Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Today's "smart" people would have been even dumber 20 years ago

The 2010 season of the soap opera known as the Minnesota Vikings continued this week with the firing of Brad Childress after the humiliating loss to Green Bay at home, and yet another piece of unabashed self-deception from the Jenn Sterger camp. One thing that the football commentators do not seem to understand is that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf loves his players a lot more than the coach; that is why he went about the facilities and asked players their opinion of Childress before making his final call. Commentators also fail to understand that Tavaris Jackson was Childress’ man, not Wilf’s. If Childress had his way, he would have continued to try to shoe-horn a quarterback whose skills were at best second-string into his “system”; Wilf, on the other hand, was willing to pay any price at the chance to get Favre. It is also clear that Wilf was behind the acquisition of Randy Moss, which was probably not a good decision but nonetheless indicative of the fact that owner and coach were not on the same page.

In regard to Sterger (won’t she just go away?), there has been some tit-for-tat in regard to who did or didn’t want a payoff for “silence.” Sterger’s manger claimed that Favre’s agent, Buzz Cook, wanted to pay for silence, but Cook denies this. Phil Reese claims he called him before the Deadspin report to “compare notes” concerning allegations that would be “damaging to both.” Cook could fairly ask how such “damaging” information could be made public without the cooperation of Sterger, who after all told Deadspin about the “goods” she had on Favre, and there is no doubt that money was talked about concerning what it would take for Sterger to hand it over; instead the material “surfaced” through a still mysterious “third party.” Cook reported that the Sterger camp contacted him at least a half-dozen times about “what to do” about the allegations; as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk pointed out, this was clearly an attempt to extort money from Favre without appearing to be engaged in extortion. There was wide speculation that such “talks” were occurring, but when the negative publicity about Sterger being a “golddigger” made the rounds, the Sterger camp made a back flip, trying to regain the “moral high ground” by proclaiming that her silence was “not for sale.” I’ve already discussed my opinion on what “ground” Sterger really occupies, so I need not burden the reader with more of that. Needless-to-say, there are no winners in this, particularly Favre—whose must answer beyond the football field. He should be so fortunate as Eliot Spitzer.

I guess it is not too early to eulogize Favre, although I can’t place all of the blame for Sunday’s catastrophe against the Packers on his shoulders, especially with that offensive line milling around as if they are waiting for something to do; even Adrian Peterson has to break several tackles before he even reaches the line of scrimmage. The fact that Favre has been reduced to not trying to throw an interception shows how he doesn’t have time to find open receivers, or the receivers are just not getting open. The defense essentially laid down to sleep after the first quarter, and once again forced no turnovers. Sidney Rice did play, but not so much that I noticed. The Vikings’ playoff hopes are definitely done, but for new coach Leslie Frazier it’s a brand new season, and if he can get the team to play respectably he may have a job next year; he should take Dallas’ sudden resurgence as a cue. Many commentators are calling for Frazier to dump Favre, but he won’t do that because he has more respect for Favre than Childress did, and Wilf might not let him anyways. Favre and Darrell Bevell are going to have more leeway to run the offense than they did with Childress as coach, so things should become interesting.

Alex Marvez on Fox Sports had said it would be “poetic justice” if the Packers sent Favre “packing.” All these guys seem to derive a certain amount of glee sending Favre off to purgatory. But if Packer fans find any “justice” in this, then maybe Green Bay didn’t deserve him to begin with. I have written about how growing up in Wisconsin I was a Packer fan, and continued to be one through 25 years of heck until Favre arrived. It still gnaws at me the way Ted Thompson and company, who wanted their man Aaron Rogers in there from the very beginning, pushed Favre out. After having one of his best seasons in 2007, and one step from the Super Bowl, it’s shocking how arrogant these people were in pressing Favre for an “answer” in March when they knew his MO was to wait and think about things until he was mentally ready to come back. Favre had earned that right; he had stuck with the team when he could easily have gone to “greener” pastures. Thompson and McCarthy, who wanted Favre out of the picture, knew exactly what they were doing. McCarthy wasn’t “proved right” about anything this past Sunday except that Rodgers is younger and less battered at this stage of his career—and that he is a “fair weather” player; in 42 starts he has yet to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback. Although I am by up-bringing a Packer fan, because of the way everything played-out I have a somewhat higher standard in judging Rodgers, which may not be high enough for him to reach.

