Today, as the Minnesota Vikings live and breathe at 3-0 and in first place in the NFC North, can anyone say their Brett Favre experiment hasn't been a success so far?
An inch or so separated victory from defeat Sunday in the Metrodome, but Favre and the Vikings were on the right side of that line in their death-defying 27-24 (RECAP | BOX) victory over the stunned San Francisco 49ers. Just a couple weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Favre is here and wearing Vikings horns on his helmet because you still want No. 4 on your side of the field when you need a miracle, and there are only seconds remaining on the clock. You still believe he's the kind of guy who can save the day, even if it takes an impossible-looking 32-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to the unheralded Lewis in the extreme back inch of the end zone with two seconds remaining.
"I was thinking, 'Yeah, we got one more shot', but just like everybody else in the building was thinking, it's probably a little too late,'' said Favre, moments after truly stepping into Vikings lore for the first time with perhaps the most improbable of his career's 42 game-winning fourth-quarter comebacks. "Now, that's not to say I don't go out and sling it. And that's just what I did.''
That's what he did, all right. The old gunslinger was back on this day, and Favre's dramatics gave us all one more reminder of what can happen when he slings one with the game on the line. Bedlam. Absolute bedlam. The kind of a happiness that rarely descends on 63,398 people all at the same time.
"This one was pretty special,'' Favre said. "It ranks pretty special. I didn't say a whole lot [at the beginning of the final drive]. I know what I was thinking: 'We blew our chances.' ''
But if there's anything we've learned over the years, it's that a team with Favre in the huddle always has a chance. Even if it takes a last-second touchdown catch from a player like Lewis, who had never before caught a ball in a Vikings uniform, and whose only play in the entire second half was his game-winner. Isn't that just the kind of stuff that seems to happen when Favre is around?
"I guess it was my lucky day,'' said Lewis, the veteran receiver who joined the Vikings late in the preseason, after New England cut him, and was inactive in each of Minnesota's first two games. "I was just trying to give [rookie receiver Percy Harvin]a break, give him one play, and then have him go back in. And it happened to be a big play.''
Big play indeed. Here's Lewis' line so far as a Viking: One game. One reception. One touchdown. One moment that he may never top.
"That was pretty amazing by him to make that catch, and stay inbounds,'' Favre said of Lewis. "He just made an unbelievable catch.''
What a finish Favre and Lewis created for the Vikings' home-opening crowd, at least those who stuck around for Minnesota's game-winning drive, which started on its 20 with 1:29 to play. By now you've probably seen Lewis' balletic, foot-dragging back of the end zone catch a dozen times on the NFL highlight shows. It was the stuff of Santonio Holmes in last season's Super Bowl. Lewis' left foot was no more than an inch from the back line of the end zone, and he somehow was able to scrape his right foot across the turf as he looked the ball into his outstretched hands.
That was only the fourth snap of the game that Lewis played, and he was only on the field because Harvin was gassed after playing eight consecutive snaps earlier in the drive. Favre said he didn't even know it was Lewis he was throwing to in the end zone. He just saw a purple jersey moving left to right, and fired at him.
"I didn't know who caught it,'' said Favre, who finished 24 of 46 for 301 yards, becoming the Vikings first 300-yard passer in 64 games. "I knew I was going to get hit right when I let it go." (Linebacker Manny Lawson nailed him from behind a split-second too late.) "I didn't know who it was that was streaking, so I just threw it as hard as I could. I don't think it was anything that special. The catch was pretty outstanding. I did see the replay.''
Lewis only signed a few weeks ago, after the Patriots decided he didn't fit into their plans, and Favre said the two have barely practiced together. Vikings head coach Brad Childress made Lewis inactive in Weeks 1 and 2, but because Harvin missed some practice this week, he decided to activate Lewis and keep five receivers for this game.
Childress said the last thing he told Vikings receivers coach George Stewart before the game started was "Don't be afraid to put Greg Lewis in the game,'' a suggestion that Stewart confirmed to me in the postgame locker room.
"Greg made a big-time play, when we needed a big-timer to make one,'' Stewart said. "He's a pro. And he handled his business. That's why we got him here.''
The same, of course, is true for Favre, whose late summer arrival in Minnesota didn't exactly go unnoticed. If there were some reservations in the Vikings locker room back in mid-August, they're gone now. Does anyone think either Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels would have made the 'Miracle of the Metrodome' happen Sunday afternoon? Acceptance comes with production and performance in the NFL and, rest assured, Favre's a full-fledged Viking now after beating a 49ers team that came within a wisp of being 3-0 itself.
"On the sideline, we were saying, 'Just be Brett, one time. Just be Brett,' '' Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "It's indescribable. You saw the emotion from him, from the crowd, from the team. Those kind of games, I've never been part of one of those. Not in my NFL career. So it was pretty special.''
With the Vikings, we know Favre won't be asked or needed to pull games out with his magic act all that often. But what a feeling he already has imbued the Minnesota locker room with, with teammates knowing they have a quarterback capable of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
"It's never over with him, and that's never been more evident than today,'' said Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser, an 11th year veteran who is the senior-most Viking in terms of continuous service. "I've sat on the other sideline from him and seen him do some pretty nasty stuff to us over the years. But you can't help but believe when he's on your side. It gave me goosebumps to watch that. It's hard to remember when this building has been that crazy.''
Making the Metrodome crazy, and rescuing his team with his flair for late-game heroics, is a big part of the reason the Vikings wanted Favre and why -- critics be damned -- they went out and got him. After Sunday, who could argue that it hasn't been the right move so far?