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Run, Brett, run! Favre fresh out of miracles in NFC championship loss


I will admit up front that that in this particular case the details are foggy in my memory -- but the emotions are not foggy at all. I suspect some of you Packer fans will remember the details better. This was maybe three or four or five years ago. I'm pretty sure it was a playoff game (but it might not have been), and I'm pretty sure this happened near the end of the first half. It was third down for the Packers, and they were somewhere near their opponent's goal line, maybe the 5-yard line or so.

Here's how I remember it: Brett Favre rolled right and was looking for an open receiver. And as he rolled right it became clear that, if he was willing to try, he had a good chance to run into the end zone. From the television angle, it looked like he might get hit, but he had a good chance to score. Instead though, he tried this crazy, "get this ball away from me" shovel pass that -- again, my memory of this could be slightly off -- should have been intercepted by nine of the 11 defenders on the other team.

The thing I DO remember -- and remember clearly -- was how the announcers got a big ol' chuckle about it. Ha ha! Look at that gunslinger Brett Favre! Trying to make something happen. That guy's crazy! He's like a kid out there! It's like he's designing plays in the dirt with sticks! Ha ha! They were yucking it up something fierce, which is why I remember the moment so clearly. I was furious. This guy just GAVE UP ON THE PLAY. Gunslinger, my Heinie Manush. The guy did not want to get hit.

And look, I'm not blaming the guy -- I wouldn't want to get hit, either -- but this was BRETT FAVRE, the ultimate gamer, the ultimate fighter, the ultimate ultimater, the guy who would do anything to win, the Farviest Favre in all the Favre. Nobody in their right mind would ever question the toughness of Brett Favre -- the guy has played in a bajillion straight games and he has played through countless injuries and he does jeans commercials. But what my eyes were telling me was that he had absolutely NO INTEREST in sticking his head in there and trying to help his team win a game. And the announcers that day did not say anything about THAT... I suspect because it did not fit the image, did not match their preparation, clashed with everything they knew to be true about Brett Favre.

I remember talking about this with friends at the time -- we were all, more or less, in agreement about it. But then, the moment just kind of faded into the background -- hey, Brett Favre's body of work trumped this one sour moment. All those big plays! All those last-second comebacks! All those hits he took! So, fine, one game, he did not want to stick his nose in there. Big deal.

Only I never quite forgot it. And just about every time I watched Favre play, I would notice that once or twice a game when he had a chance to run and gain some easy yards, well, he flatly refused. Hey, I understand -- Favre never was a running quarterback and certainly is not now. He's a man. He's 40. He doesn't need to be putting himself in harm's way.

But, I have to say, some of these refusals to run were almost comical. I was at a game this year against Cincinnati when he rolled out and had about 30 yards of open space -- no kidding, 30 yards. He had so much open space that he could not help himself... he did cross the line of scrimmage by a good 8 or 9 yards. But then he seemed to realize what he was doing ("Hey, wait a minute, I'm RUNNING!"), and he panicked, and he actually stepped back and THREW THE BALL. It was pure insanity -- the officials were so boggled by the maneuver that it took them a second or two to throw the flag. It was one of the weirder plays I've seen.

All of this, of course, leads to the moment on Sunday when the Vikings had the ball at the New Orleans 32 with a minute to go. Well, you know the whole situation. The score was tied. The Vikings would have faced a 50-yard field goal to win the game. Now, obviously, 50 yards is a long field goal -- you would love to get your kicker a few more yards. But it should be noted that Ryan Longwell, the Vikings kicker, was 8 for 8 at 50-plus-yard field goals the last two years. And this game was indoors... he was an awfully good bet to nail a 50-yarder.

But, OK, you want to get him a few yards. But what you DO NOT want to do is allow Brett Favre to throw the ball. I think that's pretty obvious. Favre has many strengths as one of the game's all-time quarterbacks, but "making safe throws" ain't one of them (I don't care how well he cut down on interceptions this year). So, the Vikings ran the ball on first down, and ran down the clock. They ran the ball on second down for no yards, and ran down the clock. I can't exactly blame the Vikings for these calls, but there didn't seem much purpose to them. Hey, if you're going to to do that, why not just run a couple of quarterback sneaks and gain two or three yards. That's all they really need to do there.