Despite evidence of a locker room revolt that had its genesis as far back as 2006, commentators like Jay Glazer still want to pin all the blame for the failed season on Favre. Another is Fox commentator, John Czarnecki, Last year, Favre’s performance was explained by the naysayers as being the result of having a great team around him; he was just a “good manager,” even though he threw for three times as many yards as Adrian Peterson rushed for. This year, with only Percy Harvin from last year’s wide receiver corps playing regularly and not always effectively given the absence of Sydney Rice, now they want to blame Favre when he doesn’t have sufficient weapons. Czarnecki suggests that if Aaron Rodgers had played in 2007 instead of Favre, he would not have thrown that interception in overtime in the NFC championship game. The real question, of course, is whether or not the Packers would have even gotten there; given the same and better weapons the next season, the Rodgers-led Packers went from 13-3 to 6-10. Of course, it was also Rodgers’ fumble in overtime last year in the playoffs against Arizona that was picked-up and run in for the winning (losing) score. Czarnecki also claims that when Favre tried to come back in 2008, Rodgers had “control” of the locker room and no one spoke-up for Favre. As usual with the anti-Favre contingent, Czarnecki is talking out of his fundament; as I recall several players, including Donald Driver, made off-the-cuff remarks to reporters suggesting that they did want Favre to return, but did not wish to be too obvious about it so as not to create tension in the locker room or with management. That Mike McCarthy would insist that Favre would have to “fight” for his job after leading the team one-step from the Super Bowl when he was clearly capable of playing at a high level did seem to many as incomprehensible and insulting; the fact that Packer management was trying to enforce his retirement and not grant his release was clearly a cynical public relations ploy, because management did not want to be skewered for dumping into the garbage heap the franchise’s greatest player, especially since he was still capable.

Czarnecki also makes the idiotic statement that Favre has “ruined” his “legacy” in Green Bay. Time heals all wounds, and as long as Favre makes the appropriate gestures when the time comes, that includes something to the effect that it was his fervent wish to play-out his career in Green Bay but felt goaded by the constant harassment of the post-Ron Wolfe Packer management, that could only be interpreted as an effort to anger him into a rushed decision in order to get him out of the way in favor of Rodgers. I, of course, have already come to that conclusion.

The fact is that Favre had to return this year, because after coming so close last year, it was worth seeing if it could be repeated, because there is no doubt now that the Vikings would have regressed anyways with TJ even if he had the benefit of a receiving corps that was fully healthy, because of the tougher schedule. Favre’s brother Scott was quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune "It's probably going to clear his conscience because if he had not played this year I think he would have always questioned, 'Should I have gone back? What would have been?'" Scott said. "I told him before the season, I said, 'Whether you win or lose or whatever, at least you can get it out of your system and you know.' It's much tougher to go through life thinking, 'Boy, what if I played that last year?'" The Packer management clearly had no intention of allowing Favre to discover that after the 2007 season, and this was a second chance that ultimately he and his Vikings teammates could not pass-by; hindsight, of course, is 20-20.

Meanwhile, commentators are calling on Frazier to do the “right” thing by benching Favre and seeing if TJ is their “quarterback of the future.” TJ had three years prior to 2009 to prove he was the “quarterback of the future,” but with his principle backer, Childress, out of the picture, the Vikings really don’t have an incentive to throw him in there if Favre insists he is “fine”; they will be looking for another quarterback next year. It is interesting to note that Favre has had a history of people not believing in him, and includes Mike Holmgren initially.

According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, when Favre was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991, he “had become a whipping boy for flamboyant coach Jerry Glanville, who never approved of (general manager) Ken Herock's decision to draft him and once said during an exhibition game that it would take a plane crash for him to put Favre into the game. The more Glanville ignored the wild and unbridled Favre, the more Favre rebelled.” Favre's behavior “was immature and unprofessional. He stayed out late, he showed up late and fell asleep in meetings. As he once said, "I'm sure I didn't help my cause by trying to drink up Atlanta."

