When Brett Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings last year opinions ranged from “now they are Super Bowl contenders” to “Favre needs to hang it up.” Let’s face it, at 39 and coming off the worst year of his career, you weren’t wrong to assume his career was over.
Favre proceeded to dazzle, showing the world he’s still got a little bit of magic left in that right arm. The Vikings ultimately fell short to the Super Bowl Champion Saints and then, for the third summer in as many seasons, Favre played the tired “should I retire?” game before coming back. Yet, I find myself wondering not whether this makes the Vikings a Super Bowl contender, but why they are willing to sell the soul of their franchise down the river for a single player (no matter how great he may be)?
From a sports perspective, fans and media always tend to overemphasize the affect of one player. Did Favre make a difference to that Viking team? Sure. How much of one? It’s hard to say. Their passing game obviously improved, but at what cost? Their best player, Adrian Peterson, took a step back with his yardage total dropping by nearly 400 yards and his yard-per-catch dropped by half a yard.
He was surprisingly less effective. You could also argue that Favre is the reason they failed to win in the NFC Championship, where he not only played poorly but made a costly turnover that ultimately cost them the game. Again, how much did Favre really do for you?
However, the issue is larger than simply on the field production. Favre’s (now tired) “I’m going to retire… I think” game may equal buku bucks for ESPN, but the pathetic waiting games the Vikings organization plays for him only destroys the franchise.
Football, perhaps more than any other sport, is a team effort. A basketball team’s fortunes can be turned around by the play of one individual (see Cleveland Cavaliers). A baseball team can become a playoff contender with the addition of one bat or one arm. But rarely does a single player make a football team stellar. Sure, take away Peyton Manning from the Colts and they aren’t as accomplished. But even with Manning they’ve only climbed the summit once, and that was the year they happened to have the best defense they’ve fielded in his tenure.
By sitting idly and letting Favre dictate the action, the Vikings established the precedence of his importance over any other player on the team, including their true franchise player. And for what? If this was the case of a 25-year-old superstar with an appreciable future ahead (say Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay), there’d be ample reason to wait on him.
But it’s not. This is throwing all of your eggs in the basket of a 40-year-old guy whose previous season is more exception than rule (there’s not a single instance in history of a 39-year-old player suddenly having the best year of his career at 39). Favre’s numbers will come back to Earth this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win with him.
The issue is, why can Favre come and go as he pleases… practice when he wants… show up when he wants… play with the fortunes of a franchise when he wants… but no one else can? When Adrian Peterson respectfully requested to miss a day of workouts this summer for “Adrian Peterson Day,” the Vikings threatened to fine him. Yet Favre skipped them all. No fine levied. No threat of a fine. Nothing. What kind of precedent is that?
Anecdotally, consider this situation: Let’s say a mega company (we’ll use Google for this analogy), is having a series of important meetings that will dictate their upcoming year of business. Every employ is required to attend. One important employee is deciding whether or not he wants to continue with the company. Do you think Google’s upper management would simply give him a free pass to return whenever he pleased? I don’t think so. It’s bad business.
Brett Favre has a stranglehold on the Vikings organization. It’s pathetic and detrimental to their long-term plan of success (which they don’t appear to have right now). From a historical perspective, no successful franchise that I can think of has ever simply allowed a single player to dictate what they would do going forward.
Those who deem a single player bigger than the whole typically don’t find the success they clamor for. What’s the plan when Favre retires this summer? They have no appreciable backup. They are back to square one without a QB. Their end game is winning the Super Bowl. They believe Favre is the best possible route to accomplishing this. If they fail to achieve that goal this winter, they will have only taken two steps backward in the process. It’s not just bad sports… it’s bad business.