MINNEAPOLIS -- Deanna Favre leaned over the railing after her husband's very big day at the Metrodome and asked: "Do you still have an MVP vote?"
"Yes," I said.
"You might have to vote for Brett again,'' she said.
No kidding. If Tom Brady and Peyton Manning weren't playing like Bird and Magic in their playoff prime every game, Brett Favre might actually be ahead in the MVP derby right now. And you could certainly make the case that Favre's the single-most important person to his team right now, because no 3-1 or 4-0 team has as pathetic a running game as Green Bay's. Which brings us to the amazing thing about Favre's 16th season in Green Bay: Every defense knows exactly what's coming. The Packers have the worst running game in football, easily the worst in Favre's 16 Green Bay seasons. All the defensive coordinators sitting in their batcaves Monday and Tuesday planning to face the Packers are saying: We don't have to load up against the run now, because we know Green Bay can't beat us unless Favre beats us.
In nine days, he turns 38. He's got a daughter who's a freshman in college. Still, he looks just like he looked when he was Mike Holmgren's Wild Child, doesn't he? Lifting receivers off the ground, throwing 101-mph fastballs that dislocate fingers, showing deft touch when needed. With one difference.
"He's really playing within the system so well right now," coach Mike McCarthy told me Saturday night. "He's studying so much, giving me ideas. A lot of times I have to say no, but we're pretty much on the same page with things."
In the past couple of weeks, people have taken the playing-within-the-system stuff to mean he's Mr. Dink and Dunk. That's not totally true. He'll still throw the risky slant, and the long pass into traffic up the seam. It's just that he'll throw fewer of those, and more of the shorter stuff, getting the ball to his receivers and backs in space and letting them make the plays.
However he's doing it, we're witnessing something none of us could have foreseen a month ago. Comparing the average games during his three MVP seasons (he won the award outright in 1995 and 1996, then shared it with Barry Sanders in 1997) shows age is not his Kryptonite. It's early, obviously, and some of the weather games the Packers are sure to play late -- they're at Chicago and home to Oakland and Detroit in December -- will likely hurt his stats.
I'll get into a few of my theories why this is happening in a story in Sports Illustrated this week. But a lot of it has to do with the stage Favre is at in life. Remember last year, after he dragged out his decision on whether to come back to play the 2006 season, he finally heard a voice from God -- who, in this case, masqueraded as Phil Simms on Sirius NFL radio -- saying if he were Favre, there's no way he'd retire now. Because he'd have 50 years to do whatever he wanted to after his career ended, but he'd never be able to go back to football once he retired. That was a bit of a lightning bolt to Favre, and it made tremendous sense.
So Favre's gotten in great shape in each of the last two years, listened to his coaches as much as or more than ever and studied his opposition more than he ever has. Used to be that quarterback coaches would have to wake Favre up during meetings once or twice a week, back in his partying days. No more. If this is it -- although those around think he'll keep playing after this year, though he hasn't made the decision -- he wants to make sure he doesn't take any shortcuts.
I was surprised to hear the positive reaction in Minnesota to his record throw on Sunday. I guess it'd be something like Fenway fans cheering A-Rod if he hit his 500th home run in Boston. There's a great rivalry between the Vikes and Packers. But the Metrodome fans let the moment wash over them and appreciated it. The crowd was maybe 40 percent Green Bay fans. But they were joined in appreciation by people in purple, too.
When Favre left the field after the game, he stopped to hug the Vikings mascot, the stringy-bearded Ragnar. It was the 16th time Ragnar -- a Minnesotan named Joe Juranich -- had seen Favre come into the 'Dome, and the first time they hugged. Ragnar stands for all things Vikings. Favre has been the archrival. Juranich knows he should hate Favre, but he can't. When Favre had gone, Juranich said: "I went out into the parking lots today before the game, because I wanted to tell the fans, 'Don't you dare boo this man today. He's been through so much, and he's such a credit to the game. We should cheer him, and give him credit for being such a great player over the years.' You just have to admire him. I mean this: It's good to see him break it here."
Need a feel-good story for your sports year? Fed up with Bonds, with asterisks, with Spygate, with dogfighting, with soccer goalies ripping other soccer goalies? With the effect money has on the games you love? Well, Favre's writing a pretty pure story in Green Bay. There might be more good chapters to it. Keep reading.
The Awards Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Green Bay QB Brett Favre. Hard not to get gee-whiz watching Favre play right now. Not only did he break Dan Marino 's hallowed record of 420 touchdown passes in his 16th game at the Metrodome, but he did it in the midst of playing a nearly perfect game 11 days shy of his 38th birthday. Here's the deal: He completed 71 percent of his throws (32 of 45) for 344 yards, two touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions against the Vikings. Only one negative play -- a sack.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Green Bay P Jon Ryan. A product of the football powerhouse of the University of Regina, Ryan had a huge impact on the Packers' 23-16 win at Minnesota, taking a fake punt seven yards for a key third-quarter first down and pinning the Vikes at their seven with a booming high spiral in the second half. For the day, he punted four times for a 49-yard average. What hang time, too!
Here is the link to King's Monday Morning Quarterback: