By Steve Aschburner
May 06, 2009

For the second time in as many weeks, Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress is about to board a plane and peer through the windows of a football player's soul, at which point he will determine whether that player would a good fit for his team.

This is a pigskin equivalent of Robert DeNiro hooking up Ben Stiller to his CIA-surplus polygraph machine in Meet the Parents, only without the electrodes, wires, needles, cuffs or finger clips. This is a balding, bespectacled NFL coach going all Larry ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") David on Brett Favre, locking him in that squinty stare and tilting his head side to side while he searches for veracity, like a Peeping Tom craning his neck to peek over the window sill.

A good fit for the Vikings, by the way, is anyone who can help them win now, win big, sell tickets and maybe, in this rotten economy, bring the topic of a new stadium for owner Zygi Wilf back to the public trough. Oh, and while generating all that success and buzz, Favre could boost the head coach's job security a bit.

In the same week that former Colts coach Tony Dungy traveled to the Big House in Leavenworth, Kan., to do the Lord's work with disgraced quarterback Michael Vick, Childress was whistling his way, presumably to Dixie, to meet with Favre, with the possibility of -- in some folks' minds, anyway -- striking a deal with the devil. The goal of this summit? A quick feasibility study -- part touchy-feely, part good ol' boy -- on Favre's fitness after 18 NFL seasons, 273 games and at least two retirements.

Childress, you should know, holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Eastern Illinois, a credential never more put to use than in the last fortnight or so. The Vikings relied on the Childress Method before the recent NFL draft, having their coach spend most of a day in Gainesville with Florida receiver Percy Harvin to unlock any of the young man's hang-ups or secrets while plumbing the depth of his character and personality. Gathering intelligence and gut reaction that isn't captured, apparently, by facility interviews, film breakdown, the wonderful Wonderlic and a reportedly failed NFL drug test at the scouting combine.

Because Harvin and his family passed Childress' double-secret litmus configuration, or whatever, a player must pass who might otherwise have been saddled with a dreaded, lethal "red dot'' on the Vikings' draft board, he became the club's pick at No. 22 overall.

Now it's Favre and a chance for Childress to see, at this late date, what still makes him tick. This is a player with whom the Vikings coach is said to have a friendship, enough that the NFL couldn't really go anywhere with the Green Bay Packers' tampering charges last summer. (Hey, pals sometimes talk on cell phones, right?).

Interestingly, in March 2008, Childress was laudatory and a little emotional when he got the news about Favre's decision then -- documented by Etch A Sketch, it turns out -- to walk away from the sport he loved. "Probably one of the best competitors that I've ever competed against on the football field,'' Childress told a TV crew at the time. ``It was fun to watch him play, but a guy knows when it's time and you have to respect his decision.''

So now Childress will look his football-slinging buddy in the eye and search for his inner Evander Holyfield, trying to discern what keeps Favre, maybe, coming back.

Some critics of the potential move point to Favre's suspected desire for revenge, on the Packers and specifically general manager Ted Thompson, for what he perceives as the down-and-dirty way Green Bay manhandled his exit strategy last year. Favre wanted to join the Vikings then -- to play for Childress, to work with offensive coordinator (and former Packers QB coach) Darrell Bevell, to play a majority of the schedule indoors or otherwise in venues less harsh than Lambeau Field and, yes, to face his old team twice in 2008.

The Packers were having none of it, though, and effectively blocked Favre, who ended up with the Jets. Sure, Favre's six-touchdown game against Arizona last September stung -- especially with Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers throwing three interceptions in a loss at Tampa Bay the same day -- but it didn't hurt nearly as much as seeing Favre in purple, from the other side of Green Bay's second-most intense rivalry (Chicago being the first).

Now Favre has an extra year -- a wasted year, given the Jets' 1-4 stretch run that dropped them out of the playoff picture -- to throw on his revenge pyre. So what? So he'd be playing for vengeance, on top of his itch to compete and whatever "jones'' Favre has for the limelight and a seemingly chronic and hardly uncommon Peter Pan syndrome as an athlete. What do you want your quarterback to play for? Just ... money?

