It's a heroic tragedy.
The latest saga of the Vikings comes out of training camp in Minnesota. It is not a heroic tragedy, though. It's just a tragedy – at least in a football sense.
The Vikings, in case you haven't heard, signed mercenary Brett Favre to a two-year, $25-million deal on Tuesday. It's the second team that Favre has signed with since he issued a teary-eyed farewell
to football and to his beloved Packers 17 months ago.
Apparently, the Vikings suffer under the illusion that the only thing between them and their first Super Bowl title is an ineffective, mistake-prone quarterback with a 79.5 passer rating over the past four years who turns 40 in October, who hasn't led a team to a Super Bowl since back around the time when Bill Clinton was not having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, and who hijacked the hopes of one team after another
along the way.
One, the Favre signing is a tragedy for Minnesota's long-suffering fans, who must sweat out at least another year for the arrival of a franchise quarterback and who will probably beg for the good old days of Tarvaris Jackson when Brett Favre hands out his first 5-INT game in October, despite all the gunslinging fun he's having out there on the field.
And three, the Favre signing is a tragedy for the Minnesota organization itself,
which could have spent the past seven months improving its mediocre pass defense
and searching for a young franchise quarterback upon which to build its offense and its future. But instead the Vikings hand the keys to a guy who makes so many mindless mistakes with the football that people confuse him with Joe Biden at the microphone.
The funny math in Minnesota
But we're trying to figure out how great ground game + great run defense + aging interception machine = Super Bowl champs.
We'd applaud Tuesday's move if there was just one season
over the past decade in which Favre proved the difference between a mediocre year and a Super Bowl-winning year. But there has not been one season in which Favre carried a team to a Super Bowl title. You can read the whole sordid story about Favre's debacles here
In fact, even in Green Bay's Super Bowl-winning season, the Packers boasted the league's No. 1 scoring and total defense, led by perhaps the best defensive player of the past 20 years, Reggie White. Favre was certainly spectacular in that 1996 season. In fact, in the mid-1990s, Favre was easily the best quarterback in football.
But, contrary to popular belief, Favre did not win Super Bowl XXXI by himself. He was a great quarterback on a great, great team in 1996. And that's why he won the Super Bowl.
But, as Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know, that great quarterback of the mid 1990s disappeared long ago – replaced by the aging "gunslinger" who's now the all-time interception leader and who simiply does not understand the correlation between all those interceptions and all the losses that he's stacked up in recent years.
The great disaster of 2005
One recent season more than any other has given us a stark, naked portrait of how Favre-the-hype conflicts with the Favre-the-actual-player: that season is 2005. It's a season that should cause sleepless nights for all Vikings fans.
The Packers went 4-12 that year – the only losing season of Favre's career – and you know the big-media storyline: the tragic-hero Favre
would have won if not surrounded by a talentless team and an organization that didn't care about winning as much as did the old gunslinger.
But Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know the difference. As CHFF contributor John Dudley had pointed out at the time, Favre routinely took the field that year with a chance to win, and routinely threw away those chances to win with reckless and critical interceptions at key moments of the game.
Week 3 2005 – Tampa 17, Green Bay 16
The Packers took over the ball with 5:52 to play in the fourth quarter at the 50 yard line. They were in prime position to gain a first down or two and kick a game-winning field goal. Instead, after picking up 2 yards, the gunslinger threw deep toward the end zone and his pass was picked off by safety Will Allen at the 5 and returned 26 yards. The Bucs ran out the clock and won the game.
Week 4 – Carolina 32, Green Bay 29
The Packers took over at their own 37 with 1:50 to play, and Favre quickly completed a 15-yard pass to Donald Driver. Green Bay was now at the Carolina 48, and just 15 to 20 yards or so from a decent shot at a game-tying field goal. But Favre completed just 1 of 4 passes for 7 yards on the final series, and the Pack turned the ball over on downs, without getting a shot at a field goal.
Week 7 – Minnesota 23, Green Bay 20
The talentless Packers raced out to a 17-0 first-half lead. But Favre and the offense went in the tank faster than Patton's 3rd Army turning north toward Bastogne, allowing the Vikings to pull out a last-second 23-20 victory.
Week 8 – Cincinnati 21, Green Bay 14
Brett Favre pulls off a miracle even by his standards – throwing five interceptions in the final 32 minutes of the game, including picks on four straight possessions in the second half, hijacking any hopes his team had of besting the Bengals.
