Forget What Your Dad Told You
Athletes don't drink milk, and they down a box of Wheaties for breakfast.
They aren't in bed by ten p.m.
And, there is an "I" in "team."
If you ever needed more proof that the 1950's sports paradigm is dead, just check one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. I'm sure the body is floating in one of them.
The cause of death: big money, with the desperate need to win listed by the coroner as a contributing factor.
As I write this on the morning of August 18th, 2010, Brett Favre is still a pensioner. That will probably change by lunch when he passes a physical, inks a revised contract and joins the rest of the Minnesota Vikings on the practice field this afternoon..
His return to pro football this summer is again a tortured, over-debated event. Detractors say he's a drama-queen who thrives on the attention and loves being page-one. Fans will say he's the best there is, and worth the hassle.
What is Favre? He's a lot of things, but he's never been accused of being typical.
Special players typically get special treatment. They get to come late to practice or training camp. They come and go as they please. They get cash heaped upon them, often without debate. They're allowed to be vague in their dealings with the media. They don't dress with the rest of the team, or have a roommate. They don't have to sit on the bench, certainly not when they're not in the lineup. In some cases, they don't have to even be at the game if they're not playing (see, "Clemens, Roger"). Favre was one of the boys, but his performance made him exceptional. At some point, privileges were confirmed upon him--certainly not by Mike Holmgren, but somewhere along the way. Exceptions became rules. Off-season uncertainty became as predictable as summer humidity.
Such deportment was unusual and not tolerated in 1950. It's dereguer in 2010.
Not-so-blessed teammates tolerate it because they want a ring. They may chafe at special treatment, but what they care most about is the bottom line. And, those who beef will find themselves expendable, dealt perhaps to a non-contender or just plain waived. Coaches know they're only as good as their last win, and if it takes a little grovelling to improve the odds, what's to lose (besides a little bit of your dignity, gasoline and on-field control, Brad Childress?).
The front office will open up the franchise's family safe if that's what it takes to keep The Chosen One's in team colors. The stakes are too high. Fans are too fickle. For all their success the Vikings are a team in danger: a franchise that never won a Super Bowl, in dire need of a new stadium to generate the non-traditional revenue streams needed to maintain fiscal health. The Metrodome is no longer a tribute to quirky 1980's multi-use architecture: it's a fiscal liability, minus the skyboxes, restaurants, fan shops and other amenities that help make/break the bottom line. Minnesota ownership needs momentum to sell a new facility to reluctant taxpayers. A Lombardi trophy goes a long way. Remember how the Packers' brass had to fight to get Brown County to support a re-do of Lambeau. That was in Green Bay, land of undying allegiance and long season-ticket-waiting-lists. Minnesota let it's beloved North Stars go, so it knows about seeing the tail lights of beloved franchises. You don't have to watch HBO's "Entourage" to know that Los Angeles wants an NFL team. Ari Gold is fictional, but L-A's quest for pro football is very real.
So, the Vikings let Favre set the agenda. They wait for him to make up his mind about returning. They let him come back at a time of his choosing, and even allow three veterans to leave camp to kiss his butt and tell him how much fun they'd have bringing the band back together for one more season. The front office re-does his contract, even though Favre will always say, "It's not about the money." Other players may be chapped by the off-field drama, but the irritation will fade like diaper rash after a few stirring regular season wins. ESPN's Mark Schlereth is the voice of the 21st century locker room when he says Favre has earned the right to do what he does, that he makes the Vikings a contender for an NFL championship and that that the rest of the locker room understands that. Players in the 60's didn't roll that way (see "Starr, Bart" or "Brown, Jim"). The stakes of the NFL game changed in the past half century.
Packers fans may puff their chests and say, "Boy, I'm sure glad Favre isn't OUR problem anymore. How's that Favre thing workin' out for you, Minnesota?" Truth be told, Green Bay was able to cut ties with Favre because the team was financially sound and virtually impossible to move. They also had Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings have Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson.
The Vikings are very typical as a result. And so is Favre. Typical, in that his past accomplishments and remaining potential make him, in the eyes of the Vikings, worth exceptional treatment. He can call the shots and make Minnesota dance to his tune. He can do it because he wants to, and because he can. That is very, very routine behavior among contemporary superstars. In that regard, don't hate the player. Hate the game.
And, as a Green Bay fan, you can only hope that their ongoing relationship doesn't turn into something very exceptional, with Favre swaddled in purple while hoisting a Lombardi trophy in early 2011.