*The images wereÂ disturbing and almost unimaginable for true aficionados of the National Football League. Johnny UnitasÂ running for his life in those classic black hightops wearing that hideous San Diego Charger powder-blue uniform in 1973. Joe NamathÂ hobbling on two balky knees around the Los Angeles Coliseum as a member of the Rams. Joe Montana foolishly believing he could win a fifth ring with the Kansas City Chiefs. And Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, my favorite player as a kid, struggling to stay upright at the end for Bum Phillips in Houston and then for the lowly New Orleans Saints of the early 1980’s. All were legends. All were Super Bowl heroes. All failed miserably in their new environments in the twilight of their careers. (For young fans of the game not steeped in history, imagine Peyton ManningÂ heading to Jacksonville in the offseason. Or Tom BradyÂ packing up his super model wife, pulling a LeBron and taking his talents to South Beach.)
So the writing was on the wall for Brett Favre when he retired from the Green Bay Packers as that historic franchise’s greatest signalcaller of all-time and the Cheeseheads’ ultimate fan favorite. Only to unretire and end up in the glitz and glamour of New York City. That season with the Jets reminded me of a bad, big-budget Broadway play. Sort of like Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Beverly Hillbillies Do The Big Apple” completeÂ with a full orchestra. So Favre tearfully retired again. It was over. Until Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Brad Childress came calling with an eight-figure salary and the chance to be the missing piece in the Vikings’ run to the Super Bowl. And it almost worked. Favre put up MVP numbers two seasons ago and was a head-scratching interception away from replacing the Saints as the NFC’s championship game entry in January.
What a differenceÂ eleven monthsÂ make! Favre got racked up good in that NFC Championship game. His foot was a mangled mess. And he left the Minnesota Vikings dangling right until the start of the season before several of his teammates flew to his Mississsippi home to convinceÂ him to give it one more shot. I don’t think it took a whole lot ofÂ persuading to get Favre to board that plane to Minnesota. $16,000,000 in guaranteed money for a 41-year old quarterback isÂ adequate compensationÂ in a down economy. And the Vikings, after all, were Super Bowl contenders.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2010. The Minnesota Vikings are 3-7. Brad Childress has been fired. From the cusp of the Super Bowl to the unemployment line. The victim of insubordinate players and a back-stabbing quarterback who leads the league with 17 interceptions. Couldn’t bench #4 and end that record streak of games started, no matter how battered or ineffective he was. Mix in a Hall-of-Fame sexting scandal with a sultry New York beat writer and you’ve got yourself a Twin Cities version of Peyton Place. So much for that loving wife battling cancer back home in the Magnolia State. Should have put a padlock on thoseÂ Wrangler button-fly jeans.
Skins Show A Pulse
Pummeled on Monday Night Football by the Philadelphia Eagles and heading off to face a talented Tennessee team without defensive stalwarts Carlos Rogers and LaRon Landry, few (including this reporter) expected the Washington Redskins (5-5) to prevail in Music City. And when they fell behind early 7-0 and players were goingÂ out with injuries on every other play, it looked bleak for the Burgundy & Gold. But the much-maligned Donovan McNabb showed the two-minute cardio he lacked late in Detroit and rallied the team to aÂ must-have overtimeÂ win. Of course, three critical Titan penalties advanced the football into field goal range. And if McNabb’s near-interception on that final drive wasn’t overruled by replay, we’d likely be talking about a third straight Redskin loss and our own quarterback controversy brewing here in our nation’s capitol.
But the usually-unreliable Graham GanoÂ saved his job for another week and drilled the 48-yard game winner and all is well. The Skins do have to be credited with showing grit and determination in the face of a slew of mounting injuries, especially to their defensive secondary and offensive line. The team has already surpassed their win total of a year ago. Mike Shanahan is the anti-Brad Childress. “The Little Dictator” does not coddle players. Doesn’t make a difference if you are the hundred-million dollar Albert Haynesworth or a player just called up off the practice squad. It’s his way or the I-95 highway, even on a horrible travel weekend like this one.
Pic’s Prediction: I had the Skins winning this game over the Vikings easily until Minnesota canned Brad Childress immediately after Green Bay humiliated his Purple People Eaters at home, 31-3. Couldn’t they have waited another week before cutting that albatross loose? Whatever happened to holiday compassion? Even though interim coaches have a terrible win/loss record in these situations, I see what Jason Garrett has done the last two games for the lifeless Dallas CowboysÂ after Wade Phillips was finally put out of his misery. The insertion of well-respected defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as Minnesota’s head man scares me. The Vikings still have the NFC’s best running back in Adrian Peterson. He is a bigger, stronger version of Chris Johnson, who torched the Skins for 130 yards in Nashville. The Vikes’ long-threat wide receiver Sidney Rice came back a week ago after missing most of theÂ season with a hip injury. (How did that Randy MossÂ reacquistion work out for the Vikings? There is a reason why Bill BelichickÂ has all those Super Bowl rings and a treasure chest of draft picks available to him in April.) And Brett Favre just two weeks ago didÂ put up nearly 500 passing yards in a stirring win over the Arizona Cardinals. Perhaps Redskins’ trainers can distract him by texting him pictures of Clinton Portis’s season-ending groin injury. The numbers don’t lie: the Vikings have allowed more thanÂ twenty-one points in each of their last seven contests and the Redskins have not won a game this season in which they scored more than twenty points. So the choice is as clear as the turkey gravy on your face……
Washington 21, Minnesota 20