The media circus that has surrounded Brett Favre has involved many subject lines in the 15 months that he has been a member of the Vikings. From late-game heroics to his annual “will he come back or not” questions to off-field tabloid fodder, Favre has been in the news for many, many reasons.
But one thing that hasn’t been a question has been whether Favre’s consecutive-games-started streak would come to an end. When he decided to come back, the prevailing belief was that he would surpass No. 300 in his Hall of Fame career.
It has never been a topic of discussion with the Vikings. It certainly was with the Packers, ranging from injuries to the death of his father, and it became clear later that there were internal discussions late in the 2008 season with the Jets. But, with the announcement that he has two fractures, in his surgically repaired left foot and his heel, he is questionable for Sunday’s game at New England and “The Streak” is all people could talk about Wednesday before and after Favre hobbled out of the locker room in a walking boot to meet with the assembled media in the Winter Park fieldhouse.
The Streak has to end sometime, but his teammates don’t seem to believe it will be Sunday at Foxboro. Veteran tight end Jim Kleinsasser is the most-tenured Viking on the roster and Favre’s streak was pushing 100 games by the time Kleinsasser started his NFL career. Everyone is talking about Favre sitting, but Kleinsasser isn’t buying in on it.
“I won’t believe it until I see it,” Kleinsasser said. “He’s Brett Favre.”
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was considerably more casual about The Streak. When asked what he thought of the 291-game streak, his first response was, “That’s it?” But he was quick to add the Herculean effort required to maintain such a milestone streak.
“291 games,” Shiancoe pondered. “If were me, of course I’d try to play that 292. I would try to keep it going, especially a streak like that. That’s a legendary streak. I’m pretty sure he’s going to do what’s best for the team, though. I’m pretty sure if he can’t play, he wouldn’t put himself in that predicament.”
Nobody knows the difficulties Favre has had maintaining The Streak better than kicker Ryan Longwell. They were teammates for almost a decade in Green Bay and the last two years with the Vikings. He has seen the level of pain Favre has played through to get The Streak to 291 games. Like Kleinsasser, he has a hard time imagining Favre wearing a baseball cap on the sideline and not getting in the action.
“I wouldn’t bet against him,” Longwell said. “I’ve seen him go through so many things. Not take a snap the entire week in some circumstances and go light it up on Sunday. I just know better than to bet against the guy.”
One injury in particular stood out in Longwell’s mind. He said that, in 2003, Favre spent half the season with the thumb on his throwing hand sliced almost in half after banging it on a helmet. He said that it’s hard to compare the severity of injuries, but he has seen Favre endure some ugliness to keep The Streak going.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen (injuries) that were better or worse than this, but I’ve seen bad (injuries),” Longwell said. “When your thumb is split in half and you have to grip a football and throw it, that’s tough to do. He did that for almost two months in a season we played in Green Bay.”
He said he’s not sure Favre can allow himself not to play. He may not finish the game, but he’s never had a Sunday in the last 19 years that didn’t include starting for his team. With him, it may be more mental toughness than physical toughness.
“He clearly has a high tolerance for playing with pain, but I think it’s more than that,” Longwell said. “He doesn’t know how to not play. He doesn’t know how to come out of a game. He doesn’t know how to not play on Sunday. It’s what he’s always done and it’s what he expects to do. Whatever happens during the week, when it comes to Sunday, he’s always played. He just doesn’t not play. It’s his mindset and it’s what separates him from everybody else at that position.”
The person affected the most by his injury is Tarvaris Jackson. If Favre can’t go, Jackson will start for the first time since the playoff loss to the Eagles in January 2009. He isn’t sure if he will be the starter Sunday or not, but said Favre approached him to say be prepared because the call might come to the QB bullpen.
“He came to me,” Jackson said. “He doesn’t really know. Everybody knows he’s going to push to play. But, just in case, I’ll be ready.”
Jackson said everybody “has a hunch” about whether Favre will or won’t play, but he has been preparing weekly as if he will be called on during the game. Favre is the first to admit the football warranty on his body has long since expired and that, in many ways, he is living on borrowed time as it is. Jackson said that potential that the next hit could be Favre’s last hit is what keeps him preparing and maintaining a mental focus in the game.
“Brett being an older guy, even though he has started 291 games straight, with him being older, you want to make sure that you’re ready just in case,” Jackson said. “Like he’s said, his body is going to give up sometime. I just want to make sure I’m prepared either way.”
For the most part, the Vikings players said they’re preparing for New England ready to run the offense with Favre in or with Favre out and Jackson in. Most declined to speculate personal opinions as to whether Favre will play or not. Veteran wide receiver Greg Lewis summed it up best, using a time-honored injury cliché to share the feeling of most the players – at least their Wednesday public opinions.
“I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell you,” Lewis said. “I learned from Day One that you mind your business. If somebody’s out there, they’re out there. If they’re not out there, they’re not out there.”
When reminded by a reporter that Favre was a “special creature” that plays through pain, Lewis just smiled and said, “If you say so.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.