setting career bests for completion rate (68.4), quarterback rating (107.2) and fewest interceptions (seven).
Remarkable numbers at any age. "Never in my wildest dreams when we sat here last year would I have thought I would've played the way I did," Favre said this week after rejoining the Vikings. "I mean, look at 18 years previous. I never played that good." Now the question is, can he do it again? Favre will turn 41 in October and will become just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to play 20 seasons. George Blanda (26), Earl Morrall (21) and Vinny Testaverde (21) are the only QBs to play in more seasons than the gray-haired Favre. Favre led the Vikings to a 12-4 record and the NFC North Division title, then became the first 40-year-old quarterback to win a play-off game when Minnesota thumped Dallas at the Metrodome in January.
The magical season came to a painful conclusion in the NFC title game in New Orleans, where the Vikings lost in overtime after Favre threw an interception at the end of regulation. "To think that I could surpass that this year, first of all I don't need to," Favre said. "Because as well as I played, by far the best of my career, it wasn't enough. And that just goes to show you that all phases have to be hitting at the right time.
"But I need to play well obviously and be a great leader, the intangible things that I really thought would be more important last year than the statistics." The Vikings are backing Favre to deliver another stellar season. The team wanted him back so badly that Brad Childress, the coach, sent Steve Hutchinson, Ryan Longwell and Jared Allen to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during the past week to get an answer.
The three veterans convinced their close friend to make one more run at the Super Bowl and put off retirement for at least one more year. "He's in shape, all that," Hutchinson said. "He's still got the tools. He can still play. Everybody just has to step up around him and give him the opportunity." Coming off surgery to relieve a torn biceps in his throwing arm, Favre topped 300 yards passing six times and threw at least three touchdowns in six games. He had so much success that the run-oriented Minnesota offence morphed into a pass-first attack in the second half of the season.
Childress joked to Favre that "maybe you've finally got it". With Adrian Peterson in the backfield and a trio of wide receivers in Percy Harvin, the NFL offensive rookie of the year, Sidney Rice, who is still recovering from a hip injury, coming off a breakout season and Bernard Berrian, their speedster, the Vikings return all 11 starters from an offence that finished second in scoring last season.
"I think the sky's the limit," Childress said of Favre's potential. "Everybody's always got to play around the quarterback, but he's got a good football team around him and he won't have to do it all himself." That is what everyone said last year when he arrived in Minnesota, yet he ended up carrying the offence. Even more so than his performance on the field, the Vikings wanted the charismatic Favre back in the locker room.
After quickly ingratiating himself to the team in the pre-season, Favre was voted a captain and the rest of the veteran group gravitated toward his leadership style. "Brett, the kind of player that he is, the kind of leadership that he brings to this team, it elevates the entire building, it really does," Allen said. "You can see it every day." Childress added: "I think that's the definition of a leader - somebody that people want to play for and play well for.
"Just at the time he was coming back, sitting in our cafeteria, the buzz was palpable. It elevates everyone in the building and that's what a franchise QB does." * Associated Press