Monday, January 25, 2010

Legacy of a Gunslinger

I don’t want to pile on Brett Favre. He’s taken quite a bit of heat for the drama he created and he deserves that. He also deserves criticism for making yet another poor decision in a big game. People who defend him by saying that he’s always made plays with his arm need to stop. Sometimes you have to run. Great quarterbacks make great decisions. Not all the time, but when they count. Favre is the opposite.

But Favre was put in a tough spot by his coach who decided to try to confuse New Orleans by running too many people onto the field. Minnesota huddled up with 12 men and got nailed with a five yard penalty that pushed them out of field goal range. So it was “Chilly” who backed Favre into a corner and forced the issue for a big play.

It was also Adrian Peterson and his buttery fingers that kept the Saints in the game. No matter how great a team is, overcoming five turnovers is virtually impossible. Peterson contributed three of them.

And then you had the penalties, particularly in overtime. Vikings’ fans might cry foul over the nature of some of those calls but it was still a sloppy game on the part of the vaunted Vikings’ defense. The game shouldn’t have gone to overtime in the first place.

Still the Vikings had a chance to win it and in the end the game was in Favre’s hands. He rolled to his right, saw seven or eight yards he could have easily run and turned the game over to his kicker for an easy field goal. Instead, Favre threw across his body to a receiver who was clearly covered. Once again he made a poor decision and once again it cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl.

I don’t hate Favre for it. I don’t hate him for coming back. He loves to play and loves the spot light. He did the best he could. His effort has never been in question, but his decision making has. Favre decided to make a spectacle out of coming back. Don’t believe those who tell you the media did it, Favre carefully played the press to his advantage and milked it for all the attention it was worth. He wanted to play in Minnesota, partly because he knew the system and partly because he would steal the thunder from his old team, the one that decided it was time to move on. He desperately wanted the spotlight to shine on him and now, even though it’s revealed an aspect of his legacy that will, rightfully, always keep him off the very top of the list of all time greats, he has to live in its glare. At least for a while.

Favre belongs in the Hall of Fame. He consecutive games streak is almost reason enough, but then you have impressive numbers. He’s simply amassed mind-boggling statistics and, in spite of losing some big games, he’s been a winner. It’s hard to give one player credit for Super Bowl wins. I don’t like using that as a barometer of greatness. Super Bowls are team achievements. Failing to acknowledge that means that Trent Dilfer is as good as Peyton Manning because they have an equal number of Super Bowl rings; or arguing that Ben Roethlisberger is better than both because he has two. Then you’d have to downgrade Dan Marino to the bottom of the list because he didn’t win any. That’s just stupid.

Favre’s career has been impressive. He’s been fun to watch and when you factor in all of his toughness you have to rank him among some of the greatest football players of all time. But when you compare him to other quarterbacks you have to think about more than raw numbers. How did he do under pressure?

Four NFC Championship games have been decided in overtime. Brett Favre played in two of those games and lost both. It's not all his fault, but he had the ball in his hands with an opportunity to win both games and came up empty. That’s tough to overlook.