MINNEAPOLIS -- "You nervous?'' backup Minnesota quarterback Sage Rosenfels asked Brett Favre, the man of the evening, about an hour before the game everyone, and no one, wanted to see Monday night at the Metrodome.
"Hell yes,'' Favre said, poring over some notes and playsheets in the Vikings' locker room.
After the 30-23 Minnesota win (RECAP | BOX), in a game Favre said was as nerve-wracking for him as the night he played in Oakland just hours after his father died, Rosenfels said the normally fun-loving Favre was pensive and withdrawn most of the week leading up to the game against the team he set every quarterback record for. "Not many jokes made this week,'' Rosenfels said. "He was studying a lot this week, wanting to make sure he had every read right. You know, before last week's game, I told him, 'You don't have to win it on your own. Punting's okay.' And I think he's got it now -- efficiency is the most important thing with our offense, because we've got so many weapons.''
If you saw the game, you saw the MVP Favre of the mid-90s, minus the high-wire act. Favre managed his tornado of emotions perfectly, completing 24 of 31 throws for 271 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was not sacked. "I not only wasn't sacked,'' he said by his locker afterward. "I wasn't touched. My protection was unbelievable.'' By my count, he threw all 31 passes on the night without taking a serious risk on a single throw. When I spoke with Packer outside linebacker Aaron Kampman last week, he said what stuck out on film about Favre was how he "was okay with checkdowns, okay with not squeezing the ball in there." That showed in a big way Monday night. There have been times in his career when Favre has tried to do way too much, including some games when there was everything on the line.
The reason for the efficiency is simple: He has so much help here. If you want to know why Favre came back to play football for one final time when Brad Childress called him in August, Monday night was the perfect illustration. On a night when the Packers often dedicated an eighth man up front to stop Adrian Peterson (25 carries, 55 yards, one costly fumble, 2.2 yards per rush), and with rookie sensation Percy Harvin contributing none of his usual electricity, Favre calmly found eight different receivers with only seven incompletions, two of them drops. There will be days when Favre takes a back seat and watches Peterson run for 150 or Harvin score a couple of touchdowns. But Monday night, his new arch-enemy said: "You beat us, Favre.'' And he did ... with some help from a ridiculous performance by defensive end Jared Allen. "Best game of my life,'' Allen told me after embarrassing the Green Bay depth chart at left tackle for 4.5 sacks, including capturing the besieged Aaron Rodgers for a safety.
But it was a lot harder than it looked, an exhausted Favre said as he left the stadium. "Their defense gives people fits,'' a hoarse Favre said, looking every day his age -- he turns 40 Saturday. "And I was laying in bed at the hotel, around 11:30, and I couldn't sleep. I called [wife] Deanna, and she was groggy, like I'd woken her up. She said to me, 'You're not sleeping,' and I said, 'I'm okay, just checking on you.' But I was thinking about so many things it was hard to fall asleep.''
Eerie scene around the Twin Cities, with gigantic Wrangler billboards welcoming Favre to Minnesota. In the Loon Café downtown, a sports-bar hangout near the Target Center, scores of people wore purple No. 4 jerseys with FAVRE on the back. Walking around the city, it finally sunk in: Favre's a Viking, and he's playing the Packers for NFC North supremacy in three hours. Right about that time, Favre was at pregame mass at the Viking hotel, praying more than he ever does before games.
"Man, I'm losing it,'' he thought.
He's been through so many of these games, though, that the nerves didn't paralyze him. He played with a calm he hasn't often had in games this big.
The Vikings opened predictably, wanting to keep the pressure off Favre. He handed it to Peterson on seven of the first 11 snaps, the only effective Peterson-aided drive of the night. Favre finished it by rolling right, planting his right foot and firing a one-yard TD strike to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe across the field. Midway through the second quarter, Favre, under pressure for one of the only times all night, dropped a perfect, arcing 14-yard TD strike to Sidney Rice. And when Peterson burst up the middle for a 1-yard TD late in the half, the Vikes took a 21-14 lead into the break.
What coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were doing -- all game, not just in the first half -- was making sure Favre got the ball and got rid of it. Only two of his 31 drop-backs were seven-step drops, and both of those came on rollouts, with the obvious design to keep Favre safe and his pass-routes safer. Both worked.
On the first series of the second half, as it turned out, Favre put the drive on his shoulders -- and on the shoulders of his offensive linemen -- and clinched it. On second-and-10 from the Vikes 44, Favre took a three-step drop, moved left, pumped, moved right, paused, looked, and finally (after 7.34 seconds, according to the ESPN stopwatch) fired a 25-yard strike over the middle to backup tight end Jeff Dugan. The line made that happen. Favre made the touchdown on the next play happen, freezing old friend Al Harris, the Packers veteran corner, with a stare and then lofting a 31-yard score to Bernard Berrian.
That made it 28-14, and though Green Bay kept trying to make it interesting, the outcome wasn't in doubt after the Vikes stoned the Packers on three plays from the Minnesota 1 on the next series.
At the end, Favre found a few old mates -- Harris, Donald Driver, Kampman and Rodgers -- and gave them hugs. The hug with Driver, his favorite receiver for years, was particularly warm. He said he told Rodgers, with whom he hasn't spoken in over a year, "Way to battle."
He did not meet either coach Mike McCarthy or GM Ted Thompson before or after the game. Probably better that way. The wounds between them are still too fresh.
On his way up the tunnel, he was serenaded by a deafening roar from his new home crowd. He hugged fellow Packer expatriate Ryan Longwell for a full five seconds.
And he tried to soak in a night when he was at his best with so much, personally and professionally, riding on it.
"It's why I play the game," said Favre. "It never gets old, even though I do."