Week 11 – Minnesota 20, Green Bay 17
Brett Favre throws two picks as the Packers again fall to the Vikings on a last-second field goal. The first INT was returned by Dovonte Edwards 51 yards for a Vikings touchdown. The second was picked off by Brian Williams at the Minnesota 29, ending another Packers scoring chance.
Week 12 – Philadelphia 19, Green Bay 14
The Packers trail 10-7 in the first half, but move into goal range at the Philly 31 when Favre – with his classic reckless gunslinger move – throws a long pass into the end zone that's picked off by Michael Lewis
The Packers still have a chance to win in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter when Favre throws not one but TWO picks on the same drive: the first was overturned by a roughing the passer penalty with 1:39 to play that put the ball at the Green Bay 44 – prime position for Favre to lead a heroic comeback. But just 40 seconds later, on 2nd and 15, the gunslinger once again fired recklessly into the end zone. Favre's long pass was picked off by Roderick Hood. Game over
Week 13 – Chicago 19, Green Bay 7
On a day in which the Bears offense simply could not move the football (190 yards vs. 358 for Green Bay), Favre still managed to find a way to lose.
His first INT was returned 95 yards by Charles Tillman, setting up a Chicago field goal. Then in the fourth quarter, with the Packers trailing just 12-7 and driving for a game-winning score, Favre threw a pick that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown by Nathan Vasher. Game over.
The most insightful post-game commentary came from Tillman: "It's kind of hit or miss with Brett Favre." No shit, Tillman.
Week 16 – Chicago 24, Green Bay 17
Favre throws four picks in the Chicago rematch, handing the Bears their first season sweep of the series in 14 years.
Chicago's final points, the difference in the game, came off of one of those picks, thanks to a 10-yard return for a TD by linebacker Lance Briggs.
A four-year decline
Favre ended the disastrous 2005 season with 29 INTs. Since 1980, only Vinny Testaverde has thrown more picks in a season (35 in 1988).
His 70.9 passer rating in 2005 was the worst of his career, and the season should have marked the end of his career. Sadly for Vikings fans, it did not.
Green Bay went 8-8 in 2006, while Favre was again part of the problem. He posted a 72.7 passer rating with 18 TDs (a career low) and 18 picks (not even close to a career high). Teams don't win many games when their QB posts a 72.7 passer rating. And the 2006 Packers did not win many games.
Favre recovered statistically with a 95.7 passer rating in 2007, while leading the Packers to a 13-3 record and a home game in the NFC title contest. Favre was back!, according to the pigskin "pundits."
It's all part of a four-year trend of substandard play for Favre. These are Favre's cumulative numbers over the past four seasons (three with the Packers, one with the Jets):
1414 of 2277 (62.1%), 15,393 yards, 6.76 YPA, 88 TD, 84 INT, 79.5 passer rating
His volume numbers are great – attempts, completions, yards – which means that teams still believe they can win by letting Favre gun the ball all over the field. His completion percentage is actually pretty strong, too.
But the all-important efficiency numbers – the numbers that mean the difference between victory and defeat – are mediocre to bad. In an era when a 2-to-1 INT-to-TD ratio is considered great, Favre's nearly 1-to-1 ratio is pretty pathetic. His passer rating is slightly below average. And his yards per attempt are slightly below average.
Anyone who studies the Cold, Hard Football Facts know that these substandard numbers at the QB position lead to a substandard team record. Favre's Packers and Jets went 34-30 in these four seasons.
The final tragedy of this saga
The final tragedy of the Favre signing for the Vikings and their fans is the fact that the team simply did not do their homework.
The Vikings confuse Favre with a quarterback who can take a great ground attack and turn it into a Super Bowl-winning offense. But we've seen this ship sink before on the rocky outcrop of critical Favre mistakes.
The 2003 Packers, for example, fielded perhaps the best ground game in football that year, ranking third in yards (2,558) and second in YPA (an awesome 5.0). But you know how that season ended: with a critical Favre interception in an overtime playoff game (a Favre specialty) that led to the game-winning points for the Eagles
Finally, the Vikings apparently confuse the Favre they're getting with the Favre of 1996. And they confuse Favre with a quarterback who can carry a team in the postseason. Otherwise, they would not have signed him.
But as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have highlighted in such excruciating detail
, Favre is quite the opposite:
He's not a guy who can take an average team and make it a champion. He's a guy who takes a Super Bowl contender and hijacks it with critical mistakes throughout the year and especially in the postseason.
Unless the Vikings can teach this Old Yeller
new tricks, their 2009 campaign will end the same way.