Sunday slant: Miracle man on their side

Jim Kleinsasser is the only man left on the Vikings roster from the first time Brett Favre burned them with a fourth-quarter comeback. After dealing with eight "fourth-quarter Favres," Kleinsasser got to be with him, not against him, on Sunday and was feeling the karma.

Jim Kleinsasser probably remembers notable games against the Packers like many fans. He admittedly tends to remember the losses more than the wins.

Lately there have been more losses than wins, with the Packers increasing their series advantage, 49-46-1 by winning five of the last six.

But it was the longer-ago wins that stick with the veteran of the Vikings roster.

"The Christmas Eve game here, that was a pretty big one. We had a Monday nighter down there quite a few years ago that Favre threw it - he did his antics again on us," Kleinsasser said. "There's been a few times, so that makes it nice that we're on the other side of Favre's throwing."

The big tight end later confirmed exactly the two losses he was talking about, and fans that have followed the team more than 10 years will know which ones he's referencing.

The first occurred on Nov. 6, 2000 at Lambeau Field and YouTube still allows fans to wallow in the purple misery caused by Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman.

Favre launched a pass for Freeman that Vikings cornerback Cris Dishman could have intercepted at the 20-yard line. The ball deflected off Dishman and ricocheted off Freeman's shoulder while he was sliding on the ground. He rolled over, reached out to grab it before the ball hit the turf and rose to his feet while Dishman turned away in disbelief that he didn't make the interception, not realizing Freeman had caught the ball.

Freeman started toward the end zone, avoided a defender who slid on by and went into the end zone for the touchdown and improbable 26-20 overtime win while Dishman was dumbfounded.

"Every loss is tough, but Monday night game at Green Bay, that was a tough one," Kleinsasser said.

"That was just one of those plays, a lot of things come together for that. Some people might call it luck, but that's magic in the game of football. To win and be successful and have a good season, you're going to need games like that."

The Vikings actually went on to win the division, win a playoff game and advance to the NFC Championship. But the memory of that loss to the Vikings' biggest rival lingers with Kleinsasser, who is the only player left on the roster from that game.

Favre did it to the Vikings again on Christmas Eve 2004, taking the Packers on an 11-play drive in the final 1:35 of the game to allow Ryan Longwell to kick a 29-yard field goal for a 34-31 win as time expired.

The difference now, the Vikings hope, is that they have Favre (and Longwell) and Green Bay doesn't. Certainly for Kleinsasser, that is one factor to pin his hopes upon as the 3-0 Vikings take on the 2-1 Packers.

It worked last week, when Favre did something he had never done previously in his career – throw a game-winning touchdown with less than 10 seconds remaining. He had engineered 42 previous fourth-quarter comebacks, but never one that ended with the winning touchdown pass in the final 10 seconds, much less final two seconds, when he hit WR Greg Lewis with a 32-yard strike for a 27-24 win.

"When the defense stuck enough time on the clock for us, I've seen what he can do on the opposite sideline. Guys just went out there and did it," Kleinsasser said.

So, is luck on the Vikings' side now that Favre is on their team?

"I'm thinking it's more karma for me because I've been a good boy now for a few years," Kleinsasser said. "Maybe I'm getting some good karma now, having him on my team."

Let the hype of the Vikings and Packers continue. It's the biggest game in the rivalry – and there have been many. But Favre's star brings a new shine to it.

"I don't think it's changed much. It's always been a huge deal," Kleinsasser said. "I remember watching these games and I don't think it's changed one bit. It's always been a huge game and that's the way it's always going to be."

QUOTABLES

  • Linebacker Ben Leber was asked about have his single locker next to Favre's double-wide.

    "He's got a garage. I don't," Leber deadpanned. "I'm in the townhouse."

    "It's been great. He's just one of the guys. He likes to joke around. He puts a ton of work in. I think a lot of guys recognize and respect that, and he's implemented himself really well in the locker room."

  • Lewis' impression of Favre certainly has changed. Lewis is the 29-year-old receiver whose first catch as a Vikings will go down in history as one of the best catches, but as a kid growing up in Matteson, Ill., Lewis was a Bears fan who joined the throng and hated Favre. Now? Not so much.

    "When you're on the team with a guy like that, it's awesome just to have them out there and to catch a pass is something special," Lewis said, "but honestly I did not like him at all growing up – and until I got here."

    Ironically, the day after Lewis and Favre were joined in Vikings lore, they both ended up at the same restaurant for breakfast and they were both recognizable despite being in their first years as Vikings.

    "It was pretty funny. I usually go eat breakfast with my wife and my kids and this time I just went to pick it up and the guy at the counter said, 'Hey your buddy's around the corner.' And I went to see and it was Brett with his family having breakfast," Lewis said. "It was pretty cool."

  • Former Packers teammate Nick Barnett on Favre: "You step on the field before the game starts, it's cool. We might say, ‘What's up?' As soon as the game starts, you know how it is, the gloves are off and everyone's throwing punches, regardless of who it is. After the game, ‘Hope the family's doing good. Be safe, stay injury-free.'"

  • Leber couldn't think of a bigger game that he's ever been a part of, at least as far as the hype and anticipation. "Off the top of my head, no. This is probably the most anticipated game I think for a regular season game that I've ever been a part of," he said.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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