By any measure, the Minnesota Vikings have suffered through a mystifyingly terrible year. It all started with such promise, when they marched to last season's NFC Championship on the strength of seemingly ageless Brett Favre's arm.
But that very game was the first sign of things going awry. Driving for the winning score in the final minute of the fourth quarter, pretty much already in field goal range and just seconds away from the Super Bowl, Favre threw an inexplicable interception that killed the Vikings' drive and gave the New Orleans Saints new life, which the Saints quickly parlayed into the winning field goal in overtime.
That heartbreaking loss led to another summer of suspense, with Favre (again) holding the Vikings—and, seemingly, half the press corps of the known universe—hostage while he (again) delayed his inevitable decision to play another year until the last possible moment.
Upon his return, the Vikings were expected to again be Super Bowl favorites in the NFC, but this season has not gone at all as planned. Favre was ineffective early, and the team dug itself a hole, starting the season 0-2.
Favre didn't help matters by becoming entangled in a messy public controversy splashed all over TMZ regarding inappropriate and explicit text messages he allegedly sent to female staffers when he was with the Jets in 2008.
Desperate to save their season, the Vikings resorted to bringing back Randy Moss, who had finally grown bored of toeing the line and worn out his welcome in New England (shocker). He of course quickly imploded in the Midwest, and was cut loose by the Vikings as well after just a few games, after an embarrassing locker room tirade directed at the team's caterers.
That incident seemed to uncover widespread tension and division throughout the locker room, and it began to become clear that head coach Brad Childress was no longer in control. After falling to 3-7, Minnesota fired Childress and installed defensive coordinator Leslie Childress at the interim head coach. There was talk in the media that Favre was actually running the team.
It all took another turn, this time for the strange and the scary, this past Sunday. During a weekend that brought nearly two feet of snow to the Twin Cities, the roof of their home stadium, the Metrodome, collapsed under the weight. A gaping hole opened up, dumping snow onto the field in a dramatic and frightening sequence.
Luckily, the stadium was virtually empty at the time and nobody was hurt, but one can only imagine if the incident had occurred a little later, when the Vikings were scheduled to play a home game against the New York Giants. The harrowing event forced the game to be relocated to Detroit, but it also gave Favre an extra day to recover from a shoulder injury suffered the previous week.
Alas, it still wasn't enough time, and Favre was forced to sit out Monday's loss, ending his NFL record streak of 297 consecutive starts at quarterback.
Both most recent events, the stadium collapse, and the ending of Favre's streak, can be viewed as signals of bigger things. Is there anything that more aptly symbolizes the death knell, not just for the Vikings' season, but also for the old domed stadiums that were all the range in the 1970s and '80s?
Only four of the traditional domed behemoths remain in the NFL, and only one in Major League Baseball. Once seen as the wave of the future, cookie-cutter domes have been bypassed by the architecture of the actual future—which interestingly enough, more closely resembles the past than any of the charmless, characterless blobs of a thankfully now bygone era.
These relics have come to symbolize some of the unappealing aspects of modern society, like suburban sprawl—fitting then, that the playing surface at the Metrodome was recently rebranded "Mall of America Field."
Similarly, Favre's shoulder injury and his subsequent missed game serve as fitting symbols of his time now officially being over. Much has been made of his repeated waffling regarding retirement. Say what you want about his constant indecision, but in the last few seasons he still played well enough to quell any doubts about his worthiness on the field.
Athletes should certainly play as long as they care to; I don't presume to be in a position to judge when people should or shouldn't retire. But time finally seems to be catching up with Favre. Even when healthy, he has been inconsistent at best this season, and finally being forced to miss a game seems to hammer home the point that Favre's final, true sunset is now coming into view.
He will always be a legend, remembered fondly throughout the league. But the time to pass the torch to the next generation has finally come.
I say goodbye to the old domes without looking back—good riddance to them, one and all. But there's not a sports fan around who doesn't feel a tinge of sadness in seeing the writing on the wall for No. 4.
The controversies, the ineffectiveness, and now the injuries, all signal that this time may finally, actually, really be the end for Favre. It's been quite a journey.