Third down, timeout, and suddenly the Vikings realize, damn, they might want to get their kicker a few more yards and make his kick a little easier. Sensible. And that's when they pulled off one of the all-time dumb penalties in championship game history -- a 12-men in the huddle catastrophe. After a timeout. That's a gutterball in the 10th frame. That's a triple bogey on 18. That's an air-balled free throw. Yes, every so often in sports you will see something that is, unquestionably, a choke. That was a choke.

So now it was a 55-yard kick, which is too far, and the Vikings had no choice but to try and get Longwell a little bit closer. Play call selection: They decided to roll out Favre. Again, sensible. This cuts the field in half (presumably) and would give Favre the easy option to throw the ball away or run with it if the primary receiver is not open.

The play gave Favre that exact option. By NFL standards, he had plenty of time to make his choice. Favre determined that his primary receiver was covered.*

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*I've heard some people disagree and say there was an open receiver on Favre's side, but Favre saw what he saw.

And this is where I thought back to that game three or four years ago when Favre shouted "Uncle" in the middle of a play. This time, Favre absolutely had an opening to run with the ball. No, he probably was not going to get a lot of yards, but he did not need a lot of yards. It sure looked like there were 5 or 6 yards there for the taking, even for a sluggish 40-year-old quarterback who had been beat up during the game. And that was all the Vikings really needed. Five or six yards. Then bring out Longwell.

Here was the "gamer" moment. Here was Brett Favre's chance to sacrifice his body to give the Vikings a chance to go to the Super Bowl. This was his chance to cement the legacy, to provide the lasting image of the ongoing television series: "Brett Favre, the man who will do anything to win." This was the time. And as I watched him on TV -- even though I wanted New Orleans to reach the Super Bowl* -- I actually shouted: RUN!

*With New Orleans now going to the Super Bowl, as you probably know, there are only four teams that have never been to a Super Bowl. But --- no offense -- Jacksonville has only been in the league since 1995 and so doesn't really count.

That leaves three. But two of those have their own history. Houston has never had a Super Bowl team, but "Houston" represents two teams. The Oilers did not reach the Super Bowl from 1966 through 1996, but they became the Tennessee Titans and they DID go to the Super Bowl then. The Texans have not reached the Super Bowl from 2002 to present.

The Cleveland Browns, though the team name hasn't changed, have almost precisely the same story. My childhood Browns did not go to the Super Bowl from 1966 to 1995, but they became the Baltimore Ravens (grrr) and they DID go to the Super Bowl then (and they won). The new Cleveland Browns have not reached the Super Bowl from 1999 to present.

So the cities of Houston and Cleveland have not had a Super Bowl, but their teams have.

That leaves only one true Super Bowl-less team in my mind -- the Detroit Lions.

Yes, I shouted "Run!" at the TV. It was a reflex. But, of course, Brett Favre did not run. He clearly had no intention of running. Instead, he attempted the single dumbest pass anyone can remember -- a rolling right, throwing left, cross-his-body back-to-the-middle-of-the-field pass, the sort of pass they teach you not to throw about 47 minutes after you are born.*

*First lesson: This is how you breast feed. Second lesson: Cry and someone will change your diaper. Third lesson: In the NFL, you don't throw across your body back into the middle of the field.

The play has been dissected to death already -- and rightfully so -- and there is no shortage of things Favre SHOULD HAVE DONE instead of throwing that pass. Hell, he could have stopped in the middle of the play and started doing an interpretive dance to protest the treatment of Conan O'Brien and THAT would have been smarter than what he did.

But as I watched him throw the interception that added one more chapter of grief to the sad story of the Minnesota Vikings, I wondered one more time: "What Makes Brett Favre NOT run?" Here is one of the toughest players in NFL history. Here is a man who, unquestionably, plays football with joy and fervor. Here is a man who head-butts teammates and slaps the helmets of men who sack him. Here is Brett Favre who had brought the Vikings back IN THIS VERY GAME.

So: What makes Brett Favre NOT run? I suppose there could be a pretty interesting novel written about that. But I don't think anyone would want to read it.