Last year, he showed up at Winter Park on a Tuesday and started the second preseason game that Friday. It was a whirlwind that blew threw the Vikings as a storm rode up the Mississippi and landed at the Metrodome. The Vikings became big box office. Tickets sold. Jerseys flew off the shelves. Despondent Packers fans were being talked off of ledges (and back into bars where they belong). It was like a dream.
Reality, however, has a jaded tone to it – something is either much better or much worse in the memory of fans than was actually the case. The 1985 Chicago Bears were far from a dominant team, despite their gaudy record. They were excellent finishers that found ways to score late touchdowns, whether on offense, defense or special teams and became dominant as the season progressed.
Favre's first year with the Vikings was much the same way. His year-end numbers were outstanding – in many ways, the best of his career. But getting from Point A to Point B wasn't as smooth and seamless as it first seemed.
When he first arrived, there were more than a few Vikings fans who had spent much of their life hating Favre – literally despising the man to the point that they couldn't stomach the thought of Favre wearing purple. Fran Tarkenton went as far as going public in saying he hoped he failed miserably. While the Vikings were winning, everybody wasn't on the Favre bandwagon right away.
The NFL, more than any other sport, is one of swagger and momentum. When a team starts winning, it gets contagious. Every year we see a team come roaring out of the gate and maintain that momentum for an entire season. The Saints and Colts were both that way last year and they ended up meeting in the Super Bowl. The Vikings were winning early as well, but not because of Favre magic.
In the opener against Cleveland, the Vikings offense was all run, no pass as Favre seemed unwilling or unable to cut loose the deep ball. After Joshua Cribbs brought a punt back 67 yards with a buck-and-change left in the first half, the Vikings went to the locker trailing 13-7. While Favre led a pair of touchdown drives to put the game away, these were the hapless Browns. The Vikings offense gained 310 yards – 225 on the ground and just 85 through the air. Favre completed 14 of his 21 passes, but they gained just 110 yards. It was far from stunning, despite winning 34-20.
In Week 2 against the Lions, Favre set a franchise record for completion percentage by completing 23 of 27 passes with two touchdowns, but throwing for just 155 yards. He was Jeff Garcia, not a gunslinger. Late in the second quarter, the Vikings trailed the Lions 10-0 and Favre had all the looks of a game manager. Again the Vikings won by 14 points at 27-13, but Brett wasn't kicking it old school.
As we would learn starting in Week 3, once Favre had the confidence in his ability to zing the downfield dart, things would change. In that game, the Vikings trailed at halftime for a third straight game, but this time around it didn't look like a rally was happening, until Favre brought home a win over the 49ers in the final two seconds of the game by freelancing, taking chances and making plays.
So what was the problem? Was it Favre not having timing with his receivers? Was it the offense of Brad Childress not being allowed to stray because of the talent of the QB? Was it Favre's shoulder? Any of them were possible, but the fact was that the Vikings trailed in each of their first three games at halftime. Only because they were inferior teams were the Vikings able to overcome those deficits. Good teams put other teams away when they get them down. The Vikings put those teams away when they got the chance because they were a good team, but were let off the hook by their first three opponents.
The Vikings open this season with a Murderer's Row of a schedule. After starting the season at New Orleans, the Vikings get stuck with the first week of byes in Week 4. When they come back, their next five games will be against 2009 playoff teams – the Jets, Cowboys, Packers, Patriots and Arizona.
There's no telling if the Vikings will get Favre to show up earlier or if the offense will gel much more quickly after having played together for a season, but if the Vikings open the season slowly and conservatively against the Saints and Dolphins, it won't be nearly as easy to make up for slow starts like it was against the Browns and Lions. If the Vikings are going to make a Super Bowl run and get the kind of swagger and momentum great teams from one year to next seem to have, they will have to earn it – and come out a lot faster from the gate than they did in Favre's first season.
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.