As he vacillated and labored through the NFC Championship Game, and then through his post-game comments, Brett Favre continued to cement what has now become his legacy.
For all the big game appearances, prolific stats, John Madden hero-worship, and post touchdown histrionics, Favre will best be known as the great paradox.
Sunday evening, the football had barely settled in the goal post net before the Favre watch officially began. Cameras followed him as he navigated around the field to gauge his body language and reactions in hope of gaining a glimpse of the future. In the post-game press conference, questions alternated between that day's game and whether he planned to dress in purple and gold several months down the road.
The Saints' dramatic overtime win that will send the Vikings players home for the offseason and the New Orleans' players to Miami for the organization's first ever Super Bowl was somewhat of a microcosm of Favre's career.
He was up and down, energetic and tired, ageless and worn, jubilant and sullen, savvy and foolhardy, convicted and conflicted, spectacular and not so much—all in just a few hours time.
In a season that had an "all in" feeling for most Minnesota fans, coaches and players alike, the "Johnny-come-lately" quarterback who was leased for a year to put the talent-laden Vikings team over the top, couldn't quite get it done. As is his signature, Favre made a valiant effort, persevering through a pummeling at the hands of the Saints' defenders—looking like a modern day NFL Kirk Gibson.
For most of the day, Favre and the Vikings appeared to be battling themselves as much as the top-seeded Saints team across the line. Despite Favre being pounded all day, the Vikings moved up and down the field with relative ease, but seemingly every time they appeared ready to seize control, they coughed up the ball.
On his own accord, Favre alternated firing strikes and misfiring bullets, but ultimately racked up 310 yards through the air. However, he also accounted for three of the team's five costly turnovers—one on a botched hand-off and two others on errant passes.
For all the self-inflicted wounds though, Favre had Minnesota in position to win the game at the end of regulation. After getting the ball on his own 21 with 2:37 left to play, Favre drove his team to the outer edge of field goal territory with 17 seconds on the clock.
After an inexplicable penalty for having 12 men in the huddle moved the Vikings to the far reaches of kicker Ryan Longwell's range, the next play underscored the game and the career of Favre.
He rolled to the right to avoid pressure and encountered three options. Favre declined the opportunity to dump the ball in the flat for a short gain or run for 10 yards. Instead, he chose to make the "cardinal sin" of passes—heaving the ball across his body to the far side of the field—into the waiting hands of a Saints' defender.
As much as Green Bay Packers fans have experienced the giddy heights induced by Favre making seemingly impossible plays and spectacular throws throughout his career, they have also felt the same crushing blows delivered by a quarterback trying to do too much. What made this even a little bit more cruel for Vikings fans, though, was that Favre kept his risk-taking gunslinger persona under wraps all season until this fateful moment.
This split second decision truly does capsulize the enigmatic QB. He could have taken the safe path and run, but instead chose to attempt the attention grabbing sensational throw that most of his peers around the NFL would have never even considered.
Throughout his career, many times it has worked and his legend grew. Other times, like yesterday, it ended in the crash of a season of Super Bowl promise.
This seems highly consistent with the ambivalent player who holds an entire organization and its fanbase hostage every offseason as he waffles to decide if his career will continue. Its the "Hey, look at me" kid riding a bike with no hands. Sometimes he looks masterful—sometimes he's picking gravel out of his knees.
Favre also has a way of eliciting the ambivalence in others. There are many things to admire about him. He's a fearless gamer with a laser arm who carves up secondaries with surgical precision. He's a perpetual kid, celebrating every touchdown with the exuberance of a World Series game-winning home run.
His statistics and wins continue to mount. As displayed on Sunday, he is an iron man who is always on the field, regardless of the battering imparted by opposing defenses. He's a folk hero in living flesh. And, Madden gushes about him like a school girl fawning over the Jonas Brothers, fusing his first and last name together into one enthusiastically repeated word.
But, for all the great that is Favre, he is a contradiction. He sometimes melts down on the league's biggest stage with a postseason record that does not quite measure up to his regular season resume. He can make disastrous throws more fitting of rookies, surely not 40-year old decorated NFL veterans. He's not opposed to running up the score or calling an audible to pad his already impressive stats.
He hijacks "Sports Center " from February through August with the annual "Brett Favre Watch", seemingly looking to stay in the spotlight and avoid "two-a-days." Although it can be endearing at times, his over-celebrating every touchdown with the exuberance of a World Series game winning home run can get old. And, Madden gushes about him like a school girl fawning over the Jonas Brothers, fusing his first and last name together into one enthusiastically repeated word.
With the Vikings season hitting the wall in New Orleans, Favre is now off to contemplate his football future while he rides his tractor and watches his fishing lure bob in the water. Although he waved off questions in the press conference saying that he needed some time, Favre couldn't help but to plant the seed of speculation with an ESPN reporter before he departed by saying it was "highly unlikely" that he would be back.
Of course, this statement evokes the same level of confidence of a Mark McGwire or A-Rod saying they only took steroids for medicinal purposes and didn't even realize that it might aid performance. Well, actually, maybe less confidence.
Considering that Favre had arguably the best regular season of his career, was healthy all season, thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Vikings team and came within one bad penalty and ill advised pass of a trip to the big game—the odds of a return would seem high based on logic. But, as avid sports fans know, Favre is fueled by high octane emotion that sometimes clouds reason.
There is no debating that Favre has been good for the game and is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer. It is also clear that the quadragenarian put together one of his finest seasons and was arguably this year's NFL MVP.
As we launch into the annual "Brett Favre Watch", there also can be no denying that the legendary player remains a paradox. He wows us and he frustrates us, he makes us laugh and he makes us frown. At the end of the day, though—he entertains us like few players can.
My money is on another offseason of waffling by Favre, followed with a triumphant Escalade escort to the Vikings' training camp to ink another one year lease sometime in the latter part of August. And as annoying as the annual seven month debate will be, importantly and begrudgingly, Minnesota and the NFL will be clearly better off with Favre in uniform.
Gary Suess is the founder of I'm Just Saying, Philly