Favre was a major disappointment to Herock , who said "He had a big ego. His comments to me in the locker room were, 'They need to play me. I'm better than those guys.' We had a Pro Bowl quarterback (Chris Miller) and I could see why he was still sitting, but he felt he was better than them. Why he was doing what he was doing, I have no idea. I think if you ask him he probably couldn't answer it either." Glanville refused to countenance Favre in the role of second-string quarterback, even trading for another quarterback to keep Favre in the third-string slot. Herock was under pressure to get rid of Favre, and there was someone else out there who paying attention to Favre’s troubles in Atlanta and was eager for an opportunity to trade for him: Green Bay’s new general manager, Ron Wolfe. Wolfe had been impressed by the strong-armed Favre watching tapes of his junior year with Mississippi State, and was eager to draft him before Atlanta beat him to the punch. Wolfe contacted Herock about a possible trade for a draft pick, and when the Packers played Atlanta in an early December game, Wolfe was invited to watch Favre a few passes before the game. Wolfe never actually Favre throw, but he knew that the invitation implied that Herock was willing to make a deal.

Why did Wolfe go after a player that no one else wanted? Herock knew the answer, if only in hindsight. Herock grew-up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and he recalled how the Steelers cut Johnny Unitas shortly after drafting him—and would become one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks (coach Walt Kiesling thought he wasn’t “smart enough”). "Maybe I lost sight of the thing. Everyone was telling me how bad (Favre) was. That's all I kept hearing. And there was a possibility we could recover a first for a guy we drafted with a second. There was nothing there that said, 'Ken, you're right and they're wrong.' Everything was working against me."

And so Herock made the “best deal” he could to get out of this “fiasco,” swapping Favre for a first-round pick in 1992. And it almost wasn’t a done deal, because Favre was also diagnosed with avascular necrosis in a pre-trade physical—the same disease that cut-short Bo Jackson’s career. Team doctors opposed the trade, but Wolfe over-ruled them and the trade went through. Wolfe also had to battle the opinion of Holmgren, who admitted (when still with the 49ers) that in a pre-draft workout in 1991 he felt that Favre was not a “good fit” for their team—or now the Packers. The rest, of course, is “history.” Although Favre was not the MVP in the 1997 Super Bowl, he was still impressive, throwing TD passes for 54 and 81 yards, and running for a third. Peyton Manning was far less impressive in Indianapolis’ win over the Chicago Bears, yet for some reason he warranted an “MVP” distinction.

And the “questions” continue. After throwing three interceptions in Sunday’s loss against New England—including a pick in the final moments when his team was already well within game-tying field goal range—a few people were questioning why Peyton Manning was getting a pass, when Favre would have been excoriated. Manning’s pick-six that was the difference in last year’s Super Bowl also seems to have faded from memory, as was his unsportsmanlike conduct after the game. Yet people are still talking about Favre’s INTs in the 2007 and 2009 NFC championship games. When one listener emailed a radio show about why Favre was always slammed about such things when Manning—and for that matter, virtually every other quarterback—is provided “extenuating” circumstances,” the commentators denied that they ever criticized Favre in a similar situation. Yeah, and we listeners are all deaf and dumb.

But then the critics are always “right.” Didn’t last year the naysayers suggest that Mark Sanchez might have a better year than fellow rookie Mathew Stafford, but Stafford would have a better career? The question now is whether Stafford will have a career at all given his propensity for injury. The Seattle Seahawks passed on an opportunity to draft Sanchez, and local sports commentator were congratulating the team for making the “smart” move. Earlier this season, local commentator Dave Mahler and CBS sports radio play-by-play man Kevin Harlan were having a love fest bashing Sanchez. But Sanchez may have the last laugh; the Seahawks did him a favor by not drafting him, because with the Jets he was allowed to develop into a quarterback who might yet not have the gaudy numbers, but is clearly a leader and a winner. With the Seahawks, Sanchez career would have been stunted sitting behind that team’s own sacred cow.

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