If the NFL game has become too complicated, the inner workings of a team too complex and chemistry inside a locker room too delicate to hand over to a grizzled 40-year-old with a chip on his shoulder, then John Madden got out at the right time.

If Favre physically isn't capable of making the plays required by Childress' self-proclaimed kick-ass offense -- if his biceps injury with the Jets, for instance, was more smokescreen than serious injury -- or if he no longer has the aptitude to grasp and execute the subtleties of said attack or if he isn't durable enough to withstand the rigors of training camp, the preseason and 17 weeks, those would be good reasons to pause. Remember, though, this is a organization relying on Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels at quarterback, a thought as sobering as it is buzz-killing. This also is a club that flipped the keys to 37-year-old Gus Frerotte last season and had enough ingredients around him to go 8-3 in his 11 starts, salvaging its season and grabbing the division crown.

This isn't, in other words, a matter of Favre having to be better than two Mannings and a Brady. Frerotte had a quarterback rating of 73.7 in 2008. Favre's was 81.0. Jay Cutler, the alleged savior in Chicago, logged an 86.0 in Denver. Jackson clocked in at 95.4 but exited the Metrodome after the playoff loss to Philadelphia with as many doubters as he had when yanked from the starting lineup in Week 4.

To me, the Vikings need to sign Favre (unless he's entirely incapable of performing) for the entertainment value of it and, even more so, for the fascinating cultural effects it might have. Regarding the former, baseball gets a lot of mileage out of being the daily soap opera of sports, its plotlines moving incrementally across a 162-game schedule, character being revealed in the margins. The NFL, by contrast, is a limited-run, prime-time serial. It has spasms of activity and developments once each week, spaced out by a bunch of days to ruminate and debate. "Favre as a Viking'' is the sort of juicy wrinkle Jerry Bruckheimer could milk for a couple of spin-offs.

As for the latter, the potential for craziness in the hinterlands is too delicious to pass up. Think of the impact on various constituencies as one of those tables you'd set up in statistics class to track Type I and Type II errors:

A. Minnesota fans' reaction if the Vikings win with Favre.

B. Minnesota fans' reaction if the Vikings lose with Favre.

C. Green Bay fans' reaction if the Vikings win with Favre.

D. Green Bay fans' reaction if the Vikings lose with Favre.

B and D are easy -- when Minnesota loses, Vikings fans are miserable and Packer fans are elated. That's regardless of quarterbacks, the opponents on a given Sunday or the division standings. The rivalry between the frostbitten, snowbound NFC North franchises simply is that fierce.

Mind games rear up, though, with A and C. "Green Bay fans' reaction if the Vikings win with Favre" is slightly tricky because, while Packer fans traditionally embrace the "anyone but them'' outlook toward a Vikings victory, Favre still has a lot of fans left in Wisconsin. Check that: He has namesakes both human and canine back there, along with various permutations of vanity license plates based on his jersey number or name and, quite likely, a handful of creepy, photos-taped-to-the-wall, studio-apartment shrines to St. Brett. Those folks would be happy just to have Favre back and playing again, regardless of affiliation.

Then there's A. "Minnesota fans' reaction if the Vikings win with Favre." This is the most fascinating of the four options because the dilemma would be inescapable: The Vikings would be getting help to win not just from a former Packer but at the game's most important position from the most important Packer. Certainly the most important former Packer who still is active. Or unretired. Or un-un-unretired (maybe).

That means the lusty folks across the river in Wisconsin would be able to derisively brandish their brandy flasks and mock (in a way that only people decked out in blaze orange sportsman's apparel truly can mock) Minnesota's dependency on one of their discards.

Beyond the razzing they would take from the Dairyland, the Minnesota folks would know they were beholden to and at the mercy of a creaky, once-hated foe. After so many years of booing and hissing Favre, all of a sudden they would be cheering for him -- and they would catch a glimpse of themselves in their mirrors doing just that, a peripheral glance. And they might feel disgusted. This would be like Arlen Spector switching sides, times 10. Like Detroit resurrecting itself by peddling Priuses. This would be dogs and cats living together.

The psychology major in Childress would have to love it. Along with the results, of course.

You May Like